A Temporal Turn?

“What is the purpose of dialogue?” Are Dialogue Under Occupation conference participants in the process of producing a work of critical art? Or are these conferences solely labor – the repetition of rituals that must be performed in order to satisfy and maintain professional credentials? Could we somehow manage to do both? Examples include the film Rabat, asking questions about symbolism entailed in labels such as the Green Line, and exploring Dr Makram Ouaiss’ point that non-violence is understudied, proven effective, and morally legitimate.

  1. What is the purpose of dialogue?
  2. Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told and untold) that fill us up
  3. Engaging Youth’s Multicultural Reality
  4. The Key
  5. Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions
  6. The Light

In his remarks opening the 6th international Dialogue Under Occupation conference, founder Larry Berlin posed the question:

“What is the purpose of dialogue?”

Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.
Closing scene, Fantasia Opus 3, the fantastic range of children's dreams.

It is a question that the people attending and presenting at the DUO VI conferences did not figure out. Perhaps part of the reason for the absence of an answer is in the framing of the question. We are mostly academics, which means we usually talk abstractly about things we study rather than doing them with each other.

There is less confusion (it seems) about the other key term in the title of our conference: occupation. I did not think of “occupation” as a synonym for “career” during Sophia Mihic’s keynote presentation on the near history of neoliberalism. Now, afterwards, this strikes me as odd, since her argument about the term “human capital” relies on the difference between “labor” and “work.” I suspect this is an instance of collective repression – a de-selection of one possible meaning in favor of another, and then forgetting having made thechoice. Sophia’s thoughtful presentation and critical engagement throughout the conference helps me wonder: are DUO conference participants in the process of producing a work of critical art? Or are these conferences solely labor – the repetition of rituals that must be performed in order to satisfy and maintain professional credentials? Could we somehow manage to do both?

Pre-Occupied: Narratives (told & untold) that fill us up

In a similarly linguistic vein, Cris Toffolo asked us to consider the difference between “post-occupation” and “post-conflict” as labels describing countries like Lebanon. The main distinction between the two terms involve the presence and extent of violence as well as its duration. DUO VI conference participants were undecided whether the use of these labels matter. Instead, we talked about the actions taken “post” – specifically whether the politicians, media, and populace (all of its diverse publics) engage an open communication process designed to promote healing, or choose some other coping strategy as the means to simply and quickly move on. I was particularly struck by the critique she found of Lebanon’s political leadership (Assi Collective Memory – Lebanon, by Elsa Abou Assi) which describes the decision to absolve insiders by blaming outsiders. There had already been a couple of strong statements issued during some of the Question-and-Answer periods about (for instance), there being no one to forgive but oneself for allowing the outsiders to come in and wreck havoc. There is so much to unpack in Lebanese discourse about war and conflict, so many stories that have been told (adult-to-adult) and passed from adults (especially parents) to children who are now grown up and coping in their varied ways with the underlying, unresolved tensions: of necessity finding courage in the face of fear.

Engaging youth’s multicultural reality

View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.
View from the castle at Byblos/Jbeit, Lebanon.

The DUO VI conference attracted few of the young people at Lebanon American University, let alone activists from the broader Beirut community. Most youth were more likely to partake in cultural performance events, such as a screening of Rabat. I was lucky to meet Director Jim Taihuttu; we talked about audience reactions to the film. The cast and crew put serious effort into capturing the way youth in Holland actually talk, codeswitching among languages (e.g., Dutch, Moroccan, Surinamese) and borrowing terms back and forth in an unpredictable, dynamic flux. The dialogue is so representative and “natural” that audience members of their peer group feel as if they’re “in the car” with the protagonists. In a generous gesture of inclusion, Rabat is captioned in Dutch as well as English and Arabic so that older generations and foreigners can understand the linguistic mixing. “I disagree with people who talk about multiculturalism as something that you are either for or against, “Jim said. “It is what we are living, a multicultural reality.”

