1st Edition

Deadly Documents Technical Communication, Organizational Discourse, and the Holocaust: Lessons from the Rhetorical Work of Everyday Texts

By Mark Ward Copyright 2014
    261 Pages
    by Routledge

    261 Pages
    by Routledge

    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.”

    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


    Ward, Mark