May Day

Weird synchronies. Today was the last lecture in a course I interpreted this semester on American Romanticism. (Oh, are they talking about me?) Earlier this semester I got excited by Walt Whitman. I don’t think I ever read Leaves of Grass. Now it’s Moby Dick. I did try to read it, once. On my own – not for a class. I don’t remember anything that I read because it was assigned. (Careful, tangent alert!)

Sometimes, there really just isn’t anybody to call.

Only life to live.

Most of my consciousness is directed toward my friend, a teacher, a guide who never led me wrong. Feeling grateful, mostly, for her life and all the gifts she gave, is giving, will continue to give.

Weird synchronies.  Today was the last lecture in a course I interpreted this semester on American Romanticism.  (Oh, are they talking about me?)  Earlier this semester I got excited by Walt Whitman.  I don’t think I ever read Leaves of Grass.  Now it’s Moby Dick.  I did try to read it, once.  On my own – not for a class.  I don’t remember anything that I read because it was assigned.  (Careful, tangent alert!)

The teacher emphasized the relationship between Ahab and Starbuck – a lot of action happened between “The Quarterdeck” and “Symphony,” and there’s two key chapters in between: “The Musket” and “Cabin.”  Then we got to “The Chase.”  There’s also an intense analysis of Ishmael, the trope of embodiment, and the author’s philosophy. (Today the Occupy Wall Street movement is unleashing a wave of protest intended to ignite the 99%. I only know one person in the 1% who likes me.  I might have met some others but they didn’t like me too much.)

Mei Mei wants attention too.

Deep Economy: Leveraging Emergencies

This blog entry is a report in the style of ethnographic action research. It is ethnographic in the sense that it presents a descriptive and non-evaluative account of observed human interaction. It is action research in the sense that it singles out particular features of the observed human interaction as having high potential for enhancing the foundations for a resilient economy.  The rest of the blog entry is composed of three sections, including some implicit metaphors that resonate with a longer trajectory of action research for the social good.
  1. Risk and Value
  2. Moulage
  3. A Resilience Regime

Risk and Value

One of the major shifts occurring in our lifetime is the increasing risk of being a victim of a disaster. Adapting to these new, changing conditions presents a classic challenge because day-to-day survival is generally taken for granted. The conveniences of technology and superb engineering infrastructure have cushioned much of the population from considering the constant threat of death that historically characterized human existence. Survival used to depend upon individual fortitude and extreme cooperation within communities – everyone knew this and acted accordingly.

Emergency Response Training for Community Volunteers in the District of Colombia
Emergency Response Training for Community Volunteers in the District of Colombia

It may become true again that survival will depend upon individual preparedness and the tightness of your immediate community in planning together how to respond to a disaster. Trained professionals are stretched to encompass a vast range of knowledge, skill, and experience in their discipline (fire, policing, medical, etc.) and beyond. Now, First Responders must also

  • be skilled in communicating with diverse communities (there is no one-size-fits-all language),
  • understand the precisely relevant needs of unique individuals (rather than assuming everyone is exactly the same as everyone else), and
  • comprehend and use new technologies of social media.

Although amazing improvements have been made throughout the field of emergency management since 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina, recent natural disasters around the country continue to expose weaknesses and gaps. Invariably, many these gaps revolve around expectations that volunteers will miraculously appear and take care of all the ragged edges.

Interoperations: Self-enclosed or Interactive?

Of course there are, and always will be, spontaneous volunteers during acute stages of a disaster. Some good samaritans will also gut out the long haul. But vital services for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and medically ill, transportation for people with mobility disabilities, language support services for people fluent in languages other than English, childcare, pet and service animals husbandry, and a host of other specific functional and access needs are not going to materialize out of nowhere. Adequate emergency response now and in the future is going to be measured on the basis of casualties among people in these groups. Just as recent disasters have illustrated that professional First Responders are not yet capable of anticipating and responding properly to every individual situation, the inadequacy of relying on volunteers to respond effectively and efficiently in caring for the most vulnerable populations is also blatantly obvious.

The entire system needs to evolve.


Serve DC exercises Community Emergency Response Team Members
Serve DC exercises Community Emergency Response Team Members

The District of Colombia’s Mayor’s Office of Volunteerism, Serve DC, is taking steps to build relationships between trained volunteers and professional emergency responders. On Saturday, April 14th, more than two dozen previously-trained Community Emergency Response Team members were given a taste of what it would be like to deploy as ‘first responders’ to a scene involving multiple victims. This first-time event for the District put volunteers in the field to be coached by fire personnel and emergency response consultants. On a beautifully sunny day, a well thought-out “high wind event” disaster scenario challenged these would-be rescuers to work in teams, coordinate with each other both within and between teams, and demonstrate their ability to stablize wounded people while awaiting more highly trained medical personnel.

