chapter  Chapter 10
26 Pages

The Range of Instrumental Discourse

WithM. Jimmie Killingsworth, Michael K. Gilbertson

The concept of instrumental discourse receives its fullest treatment in A Pragmatic Theory of Rhetoric by Walter Beale. As an occupation or a university course, technical communication becomes an institutional version of the processes and products of instrumental discourse—writing, speaking, and graphics devoted to the performance of actions, specifically technical actions. Instrumental genres like how-to manuals and future-looking reports defy classification as referential because they are more concerned with stimulating and shaping human actions than with describing objects and reporting past events; they are prescriptive rather than descriptive. Though rhetoric and instrumental discourse are habitually connected in moral-religious writing and in the characteristic literature of advanced technology, the connection holds just as well in the discourses of theoretical science, the humanities, politics, and the institutions of democratic communication. Despite the utopian impulse of much technical communication, perhaps even because of it, instrumentalism has been the object of a strong critique in humanist circles.