1. The moment was beautiful. 🙂 Was Alex the one who asked? [No, it was Tony. :-)] I paused, taking the question seriously. He was teasing, but my writing on the board had been more-or-less horizontal up until that point, so why was it different? Well, I explained that having this particular conversation was a deviation from the plan, I had not built time for a digression into the day’s schedule. I was rushing! I also wanted to convey a sense of temporal motion (as in a graph), and (I don’t think I said this at the time), I did not want to say a bunch of stuff the students had already read, so was attempting to say enough (because the dynamic seemed to call for it) but not too much (being boring, repetitive, or on my own personal trip).
  2. The question indicated an important shift of authority relations within the group. Not that I am not still “the teacher” in terms of role, but it had become ok to question the authority figure. My behavior is not immune to interrogation. I can imagine the curiosity as a prelude to my inclusion in the fishbowl (“J”), which also represents a kind of leveling-of-the-field across roles, status, and maybe (?) identities. I think we can be optimistic that such a development bodes well for the course project and our continued learning together.
  3. Now, just because it happened once does not mean it will always happen, or even that it is always possible! We, within our intragroup dynamics, may go through more storming-type phases, and we might even encounter some inter-group dynamics as we get serious about what to include/exclude from the coursewiki. Also – as I hope to continue to emphasize – every group is different, composed of individuals with unique histories encountering each other at particular times of life. As we are experiencing with each other, creating an environment in which deep collaboration can grow is a serious challenge!
  4. Now, the question about writing sideways can also be developed symbolically (in addition to the representational analysis provided above). I actually felt a surge of recognition, as if I was named. I teach “sideways,” probably because I learn sideways, and possibly because I have experienced myself ‘on the sides’ (the boundaries, the margins) much more often than I have felt I was “inside.” (I kinda figger I got “outside” down.) Just to give a wild example, I was reading homework assignments and came across Sedona1’s teaser for her cultural analysis, “Martians inhabit the moon, but that’s just my opinion.” Now, I won’t ‘go there,’ but “Martians” and “moon” could send me off on a trajectory of knowledge acquisition related to stone circles and astronomy (UMass boasts the only sunwheel in North America)…my guess is that most people think about their own things, and only cooperate in terms of topic when there is some reason to do so. John Elder Robison describes this eloquently in his book, Look Me in the Eye.
  5. There are many fascinating elements to his story – I’m curious which aspects will intrigue you the most! I found his descriptions of learning how to accomplish successful interpersonal communication compelling. He explains figuring out things that many (most?) people take for granted (and academics spend years trying to understand). For instance,

    “…at nine years of age, I had a life-changing revelation.

    I figured out how to talk to other children.

    I suddenly realized that when a kid said, ‘Look at my Tonka truck,’ he expected an answer that made sense in the context of what he had said.” (p. 20)

  6. Robison’s tendency was to answer “with whatever I had been thinking.” This is not so different, in my mind, from people who simply say the first thing that comes to mind. Neither response involves any anticipation – there is no forward-in-time quality of considering how the thing one says might lead to a certain kind of outcome, be it as mundane as a polite social interaction or as intense as a long-term relationship. And then, even within the range of possible responses that one might choose among, hoping that they might lead to the outcome you want (or at least one that you dimly perceive or otherwise don’t outright dislike), you can still get it wrong. Remember in the discussion of time and timing (“continuity of experience”), when I was explaining how I thought I had designed a clear pathway from the fishbowl on After Dachau to the next fishbowl on the coursewiki? Aly said, “Steph, sometimes people don’t understand!” Well, ain’t that the truth! Robison describes his interaction with Laurie and his dilemma of responding to the news of the affair or the information about the motorcycle (chapter 20: Logic vs Small Talk). Maybe this is a stretch, but our talking about the “survival guide” had a similar “shape,” don’t you think?
