“Ethics of Engagement: User-Centered Design and Rhetorical Methodology,” A Brief Summary and Notes


Michael J. Salvo writes that in technical communication, there has been a shift of observing users to participating with them. This article investigates 3 examples of participatory design: Pelle Ehn’s participatory design method, Roger Whitehouse’s design of tactile signage for blind users, and the design of an online writing program.
“Participatory design” is better than “user-centered design” because “participatory design” is more dialogic, which means it’s more focused on the relationship between designer and user instead of just the user (or just the designer). [But why is this article subtitled “User-Centered Design”?]
Some key terms in this article are as follows:
  • Democratic workplace
  • Two-way communication
  • Collaboration
  • Interaction
  • Negotiation
  • User-collaborators

Dialogic ethics, a two-way way of thinking, comes from Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, in which Buber denounces the objectification of the human. When we treat one another as means, he says, we create an I-to-it relationship, whereas when we treat one another as ends, we create an I-to-you relationship, or an I-Thou relationship. We should always treat one another as human beings, and that is a dialogic relationship. Salvo writes, “When one engages another person as an individual, as a person, one recognizes the humanity of the other. This recognition makes it possible to know the other’s needs, which is the point of participatory design: to know from the other’s perspective what is needed to improve the usability of the design” (276).
Mikhail Bakhtin is interested in this concept, too, from a linguistic standpoint. And where Bakhtin is in linguistics, Emmanuel Levinas (Buber’s student) is concerned with identity when he says that the ethical self is one’s ability to see the humanity in others. One should see the self in the other and the other in the self. [That reminds me of Burke’s “Four Master Tropes,” as well as Robert Solomon’s philosophical work about human emotion emotions.]
When we author actions, we become responsible for them (276). Participatory design is to know the other’s needs and to see from their perspective.
[Note here the great irony of a poorly written article or book: it assumes authority by virtue of being written, but if it is poorly written, then it contradicts itself! That’s was the irony that Plato called attention to when he was writing in the Phaedrus!]
Dialogic ethics thus becomes a counter-statement to Katz’s ethic of expediency. In short, a dialogue is listening and speaking. Both. Not just one. For all participants. Design should work the same way. Thus, users ultimately should have a hand in design (288). 

[I wonder if the amount of listening which needs to be done is proportional to a person’s ultimate ethos. Listening is receiving and learning. Speaking is teaching and presenting and showing. Speaking is promoting something.
There are times when we should listen more than we speak and other times when we should speak more than we listen. It depends on the situation, but the bottom line here is that we treat others as agents and not objects. What if others are treating us as objects? Then what? Then we have a duty to treat ourselves as an agent and get out of there. Also, we shouldn’t unduly silence ourselves as long as we say what is good.]

From Michael J. Salvo, “Ethics of Engagement: User‐Centered Design and Rhetorical Methodology,” Technical Communication Quarterly 10.3 (2001): 273‐290.

Berlin’s “Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class,” A Brief Summary and Notes


Teaching writing and rhetoric is teaching a certain kind of ideology. “Ideology is . . . inscribed in language practices, entering all features of our experience” (669, I’m using Susan Miller’s edited collection, The Norton Book of Composition Studies, 2009). How and what we teach makes assumptions that we can’t get away from, and each of the following 3 ways of teaching promotes a different ideology: cognitive rhetoric, expressionistic rhetoric, and social-epistemic rhetoric.

Cognitive rhetoric, which might be the continuation of current-traditional rhetoric, claims to be scientific. It has been based on psychology and emphasizes the real and the rational. Berlin cites Flower and Hayes as an example and states that this rhetoric “refuses the ideological question” because of its basis on science (671-672). I think Berlin also say that it is to some degree capitalistic.

Expressionistic rhetoric emphasizes the speaker and is therefore elitist. In this section, Berlin cites Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Jung. Thus, power lies in the individual. He then cites Peter Elbow and Donald Murray. Expressionistic rhetoric emphasizes talk about “Me.” Expressionistic is a response to and critique of capitalism and scientism, though the agencies of corporate capitalism easily use this one to their advantage, too.

Social-epistemic Rhetoric is the last one discussed in this essay, and Berlin cites Kenneth Burke as an example. From this perspective, the real is a relationshipbetween people, but that doesn’t make everything relative. We make our own histories. Berlin then cites Ira Shor and Karl Marx.

In conclusion, I’d like to cite two of what I think are Berlin’s most important statements. First, “[A] way of teaching is never innocent. Every pedagogy is imbricated in ideology, in a set of tacit assumptions about what is real, what is good, what is possible, and how power ought to be distributed” (682).


Finally, “A rhetoric cannot escape the ideological question, and to ignore this is to fail our responsibilities as teachers and as citizens” (682).

[When I read all this, it seems to me that if Berlin is correct, then we could take his logic forward and assume that, to some degree, every action is also an argument and every way of doing something assumes some particular way of thinking that would “give evidence” to the action. I’m suddenly reminded of Wayne Booth’s book, Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent, but now is not the time to take a closer look at that.]

From Berlin, J. A. (1988). Rhetoric and ideology in the writing class. College English (50) 5, 477‐494.