Historical Rhetorics/Sophists Old and New/Rivers, Nathaniel.

Rivers, Nathaniel A. “Some Assembly Required: The Latourian Collective and the Banal Work of Technical and Professional Communication.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 38.3 (2008): 189–206.

Rivers argues that the popular television show, Mythbusters, serves as an illustration of Latour's argument that the abolishment of dichotomies – nature/culture, politics/science, human/nonhuman – will foster actionable results. Mythbusters demonstrates this theory with its inclusion of humans (actors, building team, television crew, folklorist) and nonhumans (the tools used, such as Buster the test dummy). Technical and professional communication, then, should no longer see themselves as the messengers between those within the cave (politicians) and those without (scientists); instead, technical and professional writers should collect sensitivities and propositions and articulate them, knowing that science is no longer the only means of solving our greatest problems. This article gives a summary of Latour's terminology in Politics of Nature and applies that language to Mythbusters while arguing for a new means of professional and technical communication.


“The Discovery Channel, in the last several years, has converted science into performance art [Mythbusters] . . . These mythbusters, in the very run of their lives, blur the line between the science of laboratories and the performance of recording studios . . . By positioning itself as performative, Mythbusters tacitly resists the view that scientists are, as Descartes would have them, ‘brains in a vat’ (189-90).

“Rather than bridging the gap between the real and the shadow of the real, professional and technical communicators create alternate spaces, new houses of government, unburdened by the self-defeating hope for a savior in a lab coat. This is, then, the new work of collecting collaborative assemblages between humans and nonhumans and of connecting the common world and the common good” (191).

“When Latour uses the word collective, he refers not to ‘an already-established unit, but a procedure for collecting associations of humans and nonhumans.’ Collecting, I am arguing, is the primary rhetorical task of technical and professional communication. Briefly, we can see professional communication as the assembling of humans with nonhumans such as businesses, industries, documents (genres), numbers, money, products, and demographics. Technical communication is, then, the assembling of humans with nonhumans including designs, schematics, computers, interfaces, equipment, and various other technologies” (197).