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Technologies of Disenfranchisement: Literacy Tests and Black Voters in the US from 1890 to 1965

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Purpose: Largely due to the latest presidential election in the U. S., voting interference and voting technologies have come to the fore of national debates. However, deploying technologies (broadly defined) as a way of interfering with voter rights is not a new phenomenon.
Methods: In this study, we identified and located historical literacy tests (along with other related texts) that were used to disenfranchise black voters in the U. S. from 1890- 1965. We conducted a critical rhetorical analysis of the documents using McCornack's (1992) deceptive messaging criteria.
Results: We found that even though the rhetorical and technical style and tone of the documents appeared to be objective and neutral, the literacy tests served as a technology of disenfranchisement, a way to oppress and marginalize, black voters.
Conclusion: We argue that texts and technologies are not always designed with goodwill in mind and texts and technologies that are complicit in supporting and promoting oppressive practices have social, cultural, embodied, and material impacts on communities. We assert that technical communicators can look for possibilities and opportunities for resisting discrimination through texts.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2018

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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