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Cooperation or Compliance: Building Dialogic Codes of Conduct

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Purpose: Adapting the ethics of philosopher Henri Bergson, this article offers a theory to explain the volatile legal-ethical environment in which codes of conduct operate and proposes that technical communicators adopt this theory to build dialogic codes of conduct.

Method: The article explicates and illustrates Bergson's theory of social and dynamic moralities (i.e., ethics as regulation of cooperative individuals and ethics as inspiration by heroic individuals) and offers a critical reading of three corporate codes of conduct from the perspective of this theory, emphasizing five factors: language emphasizing cooperation versus compliance, identification of authorship, clarity of ethical versus legal obligations, inclusion of humanizing pictorial images, and coverage of heroic individuals.

Results: None of the corporate codes of conduct examined truly exploit the immense rhetorical power of narrative or illustrations. None exclusively emphasize cooperation or entirely specify authorship. None are altogether lucid or consistent in separating legal and ethical issues. Existing practices yield a missed opportunity to inspire as well as stipulate ethical behavior.

Conclusion: Technical communicators are skilled in rhetoric, studied in ethics, and experienced in writing policies and instructions and in soliciting information from sources of knowledge and power. Technical communicators could thus be uniquely qualified to develop dialogic codes of conduct for corporations, industries, and professions.
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Keywords: CODE OF CONDUCT; ETHICAL; I-THOU RELATIONSHIPS; LEGAL; VERBAL-VISUAL COMMUNICATION

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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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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