Inventing Others in Digital Written Communication: Intercultural Encounters on the U.S.-Mexico Border

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1 Scopus citations


At a multinational company, daily written communication between staff, supervisors, customers, and suppliers is frequently conducted using digital tools (e.g., emails, smartphones, and texting applications) often across multiple nationally, linguistically, and conceptually defined borders. Determining digital tools’ impact on intercultural encounters in professional environments like these is difficult but important given the sheer volume of digital contact in technical and professional environments and the ongoing global struggle to broker peace and productivity amid communities’ many perceived differences. Using examples drawn from a case study of binational manufacturing sister companies, I build on recent work in professional, networked written communication to analyze two WhatsApp exchanges, one between a central study participant and his customer, another between the participant and an employee. This study shows how asynchronous digital communication tools created complex “silences” in writing between participants. In these silences (e.g., a lack of or delayed response to a text) individuals try to explain others’ actions for themselves. Drawing on a combination of third-generation activity theory and Latourian actor-network theory, I show that while explaining others’ actions in writing with whatever cultural shorthand is available may remain a common part of everyday life and research, it can be a poor guide for explaining others’ actions, especially in digital writing. My study shows how research of, and instruction in, digital tool use in intercultural writing contexts requires attention to the material conditions and objectives potentially shaping one’s own as well as others’ composition choices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-280
Number of pages36
JournalWritten Communication
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020


  • WhatsApp
  • audience analysis
  • digital writing
  • intercultural communication
  • manufacturing
  • professional writing


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