The European Public Sphere: From critical thinking to responsible action

The European Public Sphere: From critical thinking to responsible action

Committee of the Regions
Brussels. February 2012.

Beyond Homolingualism: A Participatory Model of Simultaneous Interpretation.

The strategy to communicate Europe is guided by an emphasis on information and technology that neglects social interaction. Discourse among the EU institutions in official documents about Plan-D, the White Paper, and multilingualism perpetuate an interaction taboo in which “the tricky question” of an exclusionary language policy is avoided, minimized, or preemptively defended. This is particularly evident in regard to simultaneous interpretation. In the European Parliament, the regime of “controlled multilingualism” has resulted in a communication system that is perceived as most successful when it provides Members with an illusion of communicating in the same language. As in the policy discourse, the measures of evaluation are based in a separation of meaning (in language) from use (by people). The desire to control meaning plays out in contested relationships as Members manipulate the human bias for homolingualism as a tool for individual voice, dis-preferring the cooperative mediation of power implied by participating in simultaneous interpretation. An alternative construction of simultaneous interpretation in community interpreting for the Deaf illustrates another regime in which generating equal voice is the task of the interpreter and language difference (heteroglossia) is preserved and embraced as the goal of the social interaction. Ritualizing community-based simultaneous interpretation as an intracultural social activity is proposed as a means to communicate a new European imagined community.

Naked Yoga, Birthdays, and Soulmates

Love comes in all sizes.

I’ll freeze my tropical butt.

Ohmygod this is Bengali music!

Pajama panties?

No wonder I feel bad so often!

Don’t choke on your birthday.

Yep, that’s what she does, spreads herself all over the white stuff!

A Bengali boat song!

Getting set up with 20-year-olds and awkward men.

Thank you for pre-empting my stress!


Preceding pithy lines courtesy of Drunk on Power, Cautiously Concerned with Confidentiality, Yossarian (The Multiple), The Cat in the Hat, Deep Fudgslie, and Tapioca.

We regaled the birthday grrl with a hearty rendition of Hey Jude and a bittersweet chocolate espresso cake topped with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and whipped cream.

Butterfly Restaurant
Hadley, MA

Lessons at 48 (in two parts)

I’m not actually geriatric yet, despite teasing. An acquaintance did, however, recently bring to my attention that in seven years I’ll become eligible to join the AARP! Laugh!
Cultivate self-doubt.
Correct overshoot as soon as possible.
Strive to be gentle.
Stay firm.

Amherst, MA

corn under a western Massachusetts sky
corn under a western Massachusetts sky

I am not actually geriatric yet, despite teasing to the contrary. An acquaintance did, however, recently bring to my attention that in seven years I’ll become eligible to join the AARP!

So what’s it mean, fellow traveler?

If a life is counted as a single cycle of seasons, then I’m in early summer: all kinds of living things growing and coming to fruition.

My life lessons to date:

Keep healing.

Build your courage.

Face down reactions to fear.

Exercise the broken places inside yourself.

Seek new internal spaces.

Expand your capacities.

Notice time.



Cultivate self-doubt.

Correct overshoot as soon as possible.

It’s all improv! “Yes. And…”

Strive to be gentle.

Stay firm.


See Part 2: Dental Update (life lessons, part two)

2011 Summer Workshop on Integrated Weather Studies

2011 Summer Workshop on Integrated Weather Studies

Societal Impacts Program, National Center on Atmospheric Research
Boulder CO, August 4-12, 2011

The Societal Impacts Program (SIP) of the National Center for Atmospheric Research hosts this professional practice workshop on “changing from what WAS to what IS the future of integrated weather studies.”

WAS*IS aims to better integrate weather and social science to empower practitioners, researchers, and stakeholders, in all sectors of the weather enterprise, to forge new relationships and to use new tools for more effective socio-economic applications and evaluations of weather products.

I am looking forward to joining the group of 250+ participants chosen to contribute to this growing movement!

