Checkpoint: Turning Discourse into Dialogue

S.J. Kent, R. Sibii and A.R. Napoleone. “Checkpoint: Turning Discourse into Dialogue”, in Examining Education, Media, and Dialogue under Occupation: The Case of Palestine and Israel. Critical Language and Literacy Studies

This book is an in-depth examination of education and media under occupation. The contributors to this volume engage dialogue to explore these domains and their roles and functioning under occupation while keeping an eye toward resolution, using the on-going conflict between Palestine and Israel as the focus. The uniqueness of this collection is not limited to the willingness of its authors to investigate topics that have often been left out of the mainstream, but that they actually enter into dialogue with one another. Education and media are exemplified as domains that can either maintain the status quo of oppression when used by policymakers and governments to do so or can be utilized as mechanisms for change and peacemaking. These contradictory roles are highlighted throughout this book by multiple voices.

Deaf Voice and the Invention of Community Interpreting


This article poses the existence of a relational model of interpreting that is already rooted in culturally Deaf ways of using evolved interpreters for intercultural communication.  Continue reading “Deaf Voice and the Invention of Community Interpreting”

What’s with “The Buzz Buzz Boom”?

language & interpersonal communication
[supplementing the UMassWiki]

Our first reading assignment is by Seth Gore, The Buzz Buzz Boom.

I have posed some questions to begin to guide students through a process of discovery. Beyond the initial reactions, what more can we learn through careful consideration, asking & answering critical questions, and thinking together about the meaning potentials in any and every act of communication?

  1. Who is in this story? (Name all the characters)
  2. What are they doing in this story? (You may read this question as, “What are they doing in this story” or “What are they doing in this story.” Or both.)
  3. How are they doing that in this story?  (“That” being whatever you answered in Q#2 .)
  4. What have you already learned from this story? (Keep in mind the topic of our course, which is ________________________________________.)
  5. What does your intuition suggest you can learn more about by thinking for a longer time, more deeply, about this story?
  6. What questions does the story raise for you?

A total of three sets of questions need to be considered, in addition to this first one, before students draft thoughtful responses.  These are listed at the course wiki. The second set involves the possibility of connection between the students as readers, and either/both the author and/or real persons with similar characteristics as the fictional characters in the story.  The third set engages theory – what are the different ways a person can interpret the meaningfulness of the story, particularly if we take the interpersonal communication among characters as the point of focus?

big signs for learning

North Star Banquet
Western Massachusetts

“You can choose to read the signs,” my friend Jay mused as he gave me a ride home from a rousing display of human potential. We had both been invited by a local entrepreneur, Bob Lowry, to attend the annual banquet for North Star, an alternative education program for teens. The program had consisted of a series of speakers sharing personal stories about their lives and learning. Jay was referring to a recent spate of serendipity in his life, and I thought about some of the signs in mine. North Star, for instance, has appeared several times in the past three months.

The testimonials were moving. One recurring theme was “the big sign” announcing the metaphorical presence of the north star in its particular physical location. The sign stands prominently on the North Star grounds right along the main thoroughfare connecting a string of small towns in the fertile and temperate Connecticut River valley. People drive by the sign everyday. I have passed it frequently myself!  Yet somehow the meaning of the sign – what it signals as a symbol and guide for the activities of proactive learning – seems to become salient only at certain moments of particular strain.

In mechanics, strain is a measure of deformation when bodies are altered from their normal boundaries due to the application of some force. The speakers at the North Star banquet, current and former students, family members, administrators, and award-winning teachers, all referred – in one way or another – to the natural inclination of human beings to learn. What everyone who spoke understands is that the stress of not being able to learn in one’s best mode indicates an unnecessary tension that can lead to an unpleasant compression of the youthful spirit of discovery.