Inter-role Communication

It was my first experience with moulage, the realistic display of severe injuries. I spent most of the time observing the Incident Commander and considering the communication dynamics. There are some tough inter-role dynamics to sort out. By role, I mean the different categories of function that need to be performed by designated individuals. Roles are distinguished by tangible criteria such as amount of training and experience, and are performed according to less tangible personal qualities of the individual. For this CERT exercise, the primary roles were professional First Responders (acting as coaches) and volunteers – including the victims (talk about a role that requires patience!). While the actual exercise was focused on intra-role communication (among and between CERT volunteers), the practical test of CERTs is going to be how and when they are integrated by the professionals into the response effort.

This will require some adaptation on both sides: volunteers need to learn to confirm to hierarchies of command that are fairly rigid, and professionals need to accept more variation in the communication of significant information.

A Resilience Regime

Jason Williamson evaluates the success of the first Serve DC CERT Exercise
Jason Williamson evaluates the success of the first Serve DC CERT Exercise

One of the most telling indicators of the quality of human social organization are the lines drawn around paid and unpaid labor during emergencies. I have already begun to argue the necessity for a new, temporary designation for professionals and paraprofessionals who respond during a disaster. Minimum levels of training would need to be established, along with Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for alert and notification, issuing safety equipment, deployment, administration for billing and reimbursement, and access to post-disaster services such as trauma counseling and medical care.

…an ever-expanding Problematic Moment?

This is the second ‘report’ on a possible problematic moment at the mini-Bakhtinian conference on education hosted by the University of Delaware in March (ending on April Fool’s Day, a co-incidence of no note, unless we decide it helps the heuristic!).  Contents of this blog entry are:

  1. Perils in the Foreground
  2. Promises in the Background
  3. Possibilities of Dialogue: Repressed or Just Damn Hard?

Perils in the Foreground

We are grateful for Eugene’s engagement with our first “report” on a possible problematic moment at the mini-Bakhtinian conference on education. At a later point we hope to respond to his What Do You Think (WDYT) query, for now we are framing our second report in response to his assertion that we are privileging form over content. (Our claim is to draw attention to process — what we sometimes call “the social” — which could be understood as a succession of forms, and is typically under-emphasized in academic contexts.) In fact, James’ comment to the first report anticipates Eugene’s criticism!  James wrote:

We missed out on presenting our content.

From our vantage point, then, Eugene and we are ‘on the same page’ or ‘looking in the same direction’ or otherwise ‘united’ in gazing upon an object/subject of relevance.

James and Steph pinpointed our self-critique on James’ admission, during the fishbowl, that “my mind is a complete blank.” That was a facilitation issue – Steph was juggling a dual recognition: that the small group work intended to preceed and thereby inform the fishbowl task had been subverted by several conference participants, and that James – who was supposed to lead the fishbowl – had been silenced. In retrospect, the facilitation move Steph prefers she had made (and hopes she recalls if such an event arises again) would have been to hold the space for James to articulate his experience. Instead, she moved on, contributing to the miniaturization of James’ complex identities and intelligences.

The silencing of James (a co-facilitator and the originator of the Problematic Theory) is the most blatant example we have yet experienced of simultaneity at work. We find ourselves still somewhat floundering – especially in the ‘silence’ (non-response) of other individuals who were in the room during the fishbowl activity which was designed as the centerpiece of our workshop, Bringing Simultaneity to Dialogic Pedagogy.

Promises in the Background

We are delighted that (from our perspective!) we accomplished everything we hoped to and learned more than we could have imagined.

Denigrated identities.

Did we recreate the dynamics of the PM-the group stuck.
Liesl photo. Do we know any symbolic interactionists who could help us do a spiel on her possible significance? Any juice in the youngest/eldest daughter issue? Nazi context for Sound of Music. Time Nazi comment by Eugene.

Possibilities of Dialogue: Repressed or Just Damn Hard?

responsive workshop design and the necessity of participation from others in handling the emergent dynamics

No overt norms but many covert norms some of which became manifest.
Problem of trying to get academics to reflect and apply their theories in practice. Application or implication?

Hierarchy of chronotypes. Most locked in individual chronotype.
Bring in differand work.
Follow up work to conference we are doing.

I Sing the Body Electric (Walt Whitman on Hip Hop)

Through me the afflatus surging and surging . . . . through me the current and index.