The Key

Barbara Birch’s DUO conference presentation included some guidelines that apply to teaching in general. Countering the linguistic imperialism of English, Barbara proposes the use of the English language as a source of social action that can enable transitions from current injustice to preferable futures. The critical question for teachers involves identifying the moment when you can move students from a wide focus (learning how to say things in general situations) to a narrow one: how to say things in very specific situations. This move, from the general topic to the specific sociocultural transaction, allows the exploration of different norms in the immediate moment of communication. Turning that key opens a door to learning how to navigate the emotions and colliding (complementing and contradicting) narratives involving questions of history and justice. As skills increase, students and teachers learning together can take on increasingly tricky challenges, creating new rituals of being with “Others” and living a new world into being.

Green and Red Lines: Asking Different Questions

Ending violence: domestic, national, religious
Ending violence: domestic, national, religious

I do not know how the color symbolism came about, but I noticed the label of a “Green Line” is the same for both Beirut and Israel/Palestine. In terms of traffic lights, green means “go” – maybe this is a weird way to think of it, but it seems the very label has a subtext encouraging battle. The implication struck me when Ilham Nasser presented her findings on public acts of forgiveness in Arab culture. She discovered a “red line” beyond which people would not forgive others – it could be an insult, a misunderstanding, a failure to respect religious beliefs, etc. Again, it is the symbolism that seems significant: forgiveness is RED (don’t go there!) while war is GREEN (storm ahead, boys!)

The Light

Cris’ roundtable was about the limits and possibilities of talking about human rights as a way to leverage public healing processes. In political science, there is a lot of evidence that broad political-journalistic efforts of reconciliation are functional and productive (South Africa, Ireland, and Guatemala were named as examples). The information Cris shared complemented Professor Makram Ouaiss’ opening keynote address, in which he emphasized asymmetry as the way to shift conflicts from on-going cycles of violence to non-violent methods for ending occupation and establishing civil societies. Dr Ouaiss’ point is that non-violence is understudied, proven effective, and morally legitimate.

Given the right structure and support, I hypothesize that there are enough young people in Beirut willing and capable of having this difficult conversation. Despite the horrors they’ve been through, I witnessed some amazing displays of conviction concerning the things that really matter: including peace with Palestinians and sharing joy within one’s family. As Dr Ouaiss explained, persuading people of the logic and effectiveness of non-violence takes time and repeated efforts.

Written half in Beirut, half in Amherst MA.
Link to the NYTimes Art Review:
Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language

Fantasia

“Communication arts are the future…” I depart Beirut as I entered, awash in serendipity. Back in whaling days, the Captain’s cabin was a private refuge. Entry by others was privileged and rare. Generous gifts of time and talk throughout my stay dance questions among the neurons of my mind.

The Ringleader got us to the Captain Cabin’s then vanished to play pool.

Celebrating a student production of collective memories from their childhoods in Lebanon..
Celebrating a student production of collective memories from their childhoods in Lebanon..

LD (the eldest) spoke for the group, “I don’t care, but I want a code name.” The youngest argued for Peter Pan. No problem.  I am a pushover as long as it works—otherwise you have to convince me (this is not impossible). Twenty-Two exclaimed, “It’s not like I’m hiding anything!” I had wanted to know the size of their ambitions. “Big questions over small glasses,” answered Small Fry, a tall guy protecting Polly Sigh. Sleepy brought Attached along for the ride. Spike agreed with OJ:

“Communication arts are the future, not politics!”

Yalla. Humans, mech maskal, will never be free of the polis. The question is whether politicians can ever again be heroes. No more the sole character forging a lonely way, from now on (in this heavily-mediated age) ‘twill be committed teams and affinity groups treading new paths together who transform the global inheritance of random torture to livable interrelations for the children and the children’s children.

Insist!
Swords no more – salvage words!
Who will rise and heal the future?

I depart Beirut as I entered, awash in serendipity. Back in whaling days, the Captain’s cabin was a private refuge. Entry by others was privileged and rare.

Yearning toward the future . . .
Yearning toward the future . . .

Generous gifts of time and talk throughout my stay dance questions among the neurons of my mind. Smoke of mixed feelings percolates in memory, stimulated by shining souls seeking solace in playful remembrance while drowning sorrow in drink and mad beats relentless rhythms demanding more faster sooner more already more tomorrow who can care much about tomorrow something happened in the north yesterday I’m glad you did not travel south today.

Old as I am my heart beats clear. Vibrant youth, what will ye choose—the stories you’ve been told or the ones you wish to author? My return, Inshallah, issues forth with your desire.

