Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

time, sightlines and the concept of visibility

by • March 5th, 2008

This semester I’ve had the opportunity to work at the extremes: one professor who has seamlessly blended me into her extensive use of the chalkboard, and another whose gaze apparently registers only empty space whenever she accidentally happens to glance my direction. The contrast heightens my belief that attempts to make ourselves “invisible” (while interpreting) are worse than “professional”: they are downright counterproductive.
For instance, the day I knew I could not possibly reconstruct the meaning for something uttered very quickly yet of obvious conceptual importance for the subject matter, and had to ask professor #2 (the one for whom language accommodation is nonexistent) for a repetition or clarification (I forget which), an expression crossed her face as if a voice had come from the woodwork. Her answer was curt (to say the least). However, I had established my presence (albeit momentarily). An interesting consequence of actually “being there” was that a non-deaf student requested my attention to a sight-line that I thought I was not blocking but, in fact, was. This had been going on for some time; the students had suffered simply because the non-verbal behavior of the professor indicated that I was to be

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“the chaos of frame conflict”

by • January 9th, 2008

“If speaking for someone else seems to be a mysterious
process that may be because speaking to someone does not
seem mysterious enough.”

Stanley Cavell (Quoted in Geertz 1973)
Read in Wilcox and Shaffer 2005

I’m reading an exciting critique which includes an exposition of frame conflict, The Conduit Metaphor by Michael J. Reddy, who relies upon

Schön’s dictum that frame conflicts are “immune to resolution by appeal to facts.” As he [Schön] says, “New facts have a way of being either absorbed or disregarded by those who see problematic situations under conflicting frames.” (Reddy 1979:285)

Reddy provides radical subjectivity as one example of a “frame” (what Berger and Luckmann call a “paradigm”), in order to illustrate the problem of what Schön calls “frame conflict.” A frame conflict is an alternative way of describing the communication dynamics of mis/understanding that occur when people who think through (as in “from” or “on the basis of”) different paradigms attempt to find agreement on a matter of mutual concern.

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“the rift of difference”

by • December 25th, 2007

…the difference, according to Heidegger, is pain.

“Diviners,” writes Dennis Tedlock, “Stay close to ‘the rift of difference,’ as Heidegger calls it, even a small difference. They leave us between two points, or at both of them, and sometimes three.” (1983:254)

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Just like fingerspelling?!

by • December 5th, 2007

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt! if you can raed tihs forwrad it.

Ok – so “new research” is apparently untrue, although there is something to be said for “the role of letter order on reading.” Matt Davis has compiled an impressive corpus of equivalents in at least thirty languages, along with references and commentary from original and follow-up research in this area of word-form research. The number of letters in the word has quite a lot to do with whether the mind can

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Fadiman on interpreting

by • October 25th, 2007

“It is one thing to read in medical school that the ideal doctor-patient-interpreter ‘seating configuration’ is a right triangle, with the patient and interpreter forming the hypotenuse, and another to recollect the diagram in a roomful of gesticulating Hmong toward the end of a twenty-four-hour shift” (272). The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

Interpreters face similar dilemmas when they move from the training ground to the field of independent practice. 🙂

When a patient refused surgery for stomach cancer, “I had expected the resident to move heaven and earth to bring in a decent interpreter. instead, I found him in the Preceptor Library, his head bowed over four articles on poorly differentiated gastric adenocarcinoma” (273).

Interesting on several levels: that there was not an interpreter to begin with and/or that the point of crisis invokes the need/desire for interpreters. Also because we see Fadiman’s priority (communication with the patient) in contrast with the resident’s (learn more about this medical condition).

“At Harvard, all first-year students are required to take a course called “Patient-Doctor I” (significantly, not “Doctor-Patient I”) in which they learn to work with interpreters, study Kleinman’s eight questions, and ponder…conundrums…” (271)

Fadiman’s commentary is on the

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cultural frames of reference

by • October 22nd, 2007

One of Anne Fadiman’s strengths as a writer is stating the culturally obvious in equal and unequivocal terms.
Of course medical practitioners in the US would not know “that when a man named Xiong or Lee or Moua walked into [their office] with a stomachache he was actually complaining that the entire universe was out of balance” (p. 61). It seems to me that one must be a believer in quantum level effects at the scale of the humanly perceptible in order to even conceive of such a possibility. Yes, there may be many linear (diagnosable, predictable and therefore curable) causes of stomachache, but who is to say definitively that those local causes and operations in the universe have absolutely, decisively, no relation to each other?
Much of what intrigues in Fadiman’s story of a Hmong family’s dreadful encounter with extraordinarily competent and skilled physicians are the breakdowns in understanding: the inability of worldviews to find means of expression even remotely comprehensible to each other. Some of the most poignant pathos are in those instances when mutual understanding was assumed – by one party or another, if not both.
The absence of interpreters mark the earliest and most common meetings