Whatever goes to the tilth of me it shall be you,
You my rich blood, your milky stream pale strippings of my life;
Breast that presses against other breasts it shall be you,
My brain it shall be your occult convolutions,
Root of washed sweet-flag, timorous pond-snipe, nest of guarded duplicate eggs, it shall be you,
Mixed tussled hay of head and beard and brawn it shall be you,
Trickling sap of maple, fibre of manly wheat, it shall be you;
Sun so generous it shall be you,
Vapors lighting and shading my face it shall be you,
You sweaty brooks and dews it shall be you,
Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me it shall be you,
Broad muscular fields, branches of liveoak, loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you,
Hand I have taken, face I have kissed, mortal I have ever touched, it shall be you.

I hear the trained soprano . . . . she convulses me like the climax of my love-grip;
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches unnamable ardors from my breast,
It throbs me to gulps of the farthest down horror,
It sails me . . . . I dab with bare feet . . . . they are licked by indolent waves,
I am exposed . . . . cut by bitter and poisoned hail,
Steeped amid honeyed morphine . . . . my windpipe squeezed in the fakes of death,
Let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.

Performing "I Sing the Body Electric" in the 1980 film, Fame.
Performing "I Sing the Body Electric" in the 1980 film, Fame.

Leaves of Grass

Dolphin  Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc
Garden City, New York
“…a reprint of the first edition, published in Brooklyn, New York, in 1855. The text is a faithful copy of the original, and has not been edited or abridged in any way. The typography and design…have been altered, however, to meet the requirements of [now, post-]modern production methods.”
Quotations (in sequence) from pages 55, 56, 59, and liner notes before the title page.

Is Dialogue Possible?

Promises & Perils of Dialogic Pedagogy

Promises and Perils of Dialogic Pedagogy

It certainly wasn’t boring.

At least not after the slow start! But maybe the start wasn’t actually that slow . . . here I am re-thinking the beginning after the end.

We did not rush back from lunch, so the first set of presentations did not begin on time. Actually, time boundary-keeping was broken earlier, when Eugene and Ana asked James and me to say something during the opening/welcome talk about our action research project. We wanted to keep it brief. I did not think to record the time we actually took nor how long beyond the time allotted in the schedule, but it seems likely that we were already over time before we had practically begun.


Lunch was leisurely yet animated. I was twice called over to the other table in the aftermath of a so-called problematic moment, not to mention finding myself in wild debate with an Israeli over the title of a conference that I am attending in May. We were late getting back to the conference venue – how late past the scheduled start I have no idea. Did the first presenter go way over his designated time? I held up until the third or fourth presentation and then I could not remain alert. I don’t think I actually fell asleep, just dozed but still – enough to feel a little embarrassed.

Tweet activity was okay – we had active tweeters right away and some persisted throughout. You can watch a video of the Tidepool visualization of tweet activity from the first 36 hours of the conference here: #Bakhtin tweets in Tidepool.  Also, you might be interested to know that, at the very end of the conference, @nafoolah tweets from far outside-the-room: “does this hashtag come from nothing to help in my studying about Mikhail Bakhtin” and @antoesp shares Cresswell and Hawn (2012), with dual hashtags for #bakhtin and #epistemology.


Two tweets on the same topic, posted simultaneously.
Two tweets on the same topic, posted simultaneously.

Thankfully the energy shifted during the last presentation of Day 1 when Ana presented her struggle to maintain balance within the tension of being drawn, simultaneously, to two opposed chronotopes: sticking with the standard curriculum or shifting to the Live Event. Her presentation generated the first simultaneous tweets, as well as the first animated Question and Answer period of the conference. Then we were off to dinner. Did anyone sense conflict percolating around the edges, in the hallways, offline? I was unaware.

The First Tsunami was covert

Neither my colleague, who discovered a theory of problematic moments, nor myself recognized the possible problematic moment when it occurred during the second day’s first session. I rejected the idea when it was first presented to me, but once past my initial gut reaction I had to admit that I had felt an emptiness open up, a silence deep enough that wonder regarding what would happen next began to grow. Perhaps I sensed others’ emotions begin to fill the void….but the facilitator re-covered the breach for us; we all went along with her move. I forgot about it. At break however, a participant and one of the organizers approached me with the claim that they had caused a problematic moment.

Pinpointing a possible problematic moment
Pinpointing a possible problematic moment

I rejected this instantly because James and I are pretty sure group-level problematic moments cannot be caused by individual action. This theoretically-descriptive aspect, combined with my previous experiences with problematic moments, led to my out-of-hand rejection. But Kathy was persistent, and her language described my embodied perception perfectly, a silence after a silence. Nearly 24 hours later, when we were able to ask conference participants about their experience of/in that moment, many of the participants who had been present were not able to distinguish the second silence from the first: either they sensed one stable pause; noticed no pause; noticed but deemed it unremarkable, perhaps cultural but nothing more); or was already experiencing an encompassing state-of-being which consumed the distinctiveness all particular moments during that timespan. Such nuances of intrapersonal response detail incredible subtleties of simultaneity and are a significant finding of this action research project.

