The Black, Jewish, other video dialogue: A case study of the social construction of transformative discourse
This dissertation describes an experimental project to devise forums for “civil” public discussion. It is an analysis of the project in terms of the Coordinated Management of Meaning theory, and discusses implications for the de-escalation of tension and the management of conflicts where passions are unusually strong and the positions taken by disputants are particularly intractable.
There has been an interesting effort to improve the quality of public discourse at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The usual form of educational discussion is the ‘debate’ and true to form, the administration called for debates to be held in order to allow informed and civil discussants to educate the student body on the issues surrounding events in the Middle East during the mid-eighties. But a turning point was made when The Kaleidoscope Project was announced as “not a debate,” but as “an experimental forum for the non-adversarial public discussion of intractable disputes: to ‘discuss the undiscussible’.” Through the late eighties and into the early nineties, Kaleidoscope forums were held and the format refined. Subsequently, “people of good will” on the campus have attempted to increase the opportunities for students and faculty to engage in non-adversarial forums, increasingly citing a perceived need for dialogue. “Dialogue” has become the watchword for educational and mediated conversations. The subject of this study is The Black/Jewish/Other Video Exchange Project which allowed self-identifying student members of three groups, “Blacks”, “Jews”, and “Others”, to use videotaped interviews to “enter a dialogue” or—as the BJO Committee referred to it, to have a “distanced conversation”.
The dissertation holds the premise that different forms of communication construct different ways of being human, and thus the communication process constructs the specific forms and outcomes of conflicts in human systems. I hypothesize that interventions designed to produce dialogue rather than debate or dispute are rooted in differences in cultural constructions of “conflict” and “dialogue” and that the way people communicate rather than what they think contributes more significantly to the form of the conflict. Successful conflict management is a matter of second order change; the success or failure of peacemaking interventions depends upon the maintenance or the collapse of the interventive control of contextual reconstruction. The dissertation provides a conversation analysis of the videotapes from the BJO Video Exchange Project in order to advance a deeper understanding of cross-cultural “dialogue” and the characteristics of “transformative discourse.”
Minority & ethnic groups;
0631: Minority & ethnic groups
0451: Social psychology
0326: Cultural anthropology