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Values and Rhetoric: “Imaginary lines”

Creating the Narrative

In addition to this ethics course, I’m taking a rhetorical theory and criticism seminar this fall. This combination inspired me to examine the Sedlak piece a bit more closely, observing how Sedlak attempts to persuade their audience that, once again and forever, engineers/scientists should be objective and technically focused, without consideration or awareness of their own humanity, situated perspectives, or potential ethical calls to encourage change.

“Imaginary Lines”

Sedlak (2016) invites their readers to consider how “an idealistic researcher might just step over the imaginary line that separates the dispassionate researcher from the environmental activist”. I’m going to repeat this quote, but change the font to highlight how Sedlak implicitly makes the argument that 1) there is a “right” way to be a researcher, and 2) that the technically-focused status quo of engineering should not be dismantled.

“an idealistic researcher might just step over the imaginary line that separates the dispassionate researcher from the environmental activist“.

Clearly, Sedlak is making a case for a “good” researcher as being solely focused on the science, the data, instead of the world around them. Activism, in Sedlak’s argument, is a bad thing – a sign of naivete. As Roy’s rebuttal post highlights, Sedlak views activism as something that is done outside of academia; it is the purview of “full-tie activists” to challenge the current structural imbalances of the world, not the scholar.

 

Communicating Science

So, where does this leave us? Academia is met with competing claims, to be “dispassionate” and to communicate with the wider general public audience. We have initiatives such as InclusiveVT, challenging those here to consider the impacts and potential of increasing diversity and inclusion efforts both on campus and across the country. Virginia Tech is a land-grant institution, publicly funded for the purpose of education; President Sands has even been calling for us to become a “global” land-grant institution, meaning that our constituents would go beyond just state boundaries.

 

In the face of all this back and forth, what do we do? Do we interact with the public, those who are not firmly ensconced within the ivory tower of academia? Or do we let them linger uninformed and unimpressed by our dedication to not crossing that imaginary line?

References

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