  7. Ok, now, to get to our next task. Do you have the distinction down, between a long-term task and the practical decisions that need to be made to actually achieve it, and the immediate tasks that much be attended to as required by the fluid and unpredictable moment-by-moment process? The “decision” by the class to impose structure on a situation that had become untenable (i.e., too confusing for too long) was a short-term solution that may or may not have worked toward an effective outcome. Sometimes this kind of forced decision-making will still lead to results – maybe because it has to, maybe because people are used to it, in the sense of being resigned to certain supposed “truths” . . . we heard some of these, right? “We can never reach consensus in a group this large;” “some people will just have to go along with what’s good for the majority,” and other, similar sentiments. Time constraints and limits are often invoked. The trick is to learn – as a group – when and how to shift back-and-forth between the immediate needs of the membership (maintenance tasks) and the longer-term decisions and actions (“just task me“) that move the group toward its ultimate goal.
  8. In class, we will have gone over a bit of evaluation concerning the homework assignment on reporting and applying a critical analysis of cultural terms. Your assignment now is to combine (or juxtapose) the key elements of this post with the important terms of your own and your peer’s individual proposal for the coursewiki (based on the activity of peer review completed in class). The terms generated some interesting stuff! For me, anyway (!) – although I’m not too worried that you’ll be left in the lurch. You are all decent people with fascinating points-of-view.
  9. I am particularly intrigued that no one selected the term “hate” or the term “religion.” Does this put them in a category unto themselves? What are the reasons these two terms were unappealing? The popular terms chosen were “hippie,” “love,” and “opinion,” with three each. Do these three terms reflect something about our class or the individual themself? A combination of both? Or neither?
  10. Outliers always fascinate me, so beyond the two terms that were not picked at all, only one person from class wrote about the critical cultural analyses of “Arab,” “busy,” “fuck,” “green,” “liberal,” “shame,” and “western.” Receiving two entries each are “bitch,” “queer,” and “wicked.”
  11. A few of you engaged the critical element of the assignment in your application of the analyses to our group dynamics, but I don’t recall anyone mentioning the cultural element? These are aspects of the large social forces that “act” upon any group; to be proficient in perceiving group dynamics, the presence of what we label culture, origin, history, and identity (to list some of the possibilities) must be considered. Whether or not the particularities of what composes the example or instance of, say, identity, is of significance to the group is a matter of the fluid unfolding of interaction in space, through time.
  12. I wonder what came to mind when you read the list for the first time, and then when you (in your Teams) divvied up the choices? Were you already being critical, e.g., aware that this is a list of terms generated by US Americans (as far as I know) about terms that they understand are deeply cultural? With that framework in mind (yes, as in framing), I wonder at the spread of selection and relative ranking we see with the choices that were made. Twenty-two of 28 (enrolled) students is 78% of the class, not bad for getting a group-as-a-whole “measurement.” The words you were required to select among were generated by UMass undergrads last fall (2008), so they come from (if you will) “your generation,” with the added quality of being chosen by people who have actually traveled abroad: in other words, they have gained a window on us (as “Americans”) because they have been outside the house and experienced a sample of how others perceive us.
  13. Working with these small numbers (not “reliable” in terms of generalizing to other groups, but a strong indication of what’s happening among our particular group), and assuming some representational power on the basis of simple interest:
  14. 40% of the energy of the class might be engaged with
    • matters of opinion concerning love and hippiedom?
    • questions of loving our own opinions and being hip enough to share them?
    • resisting the challenges of loving and questioning authority (as hippies are renowned for doing?)
  15. Meanwhile, six other members of the class (27%) converged on an alternative “set” of terms:
    • the bitches and queers are wicked?
    • isn’t it queer that there are wicked bitches among us?
    • this queer class is wicked bitchin! (?)
  16. Finally, all those single votes represent a bloc of their own, seven single entries aggregated is 32% of the students completing this activity. The list references (or points toward, i.e., indexes) identity, nationality, sexuality, emotions, and politics.
  17. Now, do we make some kind of meaningfulness of this tripartite subdivision of the class or choose to discard the information because of the random nature by which it came about? There is randomness in these results, right? Each of you gravitated (presumably) to a term you wanted to write about, even if you did not get your first choice…correct? Where did that desire come from? Can we simply eliminate the possibility that some force in the group – some element of our dynamics – inspired you, somehow, to take up that particular term?