“Learning is natural”

North Star’s motto frames their mission of creating an environment where kids who chafe under the conditions of traditional schools can successfully learn. In this respect, I imagine that North Star students have some characteristics in common: self-motivated, ambitious, and smart. The emphasis on ‘self-directed learning’ reminds me of teaching online courses, where a similar profile matters.  People who do well in online courses are able to manage the balancing of time between obligations (work, study, chores, etc) and recreation (not to mention sleep!)

Noticing signs when you need them is also natural. Signs are everywhere – “sign sign everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind” – the fact that we tune them out is no surprise. What is wonderful is when a sign that you haven’t been noticing suddenly appears in awareness, suggesting something new and enabling learning. At some basic level I think this is the gist of consciousness: to notice that there is something else, something more, something mysterious or enticing that you haven’t yet grasped…

…and here’s the chance!
North Star sign

How does race matter?

pedagogical investigations
University of Massachusetts Amherst

It is a brilliant question.

Not “why” does race matter, but how?

Nearly 400 undergraduates have participated in three dialogues on race this fall.  I was fortunate to be invited in as a last-minute substitute for one of the final sessions. Some of the facilitators met for an hour in advance to try and anticipate challenges with delivering the curricular design (see the facilitator’s blog). We engaged the thorny problem of how to teach about whiteness without contributing to self-fulfilling prophecies about the presence/absence of racism.

Two tensions emerged in the discourse dynamics among the facilitators. One involved the tension between supporting/embracing students ‘where they are’ and the need to intervene when ‘where they are’ is patently offensive or otherwise misinformed.  We are teaching, after all, but if we fall into rote instruction we lose the students’ attention (if not also their respect), yet if we don’t trust students to find their own way through the confusing process of coming to grips with uncomfortable knowledge then we’re simply trapped in the communication paradox: if we don’t talk about race we ensure structural inequality is never addressed, but if we keep talking about race then we risk never being able to move beyond it.

What struck me the most was – not competition, that reduces the complexity way too much – but the desire of facilitators to exert control over how the process will unfold.  Energy in the room increased significantly while brainstorming strategies for moving students from new learning into the remaining task of application.  What action can students take, using hard-won new knowledge in ways that really make a difference?  For perspective, realize we are not talking about revolutionary change, but the immediate implications for individual identity and the kinds of relationships possible with others.

Differences in pedagogical philosophy, the use of tactics, and long-term strategies were on display as facilitators advocated for ‘this’ or ‘that’ approach, sharing examples of successful interventions (when the usual pitfalls were avoided) and also describing missed opportunities (those moments that always happen when one is caught off-guard or events are moving too quickly to formulate an appropriate response). The mix of generosity and humility among this group of dedicated educator/activists was impressive. I learned a lot in a very short time!

Index: PhD Defenses

Coming soon: Ambarish Karmalkar and Arturo Osorio

Dr Linus Nyiwul, Resource Management
working the system: market enforcement of emission standards

Dr Siny Joseph, Resource Management
How COOL is your seafood?

Dr Anuj Pradhan, Human Performance Laboratory,
Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

Anuj in a suit
(on Risk Prevention and Awareness Training for young/new drivers)

Brains: “an entity yet to be seen in world politics”

International Relations Theory
(political science)

The quote above is from a comment by blenCOWe to a blogpost, Theory of International Politics and Zombies, by Daniel W. Drezner. Drezner’s blog entry is an example along the lines of this youtube video, Gay Science Isolates the Christian Gene, and a powerpoint presentation made by MJ Bienvenu at the recent biennial convention of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, in which she offered deconstructions of audism from the organization’s official website. For example:

“English is not ASL on the mouth.”

The pedagogy of this style of teaching is aptly captured by Erin in her comment to Drezner:

“As Daniel Nexon and Iver Neumann write, “The mirror approach is broader than simply deploying popular culture artifacts as a teaching aid. IR scholars can examine popular culture as a medium for exploring theoretical concepts, dilemmas of foreign policy, and the like.” (12).”

The mirror approach operates on the simple principle of substitution: take an existing discourse, and

    a) reverse the key tropes (as in “Gay Science” or unveiling audism in “The Heart of the RID Organization”),

    b) replace the key actors with an abstraction, or

    c) combine both.