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Catalan, not French

by • October 8th, 2007

I made a faux paux the other day, responding to Martí Cabré. S/he (as I plunge headlong into another one!) copied a photo I took of an art installation in Istanbul last summer. I was curious. The photo is evocative and in fact reminded me of the struggle some of my juniors are having letting go of being told in order to risk reaching out on their own terms. When I clicked through to see Martí’s post, I discovered text in a foreign language and – for some reason – assumed the language was French. I am not sure why, as I do have a passing familiarity with Spanish; had I looked I would probably have made that (just as egregious an) error. At least, my good friend the Wanokip tells me, French and Catalan are both Latin languages.
What I realized, heart-in-mouth, was that I did not “look.” My eyes glanced over the unfamiliar script and bounced off, catching no friction. What would have held me was not (in this instance) any quality inherent to the language or the medium (internet computer screen). I was in a hurry. My mind

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on being an ally

by • October 7th, 2007

Anne Fadiman‘s “in” to a Hmong family’s view of their tragic encounter with the U.S. medical system was accomplished via two crucial individuals: an American psychologist and a Hmong-English interpreter. Dr. Sukey Walker explains why the Hmong community respects her:

“The Hmong and I have a lot in common. I have an anarchist sub-personality. I don’t like coercion. I also believe that the long way around is often the shortest way from point A to point B. And I’m not very interested in what is generally called the truth. In my opinion, consensual reality is better than facts.” (p. 95)

“Consensual reality is better than facts” strikes me as a way of articulating the value of intentional, conscious co-creation of meaning. Dr. Walker’s crucial advice to Ms. Fadiman is to find a qualified interpreter:

“…in [Dr. Walker’s] opinion,” writes Fadiman, ” someone who merely converted Hmong words into English, however accurately, would be of no help to me whatsoever. ‘I don’t call my staff interpreters,’ she told me. ‘I call them cultural brokers. They teach me. When I don’t know what to do, I ask them. You should go find yourself

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more of this

by • October 6th, 2007

In keeping with Kenneth Burke’s mission to purify war, the use of social science to shift problem-solving from violence to conversation is a welcome development.
Burke says, “language… [is] the ‘critical moment’ at which human motives take form” (from GM 318, in Kenneth Burke: Rhetoric, Subjectivity, Postmodernism by Robert Wess).
Army Enlists Anthropology in War Zones, a feature story from the NYTimes, has demonstrated the “ability to understand subtle points of tribal relations,” enabling soldiers “to focus more on improving security, health care and education for the population.”
This kind of humanitarian army is the cooperation that our world needs. We must learn to eat with our enemies. Liberal leftists (I assume?) are criticizing the experimental military program for institutionalizing yet another way to coerce local peoples to accept occupation. My initial lean, however, is that the military does not “‘yet have the skill sets to implement’ a coherent nonmilitary strategy,” as explained by United Nations’ official Tom Gregg (download a Real Audio interview by CBC radio, June 2007). One of the critics, Roberto, J. González, might characterize himself as an empowered critic of western domination. He is of course correct that the military machines have

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no mother tongue?

by • October 5th, 2007

“My best language is my third…”

Rhona Trauvitch complicates the usual equation that the first language learned establishes cultural ways of thought. Her spoken English rarely evinces signs indicative of a non-native user, although the trace of an accent suggests she did not learn English in the U.S. or United Kingdom.
We spoke after our professor promised to make her famous. Stephen introduced us to the thought of Matteo Bartoli, the figural teacher of Antonio Gramsci.

“Bartoli says all languages are the result of sociocultural conflict. Words are in competition with one another; words and languages are grammatical structures in competition with each other and cannot coexist: language is a battleground. There is always conflict between languages, and conflict within languages. Conflict conflict conflict, that’s what language is and what language is about. Words are always vying for position in language. [Bartoli] does not mean disembodied words, but that what we are doing in language is deciding ‘what will be the word for this? what will resonate?’” {From notes typed during lecture.]

Bartoli called his work neolinguistics, and then spatial linguistics. His phrase, “pattern of irradiations” caught my attention. Whatever the limitations of mathematical

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