Participatory Research

Well, I’m jazzed. 🙂 Eight students from the small group communication class have decided to be co-researchers for a next stage of this project. They facilitated small group discussions of their own and peers’ reactions to the Teacher’s Body Presentation I gave at NCA last year.
The initial first impressions/first reactions to my appearance appear consonant with the data collected before. Maybe people think the only responses “worth” reporting are the extremes? For instance, I’ve yet to come across a reaction that could be characterized as “neutral.”

What this has me thinking about is the co-construction of meaning in a situation of disagreement and/or when there’s the presence of emotion. I wonder if the “seeds” of my appearance (and the shock it seems to invoke, including associations of being dangerous, i.e. “aggressive”) is an aspect that is “called forth” in certain encounters or situations? There are times when I feel “dangerous” – when I am aware, intrasubjectively, of being mad or of going against a social norm that might upset folks. I try hard to manage those. Then there are other times, when I’m not aware, or less aware, or less concerned (?) with the risk because I don’t have any intrasubjective sense of being “threatening”, because my performance (in intention and production, from my intrasubjective point-of-view) is ethnographic, descriptive, “objective” in the sense of attempting to convey, as neutrally as possible, what I have observed.
By “neutral” here, I mean uninflected, as best as I can manage, with my own personal reaction and/or interpretations. I think my training as an interpreter comes into play here – if someone is “mad” I have to convey “mad”; if someone is “happy,” “happy); if someone is “sad”, I have to translate “sad.” Maybe this is the rub….that a language interpreter’s task is to convey the sense of the relationship in addition to the ostensive meaning, and the status of relationships are enacted emotionally, moreso than intellectually? I’m thinking out loud here!
The link I’m speculating about here, is in those situations when I’m read (“received”) as being a certain way that doesn’t jive with the way I think I’m being. I’m not saying there aren’t seeds present for a multiple reading, in fact, the opposite – I think there must be “something” there for people to latch on and react to, even if the act of doing so privileges one part of the overall “message”. If meaning is co-constructed, then there’s something in my interlocutors that draws them to that aspect of my message, instead of to its other aspects. And I’m wondering about the role of my appearance as part of the overall context: if I’ve ever been suspected of “being dangerous” (say, on a first impression), then behavior that elicits a sense of violation may reinforce that earlier perception.

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