Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reading :: The History of the Gulag

The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror
By Oleg V. Khlevniuk

As part of my research into the early Soviet context in which activity theory was developed, I picked up this book. Like The Gulag Archipelago, it examines the development and social impact of the brutal penal system that thrived under Stalin; unlike that book, it was written after the fall of the Soviet Union and with access to archival records that document the Gulag's development and operation. Thus the book is far more heavily documented than Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece and allows us to understand some aspects that he could only guess at.

This book covers 1929-1941, beginning with the Stalinist period and ending with the opening of war with Germany. It confirms some of Solzhenitsyn's arguments: (1) the Gulag established forced labor—let's call it what it is, slavery—as a key part of the Soviet economy; (2) the results of the forced labor were terror and poor quality work (see p.185: "The Gulag economy was never effective, and it survived only through the massive, uncontrolled exploitation of forced labor); (3) children, especially orphans, were hardest hit (see especially p.123); (4) the Gulag relied on false confessions and false witnesses to collect more people for forced labor camps (p.151).

The book also discusses how, in the years of the Great Terror, officials "fabricated charges of an 'anti-Soviet underground' in the camps" (p.223), charges that fit into the paranoia of the early USSR.

In the early 1930s, the author concludes, about a sixth of the adult population in the USSR was subject to repression and persecution—a broad category that includes the Gulag, execution, and exile, but also discrimination and loss of jobs (p.304). From 1930-1940, the number of convictions approached 20 million people (p.305). When the war started in 1941, Gulag divisions held a total of about 4 million people, plus 2 million more in corrective labor (p.328).

The author concludes: "Thus, the Gulag spread beyond the barbed wire. Society absorbed the criminal mindset, the reliance on violence, and the prison culture" (p.344).

Yes, of course you should read this book. The author's analysis is important, but equally important are the documents and correspondence he includes from the archives, including correspondence among top officials as they developed the Gulag, told each other stories about the threats the Gulag was addressing, and (surprisingly often) told each other the truth about its appalling conditions.

Monday, April 13, 2015

TWO calls for proposals on entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is an important topic across a range of areas—from small businesses to big businesses, from for-profits to nonprofits, from technologies to services. Entrepreneurs have leveraged methodologies and heuristics, including a bewildering number of canvases and dashboards, as well as user research strategies such as Design Thinking. They present pitches, write business proposals, and conduct market research. They pivot, they make value propositions, and they draw on multiple sources and types of evidence.

In other words, entrepreneurs are rhetors. They argue, persuade, and communicate constantly.

But so far, scholars in professional communication have not extensively studied how entrepreneurs communicate and argue: how they develop pitches, how they analyze arguments, how they teach entrepreneurship to others, how they sense the kairos of the pivot, how they coconstruct value propositions with others. We haven't developed many cases, methodologies, or theories on how this vital work gets done. And we should.

That's why I am calling for papers on two special issues:

IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication: December 2016 Special Issue on Entrepreneurship Communication

In this special issue, the focus is on mapping entrepreneurship communication practices in professional communication, especially (but not exclusively) in the contexts of technology and engineering. We're interested answers to in questions such as these:
  • What genres and heuristics do people need to learn as they become entrepreneurs? How do they learn them?
  • How do entrepreneurs communicate in specific situations? What are their challenges, and how can we help them to meet those challenges?
  • What challenges do technical and professional communicators themselves face as they function as entrepreneurs?
  • What skills, genres, and heuristics should professional communicators learn as they prepare to function as entrepreneurs?
  • What should educators be teaching students in professional communication about entrepreneurship? Conversely, what should educators be teaching students in entrepreneurial contexts about professional communication?
  • How can we apply entrepreneurship principles more broadly to professional communication?
  • What trends can we expect from the next decade, and what innovations and shifts must we consider as we prepare for the future of technical communication?
We are seeking articles of the following types:
  • Research articles (including integrative literature reviews)
  • Case studies
  • Tutorials
  • Teaching cases
If you're interested, abstracts are due October 1, 2015.

Special Issue of the Journal of Business and Technical Communication on the Rhetoric of Entrepreneurship: Theories, Methodologies, and Practices

In this special issue, the focus is on building theories and methodologies for better understanding the rhetoric of entrepreneurship across several different contexts, including open innovation, technology commercialization, social entrepreneurship, open source projects, entrepreneurship in education, and intrapreneurship. We are also interested in well-developed critiques of the rhetoric of entrepreneurship. We expect that these articles will collectively address questions that are essential for establishing a theoretical and methodological program on the rhetoric of entrepreneurship, including:

  • How has entrepreneurial rhetoric been characterized in the research literature, both in professional communication and in other fields?
  • How can we best theorize entrepreneurship in rhetorical terms?
  • What research methodologies are best suited for investigating entrepreneurial rhetoric?  How can we best provide an empirically grounded account of entrepreneurship as a rhetorical practice?
  • What kinds of arguments do entrepreneurs make—in terms of genres, media, occasions, and types? How do entrepreneurs conceptualize, configure, reconfigure, and iterate their arguments?
  • What kinds of entrepreneurial activities exist, and how does rhetoric enact and stabilize them?
  • What is the ethos of entrepreneurial work? Does it differ from the ethos of other kinds of work, and if so, how?
  • How can we bring our disciplinary insights on the rhetoric of entrepreneurship to bear on professional communication pedagogy?

If this is more your speed, abstracts are due November 30, 2015.

Next steps

If you think you have a topic or idea that you'd like to develop, reach out to me as soon as possible. I'll be happy to provide guidance. I'll also be at Procomm 2015/SIGDOC 2015 if you'd like to talk in person this July.