Deadly Documents: Technical Communication, Organizational Discourse, and the Holocaust: Lessons from the Rhetorical Work of Everyday Texts, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Deadly Documents

Technical Communication, Organizational Discourse, and the Holocaust: Lessons from the Rhetorical Work of Everyday Texts, 1st Edition

By Mark Ward


251 pages

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Scholars, teachers, and practitioners of organizational, professional, and technical communication and rhetoric are target audiences for a new book that reaches across those disciplines to explore the dynamics of the Holocaust. More than a history, the book uses the extreme case of the Final Solution to illumine the communicative constitution of organizations and to break new ground on destructive organizational communication and ethics. Deadly Documents: Technical Communication, Organizational Discourse, and the Holocaust—Lessons from the Rhetorical Work of Everyday Texts starts with a microcosmic look at a single Nazi bureau. Through close rhetorical, visual, and discursive analyses of organizational and technical documents produced by the SS Security Police Technical Matters Group—the bureau that managed the Nazi mobile gas van program—author Mark Ward shows how everyday texts functioned as “boundary objects” on which competing organizational interests could project their own interpretations and temporarily negotiate consensus for their parts in the Final Solution.

The initial chapters of Deadly Documents provide a historical ethnography of the SS technical bureau by closely describing the institutional and organizational cultures in which it operated and relating organizational stories told in postwar testimony by the desk-murderers themselves. Then, through examination of the primary material of their documents, Ward demonstrates how this Social Darwinist world of competing Nazi bureaucrats deployed rhetorical and linguistic resources to construct a social reality that normalized genocide. Ward goes beyond the usual Weberian bureaucratic paradigm and applies to the problem of the Holocaust both the interpretive view that sees organizations as socially constructed through communication and the postmodern view that denies the notion of a preexisting social object called an “organization” and instead situates it within larger discourses.

The concluding chapters trace how contemporary scholars of professional communication have wrestled with the Nazi case and developed a consensus explanation that the desk-murderers were amoral technocrats. Though the explanation is dismissed by most historians, it nevertheless offers, Ward argues, a comforting distance between “us” and “them.” Yet, as Ward writes, “First, we will learn more about the dynamic role of everyday texts in organizational processes. Second, as we see these processes—perhaps inherent to all organized communities, including our own—at work even in the extreme case of the SS Technical Matters Group, the comforting distance that we now maintain between ‘them’ and ‘us’ is necessarily diminished. And third, our newfound discomfort may open productive spaces to revisit conventional wisdoms about the ethics of technical and organizational communication.”

Table of Contents

Preface by Mark Ward, Sr.


CHAPTER 1: Can Genocide Be Regulated?

An Ontological Shift

Revisiting the Final Solution

Sample, Method, and Chapter Organization

The Importance of the Study

CHAPTER 2: From Darwin to Death Wagons

Origins of European Anti-Semitism

The Rise of Racial Anti-Semitism

Development of the Gas Vans

Operational Challenges in the Field

CHAPTER 3: The People’s Community

Organizations as Open Systems

Unifying Principles of Institutional Culture

Aspects of SS Organizational Culture

Lines of Organizational Authority

German Bureaucratic Document Protocols

CHAPTER 4: The Participants and Their Motives

Personnel of the Gas Van Program

Individual Relationships and Motives

CHAPTER 5: Documents for Destruction

Setting Up the Analyses

Introducing the Documents

CHAPTER 6: A Community of Killers

Constructing the Rhetorical Community

A “Safety” Narrative and Protean Metaphors

Discovering Organizational Genres in the Texts

Rhetorical Community in Organizational Contexts

Visuality in the Rhetorical Community

CHAPTER 7: Discourse of Death

What Discourse Analysis Can Add

The Killers’ Use of Linguistic Resources

Reconstructing an Organizational Discourse

CHAPTER 8: Revisiting “Expediency”

Boundary Work in Action

Lanzmann and the “Why” Question

Implications of the Lanzmann Alterations

CHAPTER 9: Bridging the Boundaries

An Ahistorical Consensus?

Expediency Without Ethics

Protecting Rhetoric and Rhetoricians

Safeguarding Science and Civilization

Converging on a Comfortable Distance

What the Orderings May Reveal

CHAPTER 10: Some Ethical Implications

A Bias for Explanation

Prescriptive and Descriptive Ethics

Afterword: The Reality of Words and Their Aftermaths

Steven B. Katz



About the Series

Baywood's Technical Communications

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health