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

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

ISBN 9780895038029
Published May 30, 2014 by Routledge
261 Pages

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Book Description

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

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