A View from Communication Theory
The engagement spawned (ha) is impressive. A communication theorist has many choices for analysis: as a media text, from the viewpoint of audience, in terms of effects, as a language game (Wittgenstein), as a social use of information and communications technology, not to mention the rich data seeded throughout regarding regional, national, and gendered points of view (classist, ableist, etc), and the production of online identities. It can be critiqued from a variety of viewpoints, including (for instance) political economy, pragmatism, or cultural studies, and at differing levels, such as mass media or interpersonal communication.
My own take is to regard the entry and comments as an instance of discourse: academic, specific to one discipline, and (probably, as goes the zeitgeist) rooted more in space than time. The use of wit (humor) to display breadth, depth, and precision of one’s knowledge in fast repartee is the most valorized contemporary mode of intellectual engagement. Everyone who can find a way in, does, and those who can’t find their way quickly enough, don’t. By the time the entry point clarifies into a path (or the perceptible path finds its entry point), the exchange is over, the event is closed. The instigators and participants have moved on to the next sexy thing. The normative behavior is that the immediate “space” occupied by this interaction has been effectively controlled: everyone (who matters?) has had their say in shining flashes of inspiration.
What strikes me, as an action researcher and a constructivist, is multileveled. First, unadulterated admiration. I envy the lightening comprehension and instant formulation of coherent, contextualized, educative information. Second, awe. We know so much. Ok, so I’m liberally folding myself into the “we,” but seriously: look at the range of knowledge pouring out! It isn’t as if there aren’t tons of “us” out here who understand the historical momentum of the social forces we’re working with – or against, as the case may be. blenCOWe continues:

In terms of his liberal institutionalist and constructivist analyses, Drezner is counting on the fact that the zombies would have the cognitive ability to calculate the benefits and drawbacks to collaborating with other actors. As such, any ideas of building an international organization, including the presence of zombies, to deal with the presence of zombies or to build a world state inclusive of zombies appears to be quite impossible.

Lastly, when he addresses neoconservatism he recognizes that the zombie threat was an existential threat, noting that the threat from zombies is from their jealously over our freedom and not from their desire for our brains. Like the faults with the other theories, this analysis is based on the faulty assumption that zombies have the ability to make cognitive decisions like that. The unavoidable fact is simple, zombies pose a threat to humans because of their desire for brains and for no other reason.

Zombies pose a threat not only because of their desire for eating brains, but – crucially – because that primal desire is coupled with an accompanying lack of brains. The implicit message in the IR discourse about Zombies is that there are, already, zombies among us. I suggest there are three broad types:

  • the undead who have accepted a singular social and ideological “programming” as the one and only way to make sense of their lives,
  • the undead who have embraced a particular intellectual framework in order to cope with existential anxiety and/or the evolutionary pressures of anarchy, and
  • the undead who have selected to master the terms of the zeigeist, “Let’s get cynical!”

Now what?
With the “what” of varying ideological understandings so thoroughly grasped in the space of two days’ interaction, enter the dimension of time. I’m speaking of deep time (esp. deep history), small time (i.e., Bakhtin), and time inclusive of the future. Politically, time is apprehendible in norms of culture and forms of institutions. Simply, what changes and what stays the same? As the Human versus Zombie IR debate unfolds, applications are posed or elaborated, such as two-level game theory and accepting Zombies as a new class to be integrated into the existing global structure. Erin, quoted above, offered

“a brief survey (n=3) I conducted in the last 5 minutes unanimously suggest[ing] that zombies should probably be considered alongside Kosovo to understand IR theory.”

She also adds “an important caveat,” to her random sampling:

“…2/3 of respondents volunteered that they conditioned their response on zombie attacks, unlike extraterrestrial visitations, remaining confined to the realm of hypothetical thought experiments.”