Control: Fight or Flight?

Based on everything we learned afterward (and, may I just say, we learned a helluva lot!), I can imagine that the instigators of the planned disruption might not have felt the shift from the first to the second silence because they were enjoying the carnivalesque pleasure of rebellion. As it happened, the presenter quickly picked a possible response and pursued it. And, as noted above, none of the rest of us intervened in the tension between pursuing/resuming a standard chronotope or shifting to the chronotope of engaging with Here-and-Now live events. During an interview, the presenter explained, with a touch of regret, that she had not acted as usual in that kind of situation because the group had not yet established a communal sensibility.

Normally we would have captured the PM on video and been able to show it back to the group for interrogation, but unexpected requests for copies of presentations had thrown us for a loop. We missed recording a few presentations while grappling to absorb the ramifications of distributing copies of video obtained under conditions of informed consent. Without the PM to replay, we were left with only the principals’ reports of their respective experiences of the moment. These proved insufficient inspiration for a collective exploration of whether or not a PM had occurred. Instead, we found ourselves in a swirl of debate trying to teach the relevance of differences between interpersonal (individual) and group-level dynamics. In retrospect, we realized that it would have been helpful to articulate the theoretical frameworks that guide our analytical gaze and generation of hypotheses.

Norming: Academic, not Innovative

Probably it could not have been any other way. Despite the encouragement we took from pre-conference email communication describing, for instance, how “Our mini-Bakhtinian conference is not the same as every other conference you have attended,” the rituals of social interaction were not significantly affected. The change in form, “that we don’t have parallel sessions, but the whole conference takes place in only one track” may not have implied as much willingness to explore the stages of group development as we optimistically interpreted. After the possible problematic moment, James and I became absorbed with preparing for our scheduled workshop slot: we were generating hypotheses about the possible problematic moment and imagining how to design the session in order to maximize engagement with the data. As far as I can recall, the presentations continued along the rest of Day 2. Presumedly most of the conference participants again enjoyed a meal together; we huddled in our hotel room, parsing video and strategizing how best to maximize the learning opportunity.


For this first blog entry (the project proposal specified two or three), I’m working from memory and also trying to cast as wide and broad an overview as I can, while remaining tight on the emergent data that we selected for qualitative analysis. The foursome who appeared to give the first presentation on Day 3 had not been previously present; from my point-of-view they caught a huge thrust of energy as the group initiated a Q&A only a few minutes into their presentation. I was quite impressed with how they handled the feedback, apparently unruffled they took it all down and hung in there for the rest of the morning (but that’s all). It seemed that conference participants who had remained since the start were hitting stride. Then came our workshop and it proceeded as if grudgingly. Although no carnivalesque actions were performed, two of the small groups overtly chose not to conduct the structured “now what” task but instead opted to talk about something else that they wanted to talk about with each other. We left to debrief and, upon return some 90 minutes later, were informed that we had missed a(nother possible) problematic moment.

The Second (possible) Problematic Moment was Overt

A conference participant who had left remains in conversation via Twitter
A conference participant who had left remains in conversation via Twitter

We were not there and did not leave the camcorder running, so we have paltry data to work with. Eugene told me they have faced such disagreement before, that it has to do with (according to some) “application,” and (according to him), “implication” regarding his dialogic pedagogy philosophy (?) of teaching. Yifat said, “Oh you really missed something,” and James was told that there was a din, an outburst of many talking at the same time. It sure sounds like a group-level event. I mused about it on twitter, getting responses from Eugene and also Mara – who had been able to attend (along with several others) only the first two days of the conference.


"love" was tweeted at least 16 times in 30 minutes
"love" was tweeted at least 16 times in 30 minutes

We were only able to stay for the first presentation of the last, fourth day of the conference.  It would be cool if some quantitative analyst would run the tweet data (as captured in Tidepool tweet counts) and correlate word frequency with the topics of each workshop. As with the National Science Foundation tweet data (Idiographic Case #1) from their Workshop on Transformative Research, the tweets that Tidepool captures represent only a partial perspective on the conference-as-a-whole. For what it’s worth, the word with the highest count within the time boundary of a single presentation was brought to us by Jayne.