Checkpoint: Turning Discourse to Dialogue

Kent, Stephanie Jo., Sibii, Razvan, and Napoleone, Anna Rita. (2011).  “Checkpoint: Turning Discourse to Dialogue.” In Examining Education, Media, and Dialogue under Occupation: The Case of Palestine and Israel. I. Nasser, L. N. Berlin, & S. Wong (Eds). Critical Language and Literacy Studies Series. Multilingual Matters: UK.

from the publisher’s last round of feedback:

Excellent last chapter: a brilliant deconstruction of the power relations assumptions inherent to the practice of dialogue groups, masterfully combined with a testimony on an actual experience of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.”

polar symmetry at the Equinox

UMass Sunwheel

Clouds partially obscured sunset at the UMass Sunwheel this evening, but the day was glorious and could not be damped by moisture at high altitudes. vernal equinox 2010 at the sunwheel Dr Judith Young’s astronomy lesson drew a crowd of over a hundred on this warm spring day.

I always learn something new from her “every day astronomy” as she labels the astronomical events that occur every day, 365 days a year, always and forever as long as the earth turns.  Today I was struck by the symmetry of light at the North and South Poles. If I got it right, today is the only day – just once in the entire year – when both the North Pole and the South Pole receive light from the sun. Not only do they each receive sun at the same time (once in 365 days) but they receive it for the whole day: an entire 24 hours.

Imagery came to mind as she spoke, of the earth rotating in a slow swirl of light and dark, pulsing back and forth (pendulum-like?) from this day of total light at the top and bottom to the opposition in six months, when both poles will be simultaneously in total dark for another single day. The North will swirl on, now, in permanent light, while the South twirls in darkness.  The pattern will shift a bit from day-to-day until the Fall Equinox reverses the trend, casting the North toward the dark and the South back into the light.  (There must be a good animation of this?)

Imaginational error!  Ha – I did find an animation, and it doesn’t look at all like I had visualized! The movement is an uneven rocking, not the smoothly symmetrical dance of intertwined light-and-shadow flitting about my brain. Well. Imagination is just that, right? Imaginary.

I also located Dr Young’s astronomy podcast for today, which proposes an International Unity Day in addition to including most of the information she shared on site. The proposal is premised upon the fact that for this one day only, everybody on earth is positioned relative to the sun in exactly the same way.

Coordinates (for coordinating)


During her talk at the Sunwheel, Dr Young made an off-hand comment about how Eskimos experience the sun very differently than we do. It gave me an idea about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which poses the idea that people’s experience of the world is different because of the influence of their particular language.  It isn’t that the language per se generates a different world, but that the language reflects the particular coordinates of how a culture experiences the world around them. Then I remembered Bakhtin’s heteroglossia, which theorizes that every one (each individual) has, to some extent, their own language.

Given such a vast sum of possible variations (be it with languages or experiencing the sun) it is quite amazing that there are days (infrequent, and thus perhaps special) when anyone paying attention would discover that they were oriented to the sun in exactly the same way as everyone else (with exceptions at the extreme latitudes). It is as if the earth moves in such a way as to produce a single coordinate system – just a taste, for a time, to prove it is possible?

Dr Young (in her podcast, linked above) lists the 4 characteristics of the Equinox –

  1. the Sun rising due East,
  2. the Sun setting due West,
  3. the Sun up for 12 hours, and
  4. the Sun down for 12 hours.

And the amazing thing is that everyone on Earth sees this on the Equinox… So you may be located in Australia, or Ireland, or Ecuador, or Amherst, Massachusetts (where I am) and whether you are in the Southern hemisphere or the Northern hemisphere or at the equator, on the Equinox you will see the Sun rise due East and set due West, with 12 hours of Sun up and 12 hours of Sun down.

Just think about it – on the day of the Equinox, all creatures inhabiting the Earth will experience the same thing with regard to the direction of sunrise and sunset, and with regard to the length of time the Sun is up and the length of time the Sun is down.

Most days it is pretty hard to imagine umbrellas large enough to encompass all differences.  Personally, I’m eager to help create them.  I’ve joined this organization Four Years. Go. Perhaps it will keep me out of trouble (one hopes) when I’ve nothing else to do!