While I agree with the pedagogical impulse, the effect of continuing to deploy only such discrete strategies extends temporally into the future, replicating the same momentum of monological thought that substantively prevents us from finding collective means for creatively managing the diversity of human ways of being. In other words, will the brilliance of insight and potential demonstrated by Drezner & Company be translated into wisdom with a voice?
Engaging intellectual battle in the abstract can be deeply satisfying and even entertaining, the case of Zombies in point. But what about those of us who don’t speak that language? Why must we continue to demarcate the differences in such ways as to reinforce the space of separation between them? This is an illness of extreme disciplinarity. There will always be gaps. Can we ply them creatively? To do so, I suggest we need to consider multilingual models, in particular the potential of interpreted interactions. In The Language Barrier as an Aid to Communication, Rodrigo Ribeiro argues the importance of not understanding in a case study involving the steel industry, technology transfer, and Japanese and Brazilian forms of life

the ‘language barrier’, which is normally thought as a problem, can aid communication by preventing people who hold potentially clashing concepts, beliefs and customs from directly confronting each other.

While I support Ribeiro’s conclusion of value based on non-confrontation and interpreters’ strategies of mediation, I suggest this is only one manifestation of the intercultural communication practice of multilingual/interpreted interaction. The Japanese and Brazilian interlocutors are learning – through this process – how to be with difference. What we academics need to help politicians create are systems that can deal fluidly with difference – ideological, linguistic, cultural, etc – that are, in essence, multilogical rather than monological. Among the strategies that could work are finding ways among ourselves to communicate with each other across, among, and between our fields of expertise.

What meanings are we making?

two talks at Heriot Watt
by Stephanie Jo Kent

In addition to the transmission of information, the larger and deepest purpose of simultaneous interpretation is to generate and maintain common culture among people from different cultures.

As hoped, the opportunity to present on my dissertation fieldwork in-progress forced my brain to synthesize the trends and patterns that I have been noticing during this year of research at the European Parliament, as well as find words to express what I think these trends and patterns suggest about mono- and multilingualism. The effort to explain my perceptions moved me far along the analytical path; since returning to fieldwork many of the findings have crystallized further.
A few weeks ago, after more backbrain simmering, I finally uttered the statement highlighted above, distilling the years of talking with interested colleagues (and anyone else who would listen, thanks Arne!) into a single, comprehensible idea.
Purposes are human creations, not physical facts, so there is plenty of room to disagree. I am anticipating a conversation that will take place in Philadelphia in August (“Interpreting as Culture“), and other conversations that I hope grow from there and link from/with other sources (such as Ryan Commerson’s brilliant master’s thesis applying the work of Stuart Hall).
The feedback provided by participants at my presentations at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh is affirming (thanks!) and helpful. For this post, I am only including the comments that relate specifically to my thesis.
1) “Why,” wrote one participant, “do people want [simultaneous interpretation] to be like a mono-lingual exchange? Why are they so uncomfortable with interpreted interaction…[?]”

I am not sure that interlocutors (or interpreters, for that matter) are consciously aware of comparing the process of interpreted interaction to what it is like to talk with someone in the same language. We are so accustomed to the ease of monolingual communication – it is like the fish not being aware of water or the bird, air. It is, for most of us, our typical environment, the way we get along with nearly everybody, practically all of the time. So when the exceptional circumstance of an interpreted interaction occurs . . . on what other basis could we imagine to evaluate it?

Not only that, but we also have the collusion of academic discourse reinforcing the unquestioned common sense. One professional sign language interpreter wrote,

“…reflecting [on] how my practice is so heavily influenced . . . it’s shocking to reflect on how thoroughly ‘old’ theories of interpreter (‘translator’?) role of ‘heard and not seen’ (invisible conduit) have become/are becoming so entrenched, particularly in a place where multi-lingual, multi-cultural awareness should be richest.”

2) That “place” is the European Parliament, about which another participant mused, “Do politicians really want to understand each other?”