Social Justice in Education Initiative: Let’s dream of an approach to social justice that enables students and teachers to bring their multiple selves to learning

with Evangelina Holvino and James Cumming of Chaos Management, LTD

Expanding Conversations about Social Justice in Education: Exploring Possibilities and Tensions
2nd Forum of the Social Justice in Education Initiative
University of Massachusetts Amherst
April 20, 2012

Our poster presents a summary of our thinking applying the concept of simultaneity to help students and teachers bring their multiple selves to enhance the learning task. Holvino’s theory of simultaneity (2010) views identities as multiple, interacting and continuously shaped by the simultaneous organizational and societal processes of race, gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity and nation, among other social differences.

Having multiple selves means learning how to accept the resulting ambiguities and contradictions in learning together. It means that interactions are frequently marked by something we call “problematic moments.” These are rich sites for understanding how people are impeded or enabled to enact simultaneity. They are also moments when an intervention has the most potential for engaging justly with differences, changing the conversation and its outcomes. We will explore how to enhance such outcomes.

A Tweetorial with a Mission

The best occasion to join Twitter is during a conference or event where other participants are also/already Tweeting. Even if you rarely contribute your own original Tweets, simply reading what people are talking about, and Re-Tweeting (command: RT) are significant contributions to a crucial conversation. I’m curious whether worth pursuing might come from linking the #nsftr conversation with this week’s #bakhtin conversation. Are TR (transformative research) and dialogic pedagogy (DP) two sides of the same coin?

This is a tutorial about Twitter; a Tweetorial with a mission.

Most Tweeters share pithy thoughts that they think may be of interest, humor, insight. The best occasion to join Twitter is during a conference or event where other participants are also/already Tweeting. The trick is to find out what special identifier – called a hashtag (details below) – is being used as the code for collecting Tweets about the experience of that event. At academic and business conferences, these Tweets usually consist of a) quotes or paraphrases of what presenters are saying and b) commentary about the quotes, people and/or conditions of the venue. Tweeters who are so inclined may engage in networking or repartee – both with other people in attendance (i.e., who are “in the room”), and also with people who are not physically present but following the Tweets about the event from “outside the room.” Sometimes different perspectives are evident; often all one gets is a collage of statements. In order to make sense of these strange smatterings, one has to extrapolate relationships of the various Tweets with the theme of the event, and imagine what positions and dynamics they might represent.

Table of Contents:

  1. Why Tweet?
  2. Action Research Proposal
  3. Potentially Transformative Research
  4. The Basics

Why Tweet?

Even if you rarely contribute your own original Tweets, simply reading what people are talking about, and Re-Tweeting (command: RT) are significant contributions to a crucial conversation. The conversation is messy, but software tools are being invented to help sort through all the different discourses by collecting intersections, simultaneities, juxtapositions, rhythm and rhyme. Tidepool, for instance, is an open source tool still in the early stages of development. Tidepool’s first public use was at the 2012 #ictinferno, a Summit on Information and Communication Technology hosted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Digital revolution is a game changer. #ictinferno,” tweeted @jonberndtolsen, summarizing a point by keynote presenter Douglass Trumbull.

The success of Tidepool at the #ictinferno emboldened a surprise action research engagement with the 2012 Workshop on Transformative Research hosted by the National Science Foundation. The Tidepool visualization and Tweet Archive provided just enough substance to generate an open, public conversation about what it means to do transformative research.

Action Research Proposal:

LLR-ICT2012I’m curious whether something worth pursuing might come from linking the #nsftr conversation with this week’s #bakhtin conversation. James has noticed that I seem to be considering TR (transformative research) and dialogic pedagogy (DP) as two sides of the same coin. Are they? Would putting the expertise of language/dialogue specialists into conversation with the expertise of interdisciplinary scientists generate conditions for making headway on a wicked problem or two, by “incorporat[ing] knowledge from multiple perspectives from different scientific disciplines and from the public as a way of breaking free of traditional thinking patterns“?

Potentially Transformative Research

Is there such a thing as pre-identified “potentially transformative research”? Similar to climate change/public policy scholar @danadolan, I’m eager to see the #NSFTR Workshop Report! In just a dozen comments to my critical discourse analysis of the #NSFTR Tweets, several challenging dynamics of group interaction have arisen. There’s the problem of terminology (Bubbles? “Don’t call them portals!” Ah, they are clouds.) There’s also the problem of theory. The description of Lyotard’s “phrase” and “genre” sure reminds me of Bakhtin, and Lyotard’s differend must be related to Derrida’s différance.  Meanwhile, one may want to be alert for diatribes: are they tangents steering engagement away from a certain kind of social/interactional dynamic, or representations of dynamics being enacted, somehow, by participants and witnesses to the conversation? (And when topics are flagged as such, what then? Not to mention spontaneous outbursts of songwriting!) You’ve also got to consider the practical applications: is there any product to be made with theoretical ideas or are they pie-in-the-sky? And what about deviations from the original objectives? How constraining is the allowance for development?

