Writing About Writing
“Identity, Authority, and learning to Write in New Workplaces” by Elizabeth Wardle
In “Identity, Authority, and learning to Write in New Workplaces,” Elizabeth Wardle attempts to explain how identity and authority issues affect the process of enculturation for workers in new environments. Wardle argues that the issues of identity and authority can affect one’s assimilation in a new working environment and that miscommunication with the two can lead to one being viewed as a “tool” and stress.
To start, Wardle describes modern socio-historic theories describing identity and authority. She details the Activity Theory by David Russell, which says that as one encounters new activity systems they encounter new genres and must determine how and when or if to use them. Wardle notes that an activity system is essentially a discourse community. She also describes Etienne Wegner’s theory that details three interrelated modes of belonging: engagement, imagination, and alignment. Engagement can me negative or positive and is where newcomers and experts interact. Negative engagement for Wardle is called non-participation and it can marginalize the workplace. Imagination can enable a sense of belonging but can also cause disconnect if the imagination is not similar to the reality. Alignment is where the new comer aligns with the new discourse they are in. Basically, positive communication and effort on the behalf of both the newcomer and the existing workers is necessary for the newcomer’s success in the new workplace. For authority, Wardle expands on Wegner’s theory. Wardle claims that authority is an intangible thing but is nonetheless granted within institutions. She states that clear job position separation is necessary to avoid confusion of authority. When there is confusion, imagination can get in the way of alignment.
To end, Wardle presents a case study of sorts. She tells about Alan the computer specialist. He began working after graduating college in a department that he felt he had no authority in. He then worked for the department of the college from which he graduated. He claimed he was a “God” here and assumed that his only boss was the department chair. He sent vast emails regularly but lacked the language that the members of the department required. He eventually because the joke of the department and the other members in the activity system did not view his prestige in the same way he did. Alan’s story portrayed that the engagement process was flawed and combining that with his false imagination about his authority led to improper alignment in the workplace. Wardle used Alan to show that learning to write in new environments can require more than just new skills and ways of thinking- it requires involvement, understanding power, and effort to assimilate with the other members.