Based on the interviews with European Parliament interpreters four years ago, I can say that some interpreters think not! Or at least, not all the time, or not within the constraints of particular structures – such as the plenary sessions (which get the most publicity and thus seem to represent SI at the EP, even though I am inclined to argue more real interpreting gets done in every other setting than that one).

3) “Don’t we get ‘third cultures,’ ‘communities of practice,’ all the time, everytime?” asks another researcher?

Of course we do, but the question is whether that “third culture” is substantively different than what we get without interpretation! The discourses about simultaneous interpretation that I’ve been learning privilege the same kind of characteristics that are prominent in monolingual communication. This was reflected in questions from another participant:

4) “How is this speed in communication (even though passive) … effecting our expectations of it? Our response? Interaction between cultures? Dealing with relationships?”

There’s no definitive answer – we are all co-creating the ways we engage the imperative of speed in collaborative/complementary fashion, consciously or not. Which leads directly into another question posed by another researcher:

5) “Will there be a paradigm shift? Would I like it?” And a participant’s observation: “Despite of promotion of language diversity/equality, for practical/political/power reasons, lingua franca will still be the fate.”

In response, I would distinguish, here, between communities of practice and third cultures. Perhaps this is a naive distinction, but culture is a more-or-less passive development of aggregated relational actions into coherent systemic wholes. (At some point there are leaders, religious figures, etc., who justify the parts and defend the whole.) A community of practice is intentional from the outset. While, as one participant/researcher wrote, “The language produced by interpreters – the form – is indeed a message,” I would say this language constitutes discourse but does not necessarily represent a community of practice until we take hold of the form in order to wield it for specific purpose.

I submit that a purpose which could bind simultaneous interpreters into a community of practice across the gamut of “interpreters in triadic interactions and ‘stream-of-language’ events like the European Parliament” (quoting from a participant) is the co-construction of intercultural community premised on language difference.

In addition to the transmission of information, the larger and deepest purpose of simultaneous interpretation is to generate and maintain common culture among people from different cultures.

two talks at Heriot Watt

for the
Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies in Scotland, Heriot Watt University & the
Translation Studies Graduate Programme, University of Edinburgh
Fishing for Culture and Missing Language:
Interpretation and Organizational Creativity

Culture(s) and discourse(s) are among the most unmanageable elements of international business. “You can’t model panic.” Patterns of cultural interaction and, especially, the range of interpretations of these patterns, have profound effects on the design and implementation of business plans. For instance, are differences of language a problem or a benefit? Do the homogenizing effects of using English as the language of international management outweigh the constant adaptation required by working multilingually? Discourses about simultaneous interpretation (SI) at the European Parliament (with its 23 working languages) pit danger and loss against loss and resignation. “Loss” of fluency and clarity worries professional interpreters at the European Parliament (EP) and “loss” of direct contact between interlocutors (users of interpreting services, in this case Members of the EP) seem – counterintuitively – to express anxieties about multilingualism and the possibilities for control. Understood as a practice of intercultural communication, the tensions made evident when simultaneous interpretation is used are a vital source of creativity typically overlooked because of conditioned (monolingual) preferences for using a shared language.

for EdSign33
The Department for Educational Studies, University of Edinburgh;
the Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies at Heriot Watt University; and
Speech and Hearing Sciences at Queen Margaret’s University.

Social Interaction, Simultaneous Interpretation, and Shared Identity

Contemporary social theory can help us understand participation in dialogue interpreting as a cultural form of communication. In addition to transferring information between people who do not share the same language, using an interpreter is a type of communication practice with implications for identity. The roles and norms for participating in simultaneous interpretation constitute social rituals that contribute to the maintenance of linguistic and cultural difference. To the extent that participants are aware of the significance of participation, the stronger a contribution can be made to creating more just and equitable global societies.

an ethic of learning (teaching goals)

for a grant application

I had to outline my “teaching goals” for a grant application, I’m sure I will have to do this many times in the future. I have also done this before, but I do not have a standard document: while there is consistency over time, the presentation shifts – hopefully becoming clearer while providing situated information on how I might fit with the people, styles, ideals, and goals of each potential opportunity.