The Basics:

For the Mini-Bakhtin Conference on Education: Promises and Challenges of Dialogic Pedagogy, we are hoping to inspire some new and experienced Tweeters to Tweet using the special identifier (known as a hashtag) #Bakhtin – case, btw, does not matter, but the # symbol does! The # symbol in front of a word or acronym constitutes a hashtag. If you do not have a Twitter account, please consider signing up and Tweeting during the conference, even if you never use it again!

Some tips:

  • Most professional people use their full/real names, or a recognizable variation. I played around with mine (@stephjoke) to poke a bit of fun at myself. James played it straight up, @jamescumming.
  • You can “follow” us (search for our usernames in the search box on the Twitter homepage, make sure you keep the @ symbol! That turns the nickname into an address). All Tweets by whoever you follow will appear in your Twitter account, including Tweets without the hashtag #bakhtin.
  • Even if you decide not to sign up for a Twitter account, you can google the hashtag, #BAKHTIN, and see what (if anything) is being Tweeted.
  • (I came across a few Tweets last week including #Bakhtin hashtag by Tweeters who were quoting or otherwise referencing our hero). These outsiders probably don’t care about this conference, but you never know!
  • At the conference, Steph will be available to provide Twitter assistance and support.
  • We will be collecting Tweets in two ways: an archive at and with the “visualizer” called Tidepool. The Tidepool visualization of Tweets will be displayed during the conference:

For additional information, please see Understanding Twitter: Why Twitter is Less Like Facebook and More Like Email – Learn about what Twitter is, how it works, and how to use it to interact with others. Are you trying to fit Twitter into a Facebook mold? If so, you might be missing out!

Doing Transformative Research

Proposal for Potentially Transformative Social Scientific Action Research: Simultaneity is the Linchpin

You are invited to follow and participate in the next Tidepool experiment (idiographic case #2), to be conducted in conjunction with a conference on The Promises and Challenges of Dialogic Pedagogy. Emerging social theories are considering simultaneity in some fascinating ways. For instance, Levitt and Schiller are conceptualizing simultaneity “to rethink the terrain in which social processes take place . . . [and] challenge our understanding of social reproduction” (2004: 1016). This is relevant because unless and until scientists are willing to investigate and interrogate their own social rituals of doing scientific research, little (if any) transformation is possible.

Case #1: NSF Workshop on Transformative Research

There are four parts to this blogentry:

  • Informed Consent Process (specific to this case)
  • #NSFTR Data
  • Analysis of #NSFTR Data
  • Proposal for Potentially Transformative Social Scientific Action Research

Informed Consent

Background (Idiographic case #1, see Jaan Valsiner)

Those on the list into twitter may be interested in keeping an eye on the hashtag #NSFTR today and early tomorrow.

The tag will mark tweets of ideas (no attribution to speakers, no identifying affiliations) coming from a workshop on the notion of transformative research:

With best wishes,


J. Britt Holbrook
Assistant Director
Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity
University of North Texas
Twitter: @jbrittholbrook

I am a member of the Science of Team Science listserv, “into twitter,” and curious about “ideas . . . on the notion of transformative research.” I immediately searched for the hashtag and discovered Britt’s tweet inviting “contributions from outside the room.”  Follow - contrib from outside the roomLooking at it now, I realize it was directed at very specific individuals; at the time, in conjunction with the email, I interpreted it as an open invitation and jumped into the conversation. My hope was twofold: to contribute directly and to showcase a Twitter tool which (in my active imagination) could be a “radical knowledge thing” that NSF could use in support of transformative research.

To announce my presence (@stephjoke), I tweeted “action today and tomorrow from a Transformative Research Workshop,” including the #NSFTR hashtag and website link. Periodically I tweeted, (in-between regularly scheduled events and other tasks of the day), waiting for my tech guy to get the visualizer (tentatively named Tidepool) up and running. (Last minute requests are always a challenge!) Don Blair came through, and I immediately shared the url and a series of screenshots.

