Thursday, March 26, 2009

Transcultural Education for Clinical Psychologists, Part #2

Curriculum: The Linguistic Turn

The position from which my proposed multicultural curriculum emerges is located in the ideas generated since the “linguistic turn” in the humanities and certain branches within the social sciences, including psychology. For the sake of brevity, I will quote Stuart Hall’s definition. The linguistic turn is,

"[a conviction of ] the crucial importance of language and of the linguistic metaphor to any study of culture; the expansion of the notion of text and textuality, both as a source of meaning, and as that which escapes and postpones meaning; the recognition of the heterogeneity, of the multiplicity, of meanings, of the struggle to close arbitrarily the infinite semiosis beyond meaning; the acknowledgement of textuality and cultural power, of representation itself, as a site of power and regulation; of the symbolic as a source of identity" (Stuart Hall, as cited in Chrisman, 2003, pp. 148-149).

In the following section, I will introduce two interrelated, interdisciplinary, humanities disciplines, Culture Studies and Postcolonial Theories, both of which are legacies of the linguistic turn and could provide conceptual frameworks for multicultural education.

Culture Studies

Culture can be conceptualized as a way of life made up of the relationships between all its elements (Golby & Purdue, 1999), or more discursively as “the constant process of producing meanings of and from our social experience, and such meanings necessarily produce a social identity for the people involved” (Fiske, 2000, p. 1). Culture studies seem most interested in understanding how culture is made; how it shapes and is shaped by people various locations and historical settings, its contradictions and its systems of power relations.

Three foci may characterize a critique based on contemporary culture studies. First, it would address the junctures of language, meaning, and power in the construction of cultural meanings and in material practices (Barker & Galasinski, 2001; di Leonardo & Lancaster, 1997). That is, culture studies are in the tradition of poststructuralist thought, which conceives of discourse as the structure through which we perceive reality and views social realities as “organized by signs and meanings patterns in relations of identity and difference” (Seidman, 1997, p. 67). Institutions and social practices are produced by and founded within discursive formations, and are the basis upon which knowledge, values, and norms are justified (Edgar & Sedgwick, 2002). Discourses can and do have hegemonic (repressive) functions. Hegemony, as conceived by Gramsci (2000), is the regulation of social relations by the dominant class through forms of culture. Morag Shiach clarifies:

Gramsci offers us another explanation of the nature of dominant culture. It can be understood as the site of hegemonic representations: those which ‘foster forms of consciousness which accept a position of subordination’. It is also, therefore, a sphere that must be won over by any social group aspiring to social leadership: struggles over definition of culture can thus be seen as struggles for intellectual, moral and philosophical hegemony.” (Schiach 17)

Similarly, sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis of the unequal distribution of “cultural capital” (the collection of accepted and esteemed cultural resources) reveals how social hierarchies are reinforced and reproduced in cultural forms. He argues, far from being a neutral expression, cultural consumption is the “means by which [distinctions and differences in social classes] are produced, maintained and reproduced” (Storey, 1999, p. 44). Michel Foucault understands discourse as both “an instrument and effect of power” (Foucault, 1978, pp. 100-101), no matter what one’s social standing is, individuals are both subjects of and subject to discourses. Foucault’s understanding of power as relational rather than material extends the reach of a critique of dominant discourses to resistant “reverse” discourses, the structural necessities of dominant discourses.

Second, a culture theorist is likely to focus in on specific events, intimate relationships, and experiences in relation to their historical contexts, including “changes in production, consumption, technology, and law that set the stage for everyday life” (di Leonardo & Lancaster, 1997) as influenced by Foucault’s geneology of subjectification, which

"focuses directly on the practices that locate human beings in particular ‘regimes of the person’. It does not write a continuous history of the self, but rather accounts for the diversity of languages of ‘personhood’ that have taken shape . . . and the norms, techniques, and relations of authority within which these have circulated in legal, domestic, industrial, and other practices for acting upon the conduct of such persons."

Third, a culture studies critique would incorporate a focus on the co-production of popular culture by consumers, because ideological implications in cultural discourse do not translate automatically into ideological effects. The Italian Marxist, Gramsci (Forgacs, 2000) wrote that, in order for hegemonic forms to be taken in by the subordinated, they had to be chosen, not passively interpolated. Michel Foucault’s theory of power has particular relevance for exploring the boundary phenomenon of popular culture consumption (Foucault, 1978). He conceptualizes power as relations that are immanent in all interrelationships, non-binary and rooted in “local oppositions” and differences (p. 94), “intentional and nonsubjective” (p. 94), and as always co-generative with resistance.

The approach explores the webs of power in both the producers of official and mass discourses and the consumers. Resistance to the oppressive psychological and material effects of the dominant culture for the unprivileged begins with education as critique, as with Friere (2000), including that the persistence of hegemonic power in discourse relies upon everyone’s complicity, and discourse’s multisemic characteristics provides openings for resistance through deconstruction. The culture studies view of the audience has direct relevance for how those of us in the West objectify and erase the Other; we underestimate their powers of resistance because we assume the superiority of our epistemology. The assumed radical potency of Culture Studies lies in the power attributed to making meaning or, to use Foucault’s words, discovering and applying the power of reverse discourses.

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