Persisting In Place: A strategy of socioeconomic survival

Dr Arturo Osorio refines Florida’s popular “creative class” model from its static premises, turning the notion of a creative class from a thing (an aggregation of people who fit required characteristics and are rather singularly motivated) to an on-going, interactive, socially-dynamic “process whose potential emergence may or may not be sustained over time.” Osorio pulled an audience of seventeen on a late fall day to listen to him tell a tale of a town where personal actions and associations coalesced into creative class organizing that generated a range of positive consequences for the community that continues, today, to feed back into organizing and interpersonal/professional community ties.

Isenberg School of Management

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Organizational Strategy

Creative Community Co-Construction

Tooling around Nantucket over New Year’s weekend, I was struck by the sense of place evident in the care given to the landscape, not to mention our host’s keen interest in birding – a demonstrably popular island activity. Twin ethics of conservation and continuation, combined with a robust sense of humor, reminded me of the work of Dr Arturo Osorio, whose dissertation defense explored the intersection of economic geography, economic sociology, and strategic management as a town re-creates itself as a community of and for artists, composed of members who utilize local resources to co-construct themselves as a creative class.[1]

Finding_ArtLooking at a place (Easthampton, MA) through an integrated analytical lens, Dr Osorio applied a collaborative multi-firm network theory[2] in which relationships are interdependent with the environment (conceived broadly) and the environment (including the embedded and implicit relationships) is inseparable from any given company, firm, or business. This fluid and dynamic model disallows sharp divisions between, for instance, “the company” and “the market,” or “employees” and “residents” and those whose physical residence is beyond town lines but whose livelihood is firmly founded within the community. While organizations are purpose-driven, the core economic transactions are deeply social – interpersonal, cognitive, cultural, and political. All of the activities of a company and the community that hosts it are intricately intertwined.

Dr Arturo Osorio refines Florida’s popular “creative class” model from its static premises, turning the notion of a creative class from a thing (an aggregation of people who fit required characteristics and are rather singularly motivated) to an on-going, interactive, socially-dynamic “process whose potential emergence may or may not be sustained over time.” Osorio pulled an audience of seventeen on a late fall day to listen to him tell a tale of a town where personal actions and associations coalesced into creative class organizing that generated a range of positive consequences for the community that continues, today, to feed back into organizing and interpersonal/professional community ties.

Choosing to contribute to a place

The most interesting point that I found in Dr Arturo Osorio’s dissertation defense was a question his results raised about why people may tend to identify themselves more on the basis of language than of the place where they live. Such as speaking Spanish, for instance, rather than English. The matter came up in relation to limits on extending Dr Osorio’s findings to more urban, mixed areas, although it caused me to wonder about rates of bi- and multilingualism in/around Easthampton.  Language fluency is a separate indicator than skills – Easthampton has above average concentrations of people with skills that are recognized as creative regardless of industry, as well as an above average concentration of people with skills that are used in industries recognized as cultural or creative. I wonder if diversity of language can contribute to creativity? What Dr Osorio studied are the interrelationships of skilled people who consciously grew a creative culture by recognizing and validating the various skills everyone had to contribute, and interweaving them into a strong and vibrant economic community.

Unfolding_of_a_Creative_ClassDr Osorio supplements Florida’s depiction of the creative class, which has come in for its own share of criticism. Florida describes the creative class through a lens akin to the hard sciences, as a concrete thing composed of particular elements which, if put together according to the right equation will reliably reproduce the desired end result. Osorio’s view is more nuanced, recognizing the role of variation and emergence in modes of self-organization when elements catalyze in ways that are not necessarily predictable. Because Osorio is focused on the combination of social factors along with economic factors, he is able to highlight the ways in which individuals can cohere positive socioeconomic changes in specific civic locations over measurable spans of time.

“It takes a community to build a creative class”

~ Dr Arturo Osorio

Dr Osorio conducted an extensive participatory ethnography and a complex social network analysis to demonstrate the relationships among narrowly-defined cultural groupings and broadly-defined socioeconomic structures.  The sociality is not always visible, but operates nonetheless. While the generic public is presented with the closed doors of artists at work, the artists themselves engage each other vigorously on all manner of concerns, including finding common cause and mutual gain with other community groups, such as persons with disabilities. As one might expect, the closest relationships are formed on the basis of homophily – emotional affinities, shared values and perspectives on issues of mutual concern, and enjoyment of similar kinds of people and events.