  • to model agency
  • to cultivate skills of critical phenomenology
  • to reduce the fear of risk
  • to find creative solutions to conflict
  • to prepare for competition and increasing interaction
  • to bring attention to relationships (processes of relating)

Target = Learning (Teaching Goals)

Teaching is intertwined with learning: communication theory, sociology, and quantum mechanics all inform us that the interaction produces “reality.” “Meaning” is always a co-production: “teaching goals,” for instance, represents a professional ethic while also reinforcing historical power structures. The phrase conjures an institutionalized ideology of authorization and dispensation. Confronting the implications of language use – our very own talk – is the cumulative (and hopefully on-going) accomplishment of my pedagogic inclinations.
The main task I set for myself when I am teaching is to model agency so that students can learn by example. To act as an agent while teaching is double-edged: I try to maintain balance between

a) the authority of my role and the limits of the institution to constrain my freedom in the role, and
b) the power to unsettle students’ assumptions about the usual structures and expectations of a college classroom.

I want students not only to discern the difference between structural power and individual agency, but also to develop awareness about how to work constructively with this distinction given the peculiarities of their own particular life.

By deliberately embodying agency, I convey an attentiveness to self that elicits heightened self-awareness from students. The personal is thus contextualized as a reflection of the social, bringing the interplay of status and identity into immediate relevancy because the concepts are grounded in our shared social interactions. These maneuvers enable recognition and reflection on the ways features of personal biography interlink with roles granted or imposed by history and circumstance. In other words, I seek to cultivate skills of critical phenomenology, so that students can increase their perception and comprehension of the complex historical forces that bound – and bind – everyone’s supposedly-separate actions with the actions of others.
I justify my ambition along the continuum of time, accepting myself as one among many with the passionate desire to shift humanity away from the vise of violence. Although not a direct curricular component, keeping the complexities of time and timing in mind is a constant practice. Developmental trajectories are unique for each individual: people simply know what they know at any given moment. And, each moment is an opportunity for change. Learning, by definition, is a change in the state of one’s knowledge. The trick of timing is to identify when the potential for change aligns with the contingent conditions that enable realization. Attuning to these subtle juxtapositions is a matter of experimentation. Consequently, I work to reduce the fear of risk. As much as I feel compassion for varying shocks of recognition, I also exercise the conviction that we are capable of finding creative solutions to conflict.
Ultimately, I see my role as a teacher as one of strategic coordination with the learning needs of students projected into the future. College education today must involve much more than topical competence; it must prepare students for intensive competition and increasing interaction with people holding different worldviews and mindsets, premised upon as-yet un-invented technologies and un-diagnosed needs. Depending upon the subject matter, I can be more or less overt concerning the relationship between the content of the course (its specified objectives and subject matter) and the relational process of learning – i.e., working – together. The relationship between content and process, however, is always present, even when undiscussed. Every classroom composes a particular global microcosm. Each lesson conveys messages not only about the subject but also about the normative orientations held concerning the place or position of that subject within large cultural and institutional systems. Success within this participatory paradigm is measured by the extent to which I am able to bring students’ attention to the relationships, rather than conceiving of facts and phenomena in isolation.
Accomplishing such a shift would be a cultural achievement, hence not something I generate on my own. To this end, I recognize the necessity of institutional support and the essential willingness of students to cooperate. The tensions of un-learning inherited habits-of-thought and customary modes-of-interaction in order to enable new ways of relating is an uncertain tightrope from which to launch projects of domestic and transnational social justice and global peace. We need a lot of practice! The small contribution I offer are stimulating courses that sustain dialogue throughout, inclusive of all the dynamics that arise, as a means of instilling respect for the power of discourses that we create together to generate substantial progress on the long road of human life. On the basis of such respect, we can more effectively collaborate to invent and institutionalize economic and political mechanisms that promote the life chances of every person on the planet.