A handbook for the building and managing of the office worker: gender, genre, and textual surveillance in 1930s office communication

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2007-01-01
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McCartan, Laura
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Dorothy Winsor
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English

The Department of English seeks to provide all university students with the skills of effective communication and critical thinking, as well as imparting knowledge of literature, creative writing, linguistics, speech and technical communication to students within and outside of the department.

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The Department of English and Speech was formed in 1939 from the merger of the Department of English and the Department of Public Speaking. In 1971 its name changed to the Department of English.

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1939-present

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  • Department of English and Speech (1939-1971)

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Abstract

Women were part of the office workplace as early as the late 1800s, but by the 1930s they were there to stay, and the secretarial profession had become their domain. This demographic shift in the office was a momentous one; it challenged the culture and values of the traditional office place environment, and it contributed to the gendering of new office technology. To complicate matters, because the nation had fallen into the Great Depression, the work space was contested more than ever as debates raged on about whether women deserved to have jobs at all when many men did not.;This dissertation explores this transformation via the historical intersection between gender and office communications in the 1930s. To do so, the dissertation conducts an analysis of two sites: professional etiquette handbooks and New Deal-era National Recovery Act personnel records. By applying genre theory to these office communications, the dissertation explains how office communications served as vehicles of "textual surveillance," creating a specific type of office worker amenable to contemporaneous trends in scientific office management practices most clearly embodied in the work of Frederick Taylor.;The genre analysis also reveals how these office communications created specific narratives concerning gender for men and women during a time in office history when the female office worker was initially established as part of the business landscape, particularly in the secretarial profession. These narratives serve as what Latour would call "immutable mobiles." These immutable mobiles lend themselves to office-place manipulation for the good of workplace efficiency because they do not include non-standard details that could slow down managerial efficiency. The immutable mobiles, in other words, make otherwise irreducibly different human beings into more or less fungible commodities to be manipulated as deemed necessary by office management. The study concludes that the function of office communications is not only determined by internal office place dynamics, but by external issues such as gender as well.

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Mon Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2007