DSCN0336 But, a crucial element in generating a creative class, artists in Easthampton reached out beyond these most comforting relationships to learn about the needs and concerns of different artists and other community members in diverse affinity groups. Then they all consciously used this knowledge to proactively strike up alliances and strategize agreements to satisfy everyone’s desire to live/work in a community that promotes their individual, independent ability to be a certain kind of person. One of the novel discoveries of Dr Osorio’s work is that the key question in Easthampton’s successful transformation from an old mill town to a thriving artistic community is that the key question motivating collaboration was not “Where do we want to go,” but rather, “Who do we want to be?”

The process was not free of conflict or contradiction, however the influence of the artists (a widely-inclusive category in Osorio’s frame) on the economy and standard-of-living in Easthampton is proving to be resilient and sustainable, because – as an organizational process – it was always ground-up, involving multiple instances of grassroots, indigenous effort that culminated in a process that, in retrospect, can be identified by normal science.  Dr Osorio calls it “a fragile plural phenomenon” in order to emphasize both the inherent organic quality of self-organization as well as the necessity of continuous nurturance and commitment if the collective benefits are to be retained over the long term. This can conceivably happen if town planners traditionalize the collaborative approach to problem-solving that has characterized the rise of Easthampton’s creative class to date.

Sound utopian?

Mutually_Co-constructing_processesWell, it is a small town in Western Massachusetts rather than a massive urban area.  “The Planning Dept is two people,” explains Osorio, who are “doing mediation not planning.” They accomplish so much, so effectively, “not through dictating policies but by addressing specific problems and issues as they arise and working them through collaboratively – which [is what] generates policy.”  Can this model be extended? I guess those are the experiments we all are waiting for.  Dr Osorio affirms, “…[creative class] cohesion can only be reached, not by dictatorship but by communication.”  An important question is the extent to which western Massachusetts is unique: few other places will meet similar contextual criteria that define this region (such as the proximity of several elite colleges, museums, historical/traditional work in the arts, etc).

As the committee hurled questions at Dr Osorio, DSCN0341_2it became apparent how momentous is the potential in his work. His chair commented on “the open-endness of what you’re doing” – a comment clarified by Daphne, another Management graduate student: “The ‘creative class’ is an empty signifier, you can fill it up in different ways.” This rather blows Richard Florida out of the water (IMHO). Instead of a precise configuration of ascribed statuses available mainly to the elite and those brilliant few from historically disenfranchised groups who manage to thread the needle and arrive in the top ranks, Osorio brings membership in the creative class within reach of all of us.  We just have to decide to begin working with each other, in specific and targeted ways that are rooted, anchored, and otherwise defined by a real physical place.  This may mean facing down racial antagonisms and divisions constituted by language/identity difference and infrastructural oppression. Dr Osorio’s dissertation research suggests the bridge is to build value and meaning into the physical, geographic place where you live or work.

[1] Richard Florida, 2007 also Gibson & Kong, 2005:542

[2] Miles, Snow & Miles 2005

Choral Tribute to Elaine J Kent

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque Sky

As the plane taxied from the gate in Dallas/Fort Worth to takeoff en route to Albuquerque last Friday, the sunset evoked Mom’s favorite landscape. As my brother said, mom found her peace here. Missing Frontier Restauranther these past few months has been odd, a sensation I rarely felt: I don’t recall experiencing homesickness, our bond just wasn’t like that. The intimacy of our relationship grew gradually over the years, culminating in a slow summer full of sweetness followed by a precipitous ten-day dive.

Decades ago, inspired by some radical crip friends of mine (notably Mary Frances, and one or two others) and motivated by a penchant for creative fiddling, Mom had wanted me to apply for a patent on her over-the-shoulder bag that allows for the equal distribution of weight to the front and back. At the time, I was as intimidated by the process as she was, and it wasn’t too long before somewhat similar designs began to appear on the mass market.  I always felt that I had missed that moment for her; a regret that I carried even before she died. But otherwise there are relatively few, a tribute, I believe, to her insistence in carrying forth her mother’s ethic of not imposing on her children. At least, that is how Mom explained, in her last coherent conversation with me, the hands-off approach to parenting that was a source of angst for much of my life.

