Monday, January 19, 2015

Defining & Avoiding Cultural Invisibility

In your initial entry, use Zeni to explore how you can avoid issues of "invisibility." Then, after explaining what Miller means by "ethnographies of institutional discourse," show how his concepts can profit from Zeni's ideas.

I'm trying to work this out for myself in terms of cultural visibility/invisibility, so I think I'm going to create two posts here, and relate them to each other. This is a response to Zeni's article. I'm struggling with cultural invisibility here mostly because the focus on Zeni's article - if I'm interpreting her work correctly - is racially related, whereas I see culture so much more broadly defined...especially since I came from teaching in a very diverse area (New York City) to one that's...not (Utah), at least comparatively speaking.

Nearly right away, Zeni et al. note that “cultural invisibility…is a key ethical problem in doing action research” (114). Yet one of the problems teachers may face is not one of physical culture, but rather culture that is not easy to define. A person of color or no color – and that, by the way, includes those of European extraction – is easy to categorize. (Whether that categorization is correct is another matter.) Yet limiting the profiling of students according to culture-as-it-pertains-to-skin-color is just as detrimental. Non-Hispanic White people have their own culture; due to geography and neighboring non-American cultures, Non-Hispanic White people in Maine and Non-Hispanic White people in Utah do in fact live in different cultures (Canada and Mexico respectively), even though the larger culture would be that of continental Americanism. Ignoring microculturalism that exist in larger countries – for example: the United States, China, Russia – is not something to overlook. To complicate matters, then, too, it is not politic to ignore countries that are empirically divided. (Here I’m thinking of the political disparity between self-governing Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Defining the Irish is done in multiple cultural, religious, and historic terms, many or all of which can be problematic for a slew of political and empirical reasons.) Invisibility does not need to refer to culture as it pertains to race; it can also pertain to religious culture. This distinguishing categorization is foremost in my mind as I live in a state that is 80% non-Hispanic White.

The distinguishing factor here is that multiculturalism is not necessarily racially related, something that I believe is often overlooked. Racial culture can be a relatively easy marker (although this does not necessarily make it easy to differentiate a person of color who might be, for example, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or a combination of two or more races). Zeni provided an example in which Cason described resolving several confrontations with an African-American student (114-5), yet the same type of confrontation is one I have with a Non-Hispanic White student – a polygamist Non-Hispanic White student. Here, the cultural difference is the widespread religious practices that a majority of Utah residents observe (with or without the polygamy, as part of the larger Latter-day saint/Mormon culture). Avoiding issues of invisibility is much more difficult when the culture is, in fact, racially invisible.

Avoiding racial invisibility is also troublesome if one assumes that the culture of an African-American student or a Hispanic student is automatically different than however mainstream culture is defined. (For that matter, this cultural invisibility is difficult if one has European exchange students, two of which I have this year, although perhaps their accents demarcate their invisibility.) Fundamentally, I believe that issues of any type of invisibility – cultural, racial, religious, sexual, whatever – can be avoided by stopping, by which I mean thinking of the perspective of he or she who has voiced an issue. Avoiding these issues requires viewing the students as individuals, understanding what one can about the culture, and not assuming that a reaction is necessarily culturally based. The invisibility of culture is that it is often actually invisible and unknown. As noted, there should be a determination to "look beyond...ingrained cultural reactions and assumptions to see what might be going on inside a 'difficult kid'" (117-8). Something I knew - or like to think I knew - but didn't acknowledge is that I absolutely need to be more aware of placing myself in the students' positions, to be more conscious of this.

Work Cited 
Zeni, Jane, and Myrtho Prothete, Nancy Cason, and Minnie Phillips. "The Ethics of Cultural Invisibility." Ethical Issues in Practitioner