Written in flight, Beirut-Rome-New York City;
Edited and posted from Queens

Presupposing Salmon: Ready DUO Players?

…what happened in the roundtable on Future Change at the Dialogue under Occupation conference hosted at Lebanon-American University in Beirut. The group was game to engage the quest, at least for the duration of the session. A pluck lot…If dialogue is to make a difference in the world, it must be sustained. As academics, we know the theory! But can we do it? Maybe this year will be different…

Action Researchredirecting phenomenological reduction
redirecting phenomenological reduction

Details, Description, Context, Bleh

It is impossible to say what happened in the roundtable on Future Change at the Dialogue under Occupation conference hosted at Lebanon-American University in Beirut. We have video, which will allow description and documentation. But so what? The important matter is what our time together comes to mean, and that depends. Determining what the meaningfulness of our gathering might become was not possible even before that Romanian dude added stuff to the white board. During the session, Sophia challenged the authority of the interpreter; Raz claimed arguments have limits; Ibrahim asked about the irony of Occupy Wall Street; Barbara was misinterpreted; Woyciech offered hope; and Stephanie [from Brazil] talked about brackets. Anne was quiet. Larry did not want me to forget presuppositions. Niam (operating the camcorder) conversed with herself 😉

Fishing for a Future (Warning: Academic Jargon Ahead)

talking about time
talking about time

The topic was (sortof) about time – as in, how to find one’s placement in a diverse group based upon language use and dynamics of interaction so as to (attempt) to aim in the direction of a desirable future with meta-awareness of entailments (or entrailments, if you prefer the post-workshop revision). I am always wondering if it can be done, what it would look like if we tried, and how control &/or the desire for control is involved. Specifically, I asked this group if we could de-link discourses of occupation from physical places in space to temporal enactments in time by transforming our own discourse? Would it be desirable to do so? I am not sure anyone was convinced! It is hard to draw coherence from loose collections of phrases, concepts, and fragments of comments snatched from sound and written down. “Peace is hard.” “History is big.”  [(Name ye well the limits of argument!) Stop thee not the pursuit of amity!]

The Circle: A symbol of wholeness
The Circle: A symbol of wholeness

The group was game to engage the quest, at least for the duration of the session. A pluck lot, these academics, simultaneously kind and critical. Serious and generous. Diverse yet dialogic: no problematic moments (of the theoretical kind) – although desire to rename – enunciative (cf Hannah Arendt), aha, a collective break in phenomenological flow when we all notice – for an instant – what we’re doing. I barely mentioned simultaneity as counterpart and tied few knots with identity. Nonetheless I quoted Ilham (with her permission!), however that conversation slides into remission, suspended, distended, perhaps beyond local use but could it grow wings to give flight elsewhere?

Creating our own origami unicorn

Playing with jargon: indexicality can be defined but entailments may be inexplicable
Playing with jargon: indexicality can be defined but entailments may be inexplicable

At the end of the second day of workshop sessions, a bunch of us began impromptu planning for growing the conference. If dialogue is to make a difference in the world, it must be sustained. As academics, we know the theory! But can we do it? Participants in the six conferences held to date have not yet managed to move beyond the typical monologic structure: schedule, attend, present, participate in a few interesting conversations, go home. Perhaps maintain a new collegial relationship or two. Maybe this year will be different?

I linked (above) to an essay describing the history of “Common Read” programs. It may seem like a non sequitor, but the simultaneity is that I just finished reading Ready Player One, the book selected for the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s First Year Experience Program. The (2011) book by Ernest Cline projects a future in which people escape and avoid dealing with reality by playing in a global virtual simulation, a web-based interactive game called OASIS. The immersive environment of OASIS is imaginable because it extrapolates from today’s use of social media. DUO Dialoguer, are you thinking WTF? Or is a little bell going off? Connect the dots! Traverse mediums, here’s a clue – this conversation moves!

Beirut, Lebanon

…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.

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.

Prelude
Prelude

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.

Transformation

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.

Performing?

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.

Transition

"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.

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)

Hello,
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: https://csid-capr.unt.edu/research/transformative-research-workshop.

With best wishes,

Britt

J. Britt Holbrook
Assistant Director
Center for the Study of Interdisciplinarity
University of North Texas

www.csid.unt.edu
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?

Data:

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).

Analysis:

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.

Spoken and Sign Language Interpreters Unite around Similarities

One hundred and eighty language service providers have gathered at the 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting for the purpose of learning how to gather our collective intelligence and generate an intercultural revolution.

North American Summit on Interpreting
Arlington, VA

“Intelligence is tactile”

Luis was describing the difference between teaching and learning. “Teaching,” he said, “is finite. Learning is infinite.”

One hundred and eighty language service providers have gathered at the 2nd North American Summit on Interpreting for the purpose of learning how to gather our collective intelligence and generate an intercultural revolution. Barry Olson calls us to engage:

Ask

Why not!

and

What if!

Most of the participants are interpreters; some are owners or representatives of businesses that provide language services, and a few are technical gurus who design the communication technologies that increasingly re-shape the limits of what interpreters can and cannot deliver. Nataly Kelly (of Common Sense Advisory), used excerpts from science fiction films to expose the confusion most people have between “translation” and “interpretation.” I reflect on these processes with an engineering analogy in a blog entry about paradigm consciousness. If you read that entry, you’ll get a taste of how I think about these things and understand that

I’m still processing yesterday’s amazing series of Summit events.

CIRCUITRY BUSY NOW

I can offer teasers, though! Over the next week or two, watch for entries on:

  • Contextualizing this moment in interpreting history, building on Nataly Kelly’s challenge: “The idea is not to resist the tools, but use them to do more.”
  • The What? Factor (independent contractor or employee model?)
  • Cheerleading for the new social movement (inspiring riffs from Barry Olson)
  • How the Deaf community might be leading the way….

Meanwhile, the interview Nataly had with Ray Kurzweil captured my imagination. I’m not sure if I got his statement verbatim, but I’m pretty sure he said:

“The most high level work one can imagine,
the epitome of human being,
is our ability to command language.”

Suicide and Response

The stereotype scenario became more complicated when we asked how these students at Renaissance High School think they are viewed by others. It depends upon where those other high school students are located. There’s one view from outside of Springfield that lumps all Springfield High Schools together: “ghetto thugs, everyone wearing do-rags, swearing, using guns, smoking dope and selling drugs – both at the same time.” This list was generated with the dull verbal tone of routine and placed in context: “This is what is shown in the media.”

Dialogue: Identities
Whiteness (Race), Gender, Culture…

Do some suicides matter more than others?

It just so happened that our third dialogue session on identities came on the second anniversary of an 11-year-old’s suicide. Some high school students from Springfield offered a trenchant analysis of why the 2009 suicide of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover received less sustained public attention than that of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince in 2010. In contrast with the perception that “people are always bullied” in Springfield – where Carl lived and died – “South Hadley always gets good press.”  The novelty of “something bad happening there” drew the media spotlight. Kamari, Noelani, Tiffany, Jerrico, Allie, Ashley and Tory had no difficulty naming stereotypes associated with area high schools, including those held by others about them.

Frustration and humor poured out of these young people in equal measure, spinning out in multiple directions and toward a range of targets. These high school juniors are in a bind and they know it. Refreshingly, they sense that high school students from other schools in western Massachusetts are also bound up in their own situations. The strangeness of social hierarchies based on assumptions about identity clearly exasperates them; telling jokes to keep each other laughing is a social coping strategy.

Naming the superficial

Most of the contact between high school youth occurs through sports. “You see what people in other towns think and it’s not very nice.” I was discouraged to learn only negative stories, mainly about South Hadley. I suspect South Hadley topped out the stereotype list both because they are hosting the multi-high school Dialogue Summit on April 30 and because of disparities of public interest in the two suicides.

Some stereotypes about students at South Hadley High School are

  • “notorious” and “known for being effective at bullying;”
  • “bad” in competition, swearing loudly despite the presence of young kids in the bleachers;
  • “They gave me attitude – crazy attitude;” and
  • “are always talking junk” and “yelling swears.”

The stereotype scenario became more complicated when we asked how these students at Renaissance High School think they are viewed by others. It depends upon where those other high school students are located. There’s one view from outside of Springfield that lumps all Springfield High Schools together: “ghetto thugs, everyone wearing do-rags, swearing, using guns, smoking dope and selling drugs – both at the same time.” This list was generated with the dull verbal tone of routine and placed in context: “This is what is shown in the media.”

Specifically, these Renaissance high schoolers imagine that their peers from South Hadley and Amherst probably assume they’re

  • “loud” and “obnoxious;”
  • “fight” and “steal;”
  • will “kill them;” and
  • “Dress like hoochies.” (“How do you spell that?” I asked. “H-o-o-c-h-i-e-s. You can throw an extra ‘o’ in there if you want.”)

These youth face a different set of stereotypes from their contemporaries in other Springfield high schools. This view came up when asked what they wanted others to know that contradicts the stereotypes. “I don’t think we can technically defend our school,” said Tory. Huh? I didn’t understand – “technically”?

“They always have a problem if you go to Renaissance:
‘you’re smart and stuck up.'”

Interestingly, these Renaissance youth don’t display extremely negative attitudes toward the other Springfield high schools. “All the bad schools have something good about them.” For instance, “Sci-Tech is good, it’s just loose.”  Loose meant “30 kids outside” without administrative/adult supervision: “that would never happen here.” Commerce has programs like 1B and 9th Grade Teams (among others), and a legacy. “My dad went to Commerce when it was good… they didn’t play.”

Going in with a Clean Slate

While the students were talking about these stereotypes, I was wondering how addressing these stereotypes directly might unfold during the upcoming Multi-High School Summit. Dialogue co-facilitator Taos asked the important question about how they want to approach the Summit. Kamari responded instantly, “I’m going in with a clean slate.”  They are excited! A little nervous but eager nonetheless.

From their point-of-view, neither South Hadley nor Amherst High School are very diverse. By “diversity” the students meant “not predominately one race” – then they had a bit of debate about whether Renaissance is diverse or not. From one view, “Springfield is 75% minorities,” which “isn’t very diverse.” When asked about the label, “minority,” Noelani smiled:  “We’re the majority here, but not everywhere else.” The slightly more-detailed demographic breakdown (provided by the students) is 36% Hispanic, 25% Black, 26% White, and .03% Asian.
Those block percentages suggest cultural homogeneity, but most of the Renaissance youth participating in these dialogues have parents who do not share the same ethnic profile with each other.

My hypothesis is that growing up in a family where everyone doesn’t look like the same ‘type’ or even behave – culturally – in the same ways has provided these youth with a neat ability of balancing differences. The evidence is threefold (at least):

  1. there is no uniformity of identity among students in the dialogue group (most of whom hang together much of the time);
  2. their ability to perceive beyond stereotypes, and also to ‘understand’ and be able to explain why people from outside Springfield seem unable to exercise such insight in return; and
  3. their refusal to demonize their contemporaries living in Springfield, even though the vise of being misunderstood/misrepresented both from without and within must suck.

Identities are fluid

The communicative skillset demonstrated by these Renaissance juniors suggests an intuitive comprehension that “identity” is not a single, solid, unchanging thing.  We’ve just begun to explore if it is helpful to separate stereotypes associated with the body from stereotypes associated with the mind. Specifically, does learning how to recognize when one is ‘trapped’ by a stereotype based on body help one make the shift to perceiving another based on the consciousness of their brain?  Generalizations about awareness and intelligence can lead to troubled relationships, too, so I am not posing this as any kind of universal answer. I am suggesting that recognizing when a shift from body to brain would enhance a relationship, and then practicing enough to be able to pull it off when it matters, are crucial skills for navigating the increasingly complex mixing and blending of cultural ways-of-being in society today.

Please Note:

A fundraiser for an anti-bullying scholarship in memory of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover will be held this upcoming April 16, 2011. Walker’s mother has become a national leader in the struggle to curb bullying in school, recently meeting with President Obama because of her activism, locally and nationally, to eliminate bullying in schools.

Hip Hop plays with structure

The Rihanna thing is intense. The mournful tones of the introduction frame an ominous future for young girls growing up in a body-centric world. Not that the prospects for men are so much better – read the lyrics. We are all under surveillance of one kind or another most of the time, it’s just that the surveillance is so unobtrusive we can ignore it. Ignore it routinely enough and you’ll forget it’s happening!

Amherst, MA

Boundaries or Identities?

Lately I’ve been wondering which comes first, or if this is a classic chicken-and-egg dynamic. Talking about whiteness raises interesting identity questions about belonging – to whom, when and where, how much. The privilege of being known on the basis of mind rather than body is one of the core features of whiteness: white people (like me) might notice attractive white people but would consider the physical as an extension of the mental. In contrast, white people (like me) might notice attractive brown people and stop there, as if the physical is the entire package.

You can see how this works by watching the strategic representation co-constructed by Director Hype Williams and Rihanna, as she is featured in the Kanye West video “All of the Lights” with Kid Cudi and a host of others: Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Tony Williams, Alicia Keys, La Roux, The Dream, Ryan Leslie, Alvin Fields and Ken Lewis. The reflection of whiteness back at itself is heavily dosed with gender, too.

The Rihanna thing is intense. The mournful tones of the introduction frame an ominous future for young girls growing up in a body-centric world. Not that the prospects for men are so much better – read the lyrics. We are all under surveillance of one kind or another most of the time, it’s just that the surveillance is so unobtrusive we can ignore it. Ignore it routinely enough and you’ll forget it’s happening!

My Hip Hop Education

I learn through interaction, talking about ideas and observing responses until I locate a stance that reflects the kind of ethos I want to project into the social world. Teaching allows me to test and assess some of the effects of acting consistently within that ethos, especially where it rubs against conformity. This semester, at least a third of the students in a Communication course on Media and Culture are proactively engaged in cultivating their own ethical stance in today’s fast-forward society. Together, we are all working to develop collective intelligence.

My hip hop education merged with my teaching in a surprising way. The cultural anthropologist and digital ethnographer Micheal Wesch – described as the “Head Honcho” by one of my students – commented on three videos submitted as midterm projects by students in my class to his call for “Visions of Students Today.” In one of his comments, it is obvious that he misunderstood something about hip hop, which I – roughly six hours ahead of Professor Wesch on the learning curve, haha! – was able to recognize.

Given a penchant for using my own mistakes to extend the learning process for myself and possibly others, I engaged:

Michael Wesch, thank you for joining our conversation! I am going to drag you into this lesson, too. An interesting coincidence of timing occurred with your comment to Jamar’s video “My Life, My Eyes, My World” and me learning about Hip Hop. I juxtapose our mistakes (!) to see if there is anything to be learned from them.

I shared all the gory detail with my students because it allowed me to provide them with an immediate and non-academic example of the communication phenomena of juxtaposition and articulation.

Juxtaposition and Articulation

In the All of the Lights video, Rihanna’s adult female body – the physical manifestation of her person – is juxtaposed with rousing lyrics and an exciting musical beat in a saccade. The combined visual and auditory stimuli articulates the dark female body as an object of desire. Because the body is foregrounded, considerations of mind fade from consciousness.

always in motion

When I first came upon Beyonce, [in that There-and-Then context], I was figuring myself out as a woman. She was girl/woman/sexy/curvy. Then I came across Alicia Keys, who is seductive and very strong.

Her songs are about love and loss…Alicia gives nothing of herself away.

Vernal Equinox

Full Moon Stories

On the night before Equinox I met The Milkman, a non-brown person appearing strange in rural Central America, now sharing lessons with me from Zen Buddhism.  Senor Leche shared a specially strategic communicative move with me from his years of arduous spiritual training, emphasizing:

“They hit you with a stick until you get the nose insertion technique correct.”

I was impressed by how long he could hold the pose. “Practice,” he encouraged me. “Years of practice.”

The Rihanna thing?

The Rihanna thing is a quick reference to an earlier conversation about Beyonce and Alicia Keys.

When I first came upon Beyonce, [in that There-and-Then context], I was figuring myself out as a woman. She was girl/woman/sexy/curvy but still a side character. Then I came across Alicia Keys, who is seductive and very strong.

Her songs are about love and loss…

Alicia gives nothing of herself away.

Alicia is the actor in her videos and the guys are decoration.

Make your move.

Word, word… twice in a lifetime.

“Alright.
I have
lyrics.” [study]

So says Talib Kweli
performing with
Jane Doe, Wordsworth, Punchline, and Mos Def of
Black Star.

Hi-Tek is the guy who
provides the
music in the back.”
[acknowledgement]