  18. Let’s take the unaligned group first. Are there relationships among the terms that were only picked once? I know (again) that only random occurrence gave us “shame” as the first term that was posted, but I wonder . . . are we (at least some of us?) experiencing some shame because of some of the things that are being learned in this course? I’m also interested in the polarization between “Arab” and “western.” Ontherecliner wrote, “the notion of a “westerner” is a way to separate people. It is a way to say things that are not {a]like…” and Apoulos got me thinking about what we are willing to say about the cultural, national, ethnic, and religious differences among us. Another intriguing juxtaposition that could be connected to the dynamics of what words we use and their implications are the entries on “green” and “fuck.” We all know fuck is a loaded term whose use might offend someone, but who is aware that the use of “green” in another context might led to “a bullet in the head“? Fuck could also be related to “busy.” Febreezethesituation contributes the most creative response to this assignment. Now, you’ve gotta decide if you discern the same logic that I do (!), but check this out: “western” as a way to separate, willingness to say things (especially about identities), being green (environmental, also (gasp!) a rookie), and addressing sex openly = liberal.
  19. Moving on to the middle group, with two entries each, let’s pose another hypothesis for what might be going on . . . more sex, for one thing, or at least something strange. Hippo86 offers a critique of political correctness, and Abccccc describes challenges of perception. Both students are dealing with issues regarding the naming of sexual orientation. Gender elicits a similar amount of attention. There seems to be a debate about what it means to be called a bitch – or maybe I am trying to make it a debate?(!) Funinsun seems to imply that “being a bitch” is bad, period. Summer22 got out of the gate right behind “shame,” with a posting that exposes some of the risks of engagement with the label’s actual usage. Is it surprising that wicked would eventually make an appearance?! Thumpasorus gets us thinking about the worthiness of going through the labor of actually hashing out the range of meanings for any given term. Bradytomoss makes an intriguing distinction between uses of “wicked” to label someone else’s behavior (e.g., ‘you bad sinner, you’) and uses of ‘wicked’ to express a state-of-being or perception (although I have to admit I am not sure if Thumpasorus meant to suggest that New Englander’s stupidity is wicked good or wicked bad).
  20. Finally, now, we come to the largest “mass” of students, three each on – am I wrong?!? – the groovy terms of love, opinion, and hippies. Multiple meanings of the term came up right away, and some synonyms are provided by aligirl22. Samesies wonders if the term will appear in our group’s dynamic, and ch0c0latemilk notices how carefully people are “editing our thoughts in order to make sure we communicate with each other in an ‘acceptable’ way.” This caution seems like it could be linked with the posts concerning the expression of opinion, eh? Ehanft articulates the difference between ‘opinion’ and ‘fact,’ suggesting we might need to formalize (?) some way of ranking the ideas people offer. Princess3 questions the prevalence of opinion-offering in our group to date. For me, this raises the question of how functional opinion-giving is at this point in our group’s development? Perhaps a sharper question is, at what moment does opinion-giving serve the group, and at what moments (or, under what circumstances) does opinion-giving serve a personal need at the expense of the group? Finally, I am absolutely intrigued that Sedona1 suggests that there is a root meaning of “opinion” based in the institution of law. Talk about a powerful frame! Are we justified in wallowing around in the uncertainty of opinion (!) because the practice of giving opinions is validated (i.e. ritualized) by our very legal system?
  21. Not quite last, and certainly not least, are the entries on hippies. Churchofgoogle makes the crucial point that we often do not notice terms because they are used so casually. The imagery of “wicked” is invoked by the posting title, Damn Hippies. Brucebanner87 remarks on how often the term is in use around campus, and I noticed a subtle distancing of this term from the discourse within our group. Are we afraid of this term? Don’t want to be associated with it? Freshkicks seems, alternatively, to celebrate the term: is it cool to be “she pea”?
  22. That does complete an introductory look at the terms selected and applied to our group dynamic from the model of a critical, cultural analysis. However, I do want to remind us of the two missing pieces: the overlooking terms of “hate” and “religion.” Are these concepts and their effects “outside” of our group? Irrelevant? Unimportant? It is up to you, each of you, to make some meaningfulness of all this information. I’ve collected and organized an extensive sample of our group’s discourse – the way we talk with each other, within the boundaries of the course topic (“Group Dynamics”), the structured assignments, and our fluid process of group development. Reading about your peers thinking on these topics “ought” (in my mind!) inform the ways you/we design the final coursewiki project. I hope you will reflect, here, on ways to mold the individual proposals (linked from replies to “Progress! a “Working Definition“) into a coherent and sensible group endeavor.