Keeping Writing in Its Place:
A Participatory Action Approach
to Workplace Communication
For the past 15 years, I have moved back and forth across the border between academia and the workplace as a writing teacher, researcher, consultant, trainer, and advisor. Although my full-time position is within a university, I have sought to influence workplace literacy practices and policies by going into the field. This chapter explains some of the difficulties I have faced in my work as a university-based literacy consultant and describes some of the strategies I have used to overcome those difficulties. I believe the difficulties help explain the tensions and misunderstandings that exist between academia and the workplace, and I hope the strategies might be useful to those who seek to change professional literacy practices.
My specific disciplinary interest has been social work and its allied fields and, as a result, I have conducted courses, workshops, seminars, and research studies in agencies, hospitals, group homes, neighborhood clinics, community centers, and schools. In addition, I have spoken at the annual meetings of national social work associations and in university schools of social work across Canada. In all that time, I have worked with thousands of social work students, educators, and practitioners, and yet I can claim only modest success in my attempts to use my knowledge of composition theory and my familiarity with social work discourse to effect change in professional literacy practices. I believe the limitations of my success are due to the inescapably social nature of writing—its deep and complex implication in human activity—and in the pages that follow I hope to elucidate that simple, essential fact.