wood in snowNow, in retrospect, I discover depths of dimensionality that were obscure to me while she was alive, such as her singing with the New Mexico Women’s Chorus.  It was a bold move for mom to branch out from choral singing with church groups to join a group composed mainly of lesbians, whose eclectic choices of material ranges rather far afield from the Christian hymnal. As George said in the Chorus’ tribute to mom, “Elaine always tolerated our choices,” elicited a low rumble of appreciative laughter from the audience who had just been regaled with such numbers as the “Menstrual Tango” (by Jamie Anderson, this was Sangria Girl’s favorite), “The Lesbian Second Date Moving Service” (David Maddux), and a liberal adaptation of Paul McCartney’s “(Now) I’m 64.”

Reciprocal Tolerance

It is probably unwise to dwell too much on what an odd bird my mom was.  “I know she was awkward,” I told one member of the chorus. She responded, “That’s a good way to put it.” Then she told me how Mom often came to rehearsal with her own mini-electric keyboard, which she played according to some logic that had nothing to do with the numbers being practiced by the chorus.  “Everyone remembers her for that!” Oh boy. I couldn’t help but wonder at potential parallels: how often am I plinking away at my own tune at the edges of some group who’s trying hard not to let the annoyance get to them?! But Mom was usually responsive to feedback (hopefully me too!), and she brought interesting music from her background for the group to consider.


I can’t imagine Mom acting in any of the skits. That would have been something to see!  But it seems she did break out and display her independence every now and then. “If she liked a different part, she just sang that one.”   The most common adjective used to describe her was quirky.  “She had her quirks, but then we all do,” one of the Directors told me. “That’s alright,” Emilio observed. “People remember odd people.” Some people really did click with her, and several appreciated that I had come to share, vicariously, in that part of Mom still reverberating in the rhythms of this vital community.  “I appreciated her sense of social justice,” a public school teacher told me, “she was always bringing me articles from Teaching Tolerance. It was her way of learning and passing it on.”

Singing for our Lives


There were several numbers that really got to me.  The whole trip was emotional, of course, although I had not anticipated when, where, or how the grieving would strike: such as walking off the plane into an airport with no mom to greet me. Still, the loss was compensated for by an incredible sense of gain. This group of women whom I had only heard about in the barest sketch from Mom welcomed and embraced me – just as they had done, for several years, with Mom herself.  Living the talk, sharing the walk.

The chorus had chosen a beautiful song by Jane Siberry to dedicate to Mom, Calling All Angels. On the night of the performance however, a few soloists were ill and they weren’t able to sing this one.  Luckily I had heard it during rehearsal the night before. I was surprised at the first point that caught me in the throat during the concert. I have always enjoyed Dar Williams, but I don’t think I’d ever carefully listened to the lyrics of When I was a boy. The last stanza makes a surprising shift, from a woman’s gender assertions to a man insisting “when I was a girl,” and then recalling moments he had shared with his mother.  My brother leapt immediately to mind. You were there, Rich, in all the ways that matter, during childhood and now.

The last stanza of the song, May I Suggest, rendered by soloist Kathy Morris , also brought tears to my eyes. The wonderful thing that I have always experienced at both gay men’s and women’s choruses is the mix of humor and poignancy about real life.  So, while one of the Directors earned a posterboard advertisement – “Director Needs 1st Date” – from a helpful DSCN0540 member of the chorus, another member’s boss snapped photos of her in pap exam stirrups while she bewailed the rigors of maintaining the reproductive organs (“Women’s Health Medley” by Lisa Koch). I don’t think too many other members of the audience were crying in-between laughing, but there is a spirit of communality that can be felt when everyone is simply paying close attention – it generates a force invigorating the mix of joy and pain we all experience while living these, our precious and irreplaceable lives.

In lieu of the planned dedication number, Mom got the whole concert dedicated to her before the final song, an original piece by Director Liz Lopez, “I Remember Falling.” I am hopeful the audio-recording comes out because it is quite a beautiful piece. And then, according to tradition, the New Mexico Women’s Chorus closed by inviting the audience to join in the singing of a popular civil rights anthem:

We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.”

Thanks Mom, for singing with and for us.