Mentoring, redux

Li interviewd me on Friday for the department “oral history project” that Leda is spearheading this semester (mentioned in the comments to “Ghetto Talk”). I’m not sure where it’s going, what the plans for it are, but it was an opportunity for me to reflect on what I perceive in terms of present department dynamics and speculate with Li about possible meaning(s).
In my abnormal way, I woke up this morning thinking about it. 🙂

Continue reading “Mentoring, redux”

clarification (if needed?)

It occurred to me that people may think the final video will “document” the group process we went through this past Fall. Nothing is further from the truth! Li and I agreed before we ever even started that the group process was the mechanism to generate “data” or “footage”, but that it would probably be invisible in the final video.
If I’ve got Li’s intention correct, the final video WILL put international students at “the center of the discourse” by highlighting the concerns, issues, problems, challenges, successes, preferences, joys (!) of being international students here at UMass.
I finally actually counted how many people participated in one phase or another of the project. 39 including me and Li! Wow! And we had a 50% return rate on the final permission forms by the first deadline, which seems AWESOME to me. Grin! Li is following up with those we didn’t receive now. We’re hopeful that most (if not all?) of the ones we hadn’t received were due just to being busy at this insane time of the semester/year.


Someone told me yesterday that they were somewhat surprised by the open-ended presentation and discussion at the session we did on Nov 2 because they were expecting some kind of conclusion or answer…really, there is no “answer” per se, but still (hopefully) a new thread of consciousness or awareness that the usual way of doing things can (has, and often still does) lead to a perception of indifference to any discourse (or person?) which isn’t US-centric.
I’ve really been enjoying the spaces that have opened up, especially in the rhetoric class but also in private conversations, and the timing of having several CSC talks on topics other than the US has been fortuitous. 🙂
My own key finding from the whole mentoring process is how intolerant many Americans are to spending time engaged in discussion about other countries – especially during classes. As someone else told me yesterday, this isn’t news for international students, but what a great outcome for the project itself.
The personal learning I’ve taken away is the ability to actually notice when this happens…when the discursive space to discuss how theory might apply to different cultural examples is closed down and shifted back to an American context. I am starting to watch for the actual moves made that shift the discourse back to the US at the center…its informal of course.
Now, the tricky part (seems to me) to revolve around two issues – opening up these discussions and spaces in ways that aren’t about guilt (but there is a stage of consciousness-raising when sensitivities are heightened in uncomfortable ways – as far as I know the only way through this is to endure it; it will pass)
And also creating the space without expectation that international students MUST leap to fill it. I’ve got a bit of a question going on in my mind about forcing conformity to the US educational mode – open discussion among students and faculty, questions and answers as a normalized part of the discourse. It seems to me that sensivity to the adjustment process is both necessary and yet also sortof insidiously serves to reinforce the status quo. Simplistically – if participation isn’t the way school is done in India, or China, or Korea (for instance, obviously I’m at risk of revealing my ignorance!), then we can’t expect participation, and if we don’t expect participation then, self-fulfilling prophecy! No (or little) participation.
So I’ve got some sort of half-formed question in my mind about the balance between support of various cultural ways of being and “forced” acculturation. How desirable is it for international students to move concerns of Canada, Romania, China, Japan, Korea, India to the center of classroom discourse? It seems a discussion of pros and cons might be something worth engaging.

A postmodern project?

I received a request for “any initial “findings” or generalizable beliefs or
feelings that could be briefly summarized to those of us who have not been
involved?” Yes – we did have a handout at the Nov 2 “culminatory” event. I will leave a stack in the mailroom on Monday for anyone to pick up. It’s not the complete presentation, but shows the overall themes we gleaned from each session and how we put them together, plus some hypotheses about what might have been “going on”.
What’s not included is how I applied the group relations concept of parallel process to illustrate how my own interpersonal journey with Li seemed to be being replicated at the intergroup level between domestic and international students. The performance aspects (the skits) were intended to be a lampoon of the dynamics we’d observed.
As I’m wont to do, in reading for Rhetoric this week I’m struck by my own subject nature. The presentation we made took form (not exclusively, but to a significant degree) in a context of tragedy vs comedy. Rhetorically, it was intended to be aesthetic…and also merely a snapshot of a process in action. I think of it as an event of convergence among discourses. If we’d been crafting the performance/presentation this week, I’d have been thinking more eristically – ” as an imaginative art, driven by strife and discord and characterized by play (as in playing a game), whose object or telos is the momentary securing of a perspective, that is, a transient realization of a point of view or attitude, typically expressed via the modality of the sublime” (italics in original, James W. Hikens, The Forum: Ietzche, Eristic, and the Rhetoric of the Possible” QJS 1995:357).
While in some respects I think we incorporated some of these aspects, my assessment is that we did not accomplish the serving up of “a menu of alternatives” nor did we cultivate “predispositions for choice”. Eristic’s “goal is not to convince auditors of particular status quo truths, but to persuade them of the availability of other options” (italics in original, Hikens, 358).
I have no doubt that there are folks – maybe many, maybe a few – who are still reflecting on the mentoring project. I’ve received some challenges and questions about our hypotheses, use and interpretation of data (which I will get to posting about eventually). I was just reacting to (what I know now!) is the audience-dependent aspect of social knowledge formation (Farrell, Knowledge, Consensus, and Rhetorical Theory in Contemporary Rhetorical Theory: A Reader, 1999:145). In this capacity, “social knowledge becomes the emergent property of a collectivity” (146), and is necessarily only “probably knowledge. It is knowledge in a state of potential or indeterminance” (147). Additionally, “social knowledge is transitional and generative. As individual problems are encountered and, through the frustrating incermentalism of human decision-making, managed or resolved, new problems emerge; and with these, new knowledge may be attributed, based reasonably upon collective judgments which have previously been made” (147). Hence, “any sophisticated social system will be confronted, throughout its existence, by serious problems which require careful deliberation and concerted action….The overarching function of social knowledge is to transform the society [of loosely connected individuals] into a community” (148). Finally, “social knowledge is thus the assumption of a wider consciousness. And the corollary of such an assumption, commitment, should extend as far as consciousness itself. Both John Dewey and – more recently – his student, Richard McKeon, have defined the great community as a consequence of acting as the members of such a community” (150).
As another student commented to me about that same post (reflection and action), language – talking – is action! Hence, my fear (yes, I’ll own it!) that the “silence” I experienced (not just in the blog mind you, but in my face-to-face experiences at school during “the week after” – smile) indicated a potential failure in Li’s and my attempt to “intervene” in the “organization.”
Most of my efforts now are directed towards securing my own learning and trying to synthesize it in such a way that I tie together the various threads informing my own personal growth and professional education. I benefit from doing this with others, reflecting out loud, I guess you might call it. However, I don’t want anyone to feel there is some kind of pressure or obligation to respond anew or continue to engage past the point of your own interest. If it is of mutual benefit, that’s awesome. 🙂
So, to launch into my last “chapter” (for today!), an article by Robert Chia that I’ve read for the SOM “paradigms” course discusses postmodern organizational theory as attempts at “world-making.” At base, he states that postmodern theory “is not so much a call for the celebration of diversity and plurality, but a call for the return to a regrounding of theory on the primacy of lived experience” (Organization Theory as Postmodern Science” in Tsoukas & Knudsen (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Organization Theory, 2003:124). He continues: “the postmodern…may be most productively invoked as an alternative style of thought – a new way of thinking – which attempts to more adequately comprehend and deconstruct the almost-inexorable complexification of science and modern society with all its attendant social and societal ramifications” (italics in original, 125).
Warning: long quote forthcoming!
“First, in place of the modernist emphasis on the ontological primacy of substance, stability, identity, order, regularity, and form, postmodern analyses seek to emphasize the Heraclitean primacy accorded to process, indeterminacy, flux, interpenetration, formlessness, and incessant change. The Heraclitean emphasis is evident in Jacques Derrida’s (1981) differance, in MIchel Serres’s (1981) notion of homeorrhesis, in Deleuze’s (1993; Deleuze and Guattari 1988) notions of the nomadic, the labyrinth, the fold, and the rhizome. Notwithstanding their vastly different styles and approaches, these writers return again and again to the problem of trying to convey the sense of fluidity, movement, flux, and change immanent in reality. Such a processual orientation must not be equated wit the commonsensical idea of the process that a system is deemed to undergo in transition. Rather, it is a metaphysical orientation that emphasizes an ontological primacy in the becoming of things; that sees things as always already momentary outcomes or effects of historical processes. As Tim Ingold, paraphrasing Ortega y Gasset, puts it well: ‘We are not things but dramas; we have no nature, only history; we are not, though we live‘ (INgold 1986:117, emphasis original). Such a becoming orientation rejects what Rescher (1996) calls the process reducibility thesis whereby processes are often assumed to be processes of primary ‘things’. Instead, it insists that ‘things’, social entities, generative mechanisms etc., are no more than ‘stability waves in a sea of process’ (Rescher 1996:53). The process ontology promotes a decentred and dispersive view of reality as a heterogeneous concatenation of atomic event-occurrences that cannot be adequately captured by static symbols and representations. For process ontology the basic unit of reality is not an atom or a thing but an ‘event-cluster’ forming a relatively stable pattern of relations. Correspondingly, postmodern science, which is based upon this processual mode of thought, eschews atomistic thinking in favour of a flowing undifferentiated wholeness in which the ultimate unit of reality is not an atom but ‘pulses of energy bound together by a thread of “memory”‘ (Gunter 1993:137)…
….language…help[s] us portion off, fix, locate, and represent different aspects of our phenomenal experiences to ourselves. [It does] not, in any way mirror the goings-on in the world…For postmodernists, theories are viewed more pragmatically as selective and useful instruments or devices that help us to negotiate our way through the world (Rorty 1991)….
…What the modern artist is taught…[is]…to watch not only the outline of the object being drawn, but also the negative form that the figure cuts out from the background. This attention to the ‘invisble’ negative form sensitizes the artist to the unconsciously perceived process of gestalt formation. It is a kind of unconscious scanning that produces knowing that is inherently unreachable through the modern scientific approach with its emphasis on visibility and presence and its overwhelming reliance on precise and rigid terms, concepts, and categories….
…Realizing the need for extending our powers of comprehension beyond the level of conscious perception, postomdernism attempts to modify the conceptual asymmetry that surreptitiously privileges consciousness and intentionality over the unconscious scanning process….
…Postmodern analyses…emphasize the vaguely intuited, heterogenous, multiple, and alinear character of real-world happenings. It draws attention to the fact that events in the real world, as we experience it, do not unfold n a conscious, homgeneous, linear, and predictable manner (Deleuze and Guattari 1988). Instead they ‘leak in insensibly’ (James 1909/1996: 399). HUman action and motives must, therefore, not be simply understood in terms of actors’ intentions or even the result of underlying generative mechanisms, but rather in terms of unconscious metaphysics, embedded contextual experiences, accumulated memoreis, and entrenched cultural traditions that create and define the very possibilities for interpretation and action…action is a resultant effecto fo the ongoing tension and contestation between an immanent tendeency towards repetition and in a centrifugal drive towards novelty and otherness….
….Surprise and the unexpected are the real order of things. Against the grand narratives of universal truths, total control, and predictability that defines the modernist agenda, postmodernism advocates a more tentative and modest attitude towards the status of our current forms of knowledge….
….Postmodernism’s revelation of the inherent inadequacies of language points us to a realm of knowing beyond the grasp of representationalist epistemology…for [Lyotard], postmodern analysis is that which ‘in the modern, invokes the unpresentable in presentation itself…that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable’ (Lyotadr 1992:15). For Lyotard and other postmodern writers, the real purpose of concepts and representations is not so much to discover a better set of representations that will enable us to mirror the going-ons in the world. Rather, it is to point us to an unconscious realm of knowing which lies beyond words but which, nevertheless, has a performative impact upon our lives.”

(Chia, 128-135).

Reflection & Action

Yesterday, David and I were debriefing about the mentoring event on Sunday. Long and short of it, he felt that the show and presentation invited action, not reflection. Very interesting! I think he’s right – and I’m not sure that’s what Li and I intended. Let me qualify, from my point-of-view: I do want and hope that folks will take some kinds of action, but the desired mode of that “action” is primarily reflection. In concrete terms, that means (for me) continuing to think about communication practices that may lead or contribute to a perception of indifference, sharing my thoughts and feelings about this with others, and paying close attention to what others have to say about their own thoughts and feelings regarding this question, as well as the other “take aways” from Sunday’s session.
For instance, it seems some faculty think the main point of the presentation was to criticize them. Certainly, there was some critique directed towards faculty practices about which many graduate students have expressed dissatisfaction. But it seems to me that those specific criticisms are examples of the larger phenomenon of perceived American indifference to international students, and much of THAT critique was directed towards American students.
Anyway, the thing that has really stuck with me the most is something David said about the presentation’s clarity…there wasn’t one specific statement that summed it up, but what it made me wonder about is the effectiveness of the rhetoric – by which I mean the attempt to be persuasive about our analysis of the data. Is it possible to be too persuasive? If the actual effect of the presentation has been to shut conversation down because it seems as if the conclusion has already been made, that would be an effect counter to what I (and I think Li) intended…and it would bum me out! 🙁
The other thing that has been on my mind has something to do with variations in research aims, modes, methods…I deliberately chose NOT to take a class or write a specific paper on this project because I didn’t want to think in the typical research way. Does anyone know what I mean by that? Li and I are making a movie – one that we would will be provocative and stimulate enough talk among viewers that actual practices of interaction between and among international and domestic changes…even (Dreaming Big!) that institutional practices that might promote or enhance cross-cultural interactions might be improved. So, this aim is different than a research goal of producing knowledge, per se.
A corollary of this kind of action research (which is the closest frame I’m aware of) has to do with the nature of groups, group processes, and the focus or desire on acting in (so-called) real time. The kind of deliberative, deep thinking that characterizes the presentation of research intended to stand the test of time is not possible in the same way. Literally, Li and I generated the entire script and presentation in six days. Sunday was an “in-process” snapshot of our best “making-sense” of the data. In that regard, I want to emphasize the HYPOTHETICAL nature of the hypotheses! They are certainly up for debate – I think I had envisioned a contemplative mood (including healthy doses of self-reflection, smile) for this next phase within the department…occurring in essentially spontaneous snatches of conversation here and there. (Perhaps this is happening and I’m unaware.) Obviously, my projected fantasy (!) about what might ripple out from the presentation doesn’t need to have any relation to the reality – its just my own subjective point-of-reference. 🙂