Conversations

One of the central aims of the Twin Cities Neighborhood Project (TCNP) is for the students participating in this project to get out into neighborhoods within the cities in order to have conversations with residents, business owners, and other local leaders about how they see the neighborhood that they live and/or work in. One of the goals of the TCNP, as part of this process, is to feature the voices, stories, knowledge, experiences, and ideas of individuals who possess an intimate understanding of their neighborhood because of their position within it.

Throughout May and June 2012, we will post some of our discussions with individuals from these neighborhoods (likely in Q+A format). Our goal is to represent a diverse range of viewpoints from these communities, as we talk with residents, business owners, church officials, non-profit workers, educators, and others.

Although each participant in the TCNP will pose use somewhat different questions to guide his or her conversations, some common themes will shape the questions and topics that are discussed:

1. Culture and Communication

Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, in their textbook Intercultural Communication in Contexts¬†(2009), suggest that culture is best understood as “Heterogeneous, Dynamic, and a Contested Zone” (p. 90). They write:

“Viewing culture as a contested site or zone helps us understand the struggles of various groups…as they attempt to negotiate their relationships and promote their well-being within U.S. society. By studying the communication that springs from these ongoing struggles, we can better understand several intercultural concerns. […] Viewing culture as a contested site opens up new ways of thinking about intercultural communication. After all, individuals in a given culture are not identical, which suggests that any culture is replete with cultural struggles. […] By viewing any culture as a contested zone or site of struggle, we can understand the complexities of that culture; we can become more sensitive to how people in that culture live” (pp. 91-93).

The conversations that TCNP participants have with individuals in neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities will focus on how the culture of these neighborhoods is a dynamic and contested site. In these conversations, we try to understand and nuance areas of perceived commonality and difference.

2. Identity

Martin and Nakayama write that a critical scholarly perspective on identity formation:

“attempt(s) to understand identity formation within the contexts of history, economics, politics, and discourse… How and why do people identify with particular groups and not others? What choices are available to them?” (p. 167).

Adopting this approach, in our conversations, we seek to understand how individuals position their own identity within their neighborhood and the Twin Cities more broadly. Additionally, we are interested in how individuals view the identity of their neighborhood (if they believe it has one at all) in the context of the neighborhood’s history, politics, and contemporary discourses on or about the neighborhood.

3. Power

Martin and Nakayama we can best conceive of power as “dynamic,” “complex,” and central to an understanding of intercultural communication. They write:

“Power is pervasive in communication interactions, although it is not always evident or obvious how power influences communication or what kinds of meaning are constructed. […] Power also comes from social institutions and the roles individuals occupy in those institutions. […] Power is dynamic. It is not a simple one-way proposition. […] Some issues of power play out in a broader social context. […] Power is complex, especially in relation to institutions or the social structure. […] We really can’t understand intercultural communication without considering the power dynamics in the interaction” (pp. 110-113).

In talking with residents and other individuals in these neighborhoods, we hope to address how various modalities of power shape interactions within the neighborhood, with “neighboring” or adjacent neighborhoods, and with the larger Twin Cities “community.”

Each group will post between 2-3 conversations over the course of May and June 2012. These conversations will typically run between 1,000-1,500 words, and as stated above, will likely appear in a Q+A format.

The instructor will evaluate these conversations based on:

  • Crafting of questions — order (7 points), quality/complexity (7 points), appropriateness (7 points), clarity (7 points), addresses themes (7 points)
  • Comprehensiveness (of questions/discussion): 5 points
  • Responsiveness (i.e. does the conversation seem organic? Willingness to pursue points raised by individuals and go “off script”?): 5 points
  • Quality of writing/design (e.g. images, formatting, etc.): 5 points

Total: 50 points

Other forms of written evaluation and feedback is encouraged from classmates and those of you out there on the web that happen by our posts.

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