Now, someone astute among readers will realize that a) Britt’s invitation may not have meant to include outsiders outside the room (since he clearly specified already-known insiders, and I do not know if I have previously met anyone who was ‘in the room’); and b) even if the invitation was meant to include strangers, I did not ask permission to run the visualizer, let alone analyzing the Tweet data. Which is why  (during the conference), I Tweeted my affiliation with the proactionary principle, especially in terms of how it “encourages taking risks”  – in contrast with the precautionary principle. My rationale was that Tweets are public data and more people than any of us can imagine are mining them for all kinds of things that we may or may not approve. At least I make what I do public!

social science challenge-danadolanTo be honest, I was not fully cognizant that I was actually already doing potentially transformative research (as described in @danadolan’s Tweet); only that I had an opportunity to demo Tidepool. The potential of analysis – of having enough data to justify engaging this as an actual case – came clearly into mind in the week afterwards, as I began prepping in earnest for an upcoming conference where Informed Consent is being negotiated in advance. Participants need an example in order to comprehend the implications of consent; what better way to provide them this information than to illustrate to what use I will put their Tweets?


Announcing the Tidepool open source visualizer at #NSFTR
Announcing the Tidepool open source visualizer at #NSFTR
2nd #NSFTR Tweet captured by Tidepool
2nd #NSFTR Tweet captured by Tidepool
The first #NSFTR Tweet captured by Tidepool
The first #NSFTR Tweet captured by Tidepool

Here are some of the screen shots I shared with the #NSFTR (click to enlarge), and also posted back to the Science of Team Science listserv where Britt had made his original announcement. You can click through here to see and read Tweets from the #NSFTR workshop (and possibly on-going, as Tweeters continue to use the hashtag).


I am not going to get carried away because no one has given consent for me to venture even tentative interpretations! This entry is long-winded enough, and hopefully the inclusion of Tweet screenshots and commentary gives adequate flavor as to my style. It seems important, however, to be as explicit as I can with the methodology and ethics motivating this as action research. For instance, there are many disclaimers, such as that the majority of Tweets are from @jbrittholbrook and are thus unrepresentative of the whole group of participants (emphasizing why more participation is better), and that the Tweets are only a selection of everything that gets said, and that people outside the room can only make limited sense of the meaningfulness of Tweets read out of context.

Yes. These are some of the obvious conditions of communication involving a Twitter backchannel to a live, face-to-face event. If we are to be purposeful about engaging these conditions (i.e., if we are going to do social science), then we take them into due consideration as relevant factors and explore the dynamics that they bring into view. I am going to select one dynamical instance of data that I recognize as an instance of a transactional (communication) process which brings the social field of interaction into view such that we can assess whether identities or ideas are particularly relevant. The argument is that only by recognizing these interactional moments – specifically, our participation in the social norms and rituals of generating knowledge – can we come to identify the transformational. This identification is prerequisite for research that intends to be transformative.

Simultaneity is the Linchpin

good def of transformative@JChrisPires’ Tweet came a few hours after the email I sent to the Science of Team Science listserv updating them on my activities with #NSFTR. In that email, I had also suggested a facilitative use of Twitter, such as asking everyone to Tweet the one word most characterizes transformative research. When I came upon@JChrisPires’ Tweet at the end of the workshop, I recognized it immediately. We were not asking exactly the same question, and we did not ask at exactly the same time, but the timing is close enough to suggest simultaneity. In physics, simultaneity requires a shared frame of reference, but in terms of social phenomena – such as the generation of new knowledge – simultaneity is a measure that incorporates both shared and different frames of reference simply on the basis of their co-appearance in the dimension of time.

The association may seem far-fetched, however emerging social theories are considering simultaneity in some fascinating ways. For instance, Levitt and Schiller are conceptualizing simultaneity “to rethink the terrain in which social processes take place . . . [and] challenge our understanding of social reproduction” (2004: 1016). This is relevant because unless and until scientists are willing to investigate and interrogate their own social rituals of doing scientific research, little (if any) transformation is possible. Anna Madoeuf (2006) explains how to study mulids (festivals) only a few days long (as you read, please compare with the similarly temporary/transient nature of scientific meetings):

“Festivals only a few days in duration offer the researcher little real time to construct an analysis. The evanescent character of the festival drives a researcher’s quest for fragments. During a festival, everyone seems to live and act in an accelerated way and it is impossible to grasp the simultaneity of situations and scenes. Thus we have experimented with adapting sociogeographic methodologies to the roller-coaster landscape of the mulid, instantaneously capturing data created during aleatory, virtiginous peregrinations. We have chosen to accept the immediacy of the mulid and adapt research tactics — impressionistic, sampling — to its constraints. However, a broader field of more empirical analysis is also open to the researcher, because the festival is also a long-term product of less-ephemeral social, state, and urban organizing patterns, and cultural-political contestations: a mulid is debated, decided upon, struggled over, programmed, permitted, policed, and organized.” (in Cairo Cosmpolitan, p. 475).

Organizational consultant and identity theorist Evangelina Holvino has created a theory and skills of simultaneity necessary for countering what Amartya Sen calls miniaturization (2006). Miniaturization, I suspect (along with other dynamics), is part of what inspired #NSFTR Tweets about Thomas Kuhn (presumedly referring to the operations of normal science, which is what enables progress yet also stifles change). Talk about transformation (indicating a perceived need or desire for paradigm shift) probably offers evidence as to the crisis underlying modern scientific endeavors: crises that involve the social (whether we want it or not). This slideshow by Janet Sternwedel on Kuhn: Paradigms and Normal Science nicely illustrates the resistant problems (i.e. unexplainable) anomalies characterizing scientific crisis.

Proposal for Potentially Transformative Social Scientific Action Research

I would like to invite #NSFTR Tweeters (and anyone – everyone! – else who is interested) to follow the next Tidepool experiment  (idiographic case #2).  You can read the original proposal that was accepted by the conference organizers of a mini-conference on The Promises and Challenges of Dialogic Pedagogy at Reflexivity – upcoming. The conference features experts on language and education. While, at first glance, there may not appear to be any relationship between the #Bakhtin and #NSFTR events, my colleague James Cumming and I have offered a potential frame in which to make sense of ” notable incidents of language use … [further defined as] challenging moments where identities surface as relevant in particular interactions.”

The catch is that “identities” are not usually ends-in-themselves, rather they surface in service of a task or function within a group that is working (more-or-less) “together” on a matter of common (or at least overlapping) interest. In the manner of most academic conferences, however, this group of Bakhtinian practitioners has not defined a collective goal or aim for a definitive conference outcome. (From the #NSFTR workshop Tweets, I gather that there was – likewise – no intentional deliverable. Is this a polarity to be managed or a problem to be solved for the conduct of potentially transformative research?)

We are currently in the process of extending the negotiation of Informed Consent with the conference organizers to include #Bakhtin conference participants. The global task we are proposing for the purpose of the action research project is to explore whether participants can collaborate on the scale of collectively co-constructing an outcome for the group-as-a-whole: i.e., a message of some kind that represents a voice of/from the conference, something considered meaningful enough by all (or at least most participants) to share with others. An example could be coming up with a definition of “transformative,” or perhaps a list of emergent interpersonal/interactional factors that indicate the presence of potentially transformative dynamics, or even a White Paper on communication skills for transformation. These examples are suggested with the hope that they might be taken up as actual proposals! Thus defining parameters for assessing stages of group development and creating a social container within which identities can be foregrounded if/when/as they become relevant. Whether conference participants agree to engage “dialogically” with such an “Other” as #NSFTR scientists is, of course, one of the crucial questions upon which the stakes turn.

The time-structure of hope

This quote summarizes my critique of the traditional/professional model of (conference) simultaneous interpretation, and illustrates why community-based simultaneous interpretation is a crucial resource for social resilience.

“Computer games use the binary pattern: wrong or right, stop or go. Folktales use the triad pattern: the third try, the beginning of plurality. The third attempt is the moment of chance or mischance, of opportunity and possibility, it is unpreprogrammed and unscripted and its pattern of ‘Fail, Fail, Think, Succeed’ is a lesson in perseverance and is the time-structure of hope. Computer games’ ‘Succeed or Fail,’ by habitual motor response, is the time-structure of despair. In folktales, time, sweet unlimited, is on your side. Slowness enhances the telling and no protagonist is punished for taking time; success indeed depends on the sensitivity and even the slowness of their psychological response. The computer game depends simply on the speed of the physical response: time, limited, is your opponent, you must beat the clock.” (1999/2004: 71)

A Sideways Look at Time
Jay Griffiths

CIBER Business Language Conference

CIBER Business Language Conference: Building Bridges from Business Languages to Business Communities

UNC Center for International Business Education & Research and UNC-Chapel Hill
March 21-23, 2012

“ESL and Innovation” (Business Language Research and Teaching 2011 Award Presentation)

Feedback from the conference evaluations:

Dear Ms. Kent,

As you may know, the post-conference evaluation survey for the Business Language Conference includes a section where we ask people to tell us if there were any specific sessions they particularly liked. I hope you’ll be pleased to know that your presentation was one of the most often mentioned.

(via email, April 2, 2012)

Description: Executives and employees negotiate misunderstandings arising from thinking in different languages as well as having different levels of English fluency. Moments of repair and explanation after so-called ‘communication breakdowns’ or ‘odd’ or ‘funny-sounding’ instances of English usage can serve many functional uses within workgroups, providing the basis for valuing intercultural differences as an intra-organizational social norm and cultivating innovative thinking.