On December 6th, Tim Amidon (PhD candidate, Rhetoric and Composition) gave a Brown Bag talk in which he presented work from his dissertation, “‘You Can’t Just Learn That Knowledge—That Unspoken Knowledge’: Firefighters’ Multi-modal Literacies.”
Tim, who has been a firefighter for fifteen years, began his talk by explaining that firefighters are too often considered to be “people who do, not people who think.” The research he conducted—which included interviews and field observations—challenges that assumption, and it also challenges our understanding of literacy practices and knowledge work.
Tim explored the way that firefighters use multimodal literacy practices to construct and communicate knowledge in environments where risk is present. In his presentation, he sketched out six multimodal genres of firefighter communication: spatial, temporal, operational, tactile-kinesthetic, ad-hoc, and visual.
What Tim learned, through his research, is that these literacy practices do not often mesh. In situations where risk is present (situations like firefighting) these literacy practices often compete. To survive the risk—and to help others survive it—firefighters must organize and interrelate these multimodal genres. Knowledge work, Tim argues, is not reserved for white-collar workers.