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Cecilia Shelton Wins the 2021 Outstanding Dissertation Award and 2021 Technical and Scientific Communication Award

February 12, 2021 English

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The National Council of Teachers of English awarded the English professor two awards for her work surrounding “A Techné of Marginality.”

By Rosie Grant

Assistant Professor of English Cecilia Shelton was awarded the 2021 Outstanding Dissertation Award in Technical Communication and the Scientific Communication Award by the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) for her work surrounding “A Techné of Marginality.”

CCCC, a constituent organization within the National Council of Teachers of English, selects their award winners based on its originality of research, contribution to the research in the field, methodology, awareness of preexisting research and overall quality of the writing.

Cecilia D Shelton

In her dissertation, “On Edge: A Techné of Marginality,” Shelton explores Black feminist technical rhetoric and the intersections of cultural rhetorics, technical communication and digital and activism rhetorics. She looks at how technical and professional communication has traditionally been rooted in the white, western, heteropatriarchal rhetorical tradition, resulting in the exclusion of marginalized communities.

She also provides a framework for building communication infrastructures for equity, inclusion, and freedom.

“I'm interested in how people on the margins form a kind of expert knowledge of oppressive systems that they can deploy both within and outside of traditional workplaces to communicate effectively,” says Shelton.

Her second award, the CCCC Technical and Scientific Communication Award, is for her article “Shifting out of Neutral: Centering Difference, Bias, and Social Justice in a Business Writing Course.” The article provided provided the building blocks for her dissertation by drawing on black feminist theory and technical communication in business writing. “Technical communication is how we facilitate action,” says Shelton, “and it’s happening in places we’ve been missing.”

In “On Edge: A Techné of Marginality,” she deploys a multi-method analysis of #BlackLivesMatter Twitter activism, foregrounding Black lived experience as the knowledge base for navigating oppressive social structures and highlighting the communication tactics designed to resist those structures.

Her study concludes by producing a new model for technical communicators, “A Techné of Marginality,” which embraces Black subjectivities, values a critical understanding of marginality and identifies social justice activism as a form of technical communication.

This project brings to light how Black feminist thinkers and activists are often unpaid for their work because it happens outside of the institutions and organizations where we normally think of expertise..

“‘A Techné of Marginality’ positions communication theorists and practitioners to recognize the ways in which Black communities, and particularly Black women, have always, already done the unpaid labor,” says Shelton.

Shelton will be announced as the recipient of the two CCCC awards during the 2021 CCCC Awards Presentation this spring.

Photo courtesy of Cecilia Shelton.