Camille, thanks so much for taking on the “grand narrative” bit and reminding us that’s passe! The term that came to mind as an alternative is scaffolding. We need some kind of networked structure of tropes and metaphors that complement each other but can be deployed variously and flexibly in myriad situations.
I gave a presentation at Hampshire College last night (significantly assisted by Denise Stevenson as an audience member) in which I tried to argue that these are not “conservative times” (the description provided by the student who organized the event) but rather “neoliberal times.” I’m thinking along the lines of the kind of shift in discourse Bush crowed about after the 2000 campaign, in which the question of taxation shifted from a question of “whether or not” to lower taxes to “how much” to lower them. Those are the kinds of shifts we need to generate/contribute to producing if we want to have an impact on the political-economic structure.
And I think creating space for connected knowing is vital in this endeavor. I didn’t say drop separate knowing altogether, but rhetoric – it seems to me, certainly in terms of public campaigning – is most often deployed as a weapon in a separate knower kind of way. It’s designed to foreclose argument, leave no room for disagreement, assert the primacy of the rhetorician’s point-of-view. To overpower the other; its primarily self-interested – “my” POV, “my” desire, “my” vision for how things should be.
Which isn’t to say people don’t learn from this kind of engagement; obviously they do, and I include myself quite prominently. However, its not a mode that’s particularly helpful with intractable problems in which “sides” are locked in to their respective rhetorics. A shift in tactics, in communicative strategy, is the only way to break those logjams.
This was illustrated last night when a discussion about welfare came up. In the initial round the classic conservative/liberal split against/for it seemed patently evident to everyone in the room. But, because the emphasis was more on communication skills (mainly, listening) the conversation evolved to the point that we discovered the two main antagonists actually agreed that the system as it is sucks! We didn’t pursue it further, but that kind of movement isn’t possible in a short time frame (90 minutes) when separate knowing and the rules of debate and conquor prevail.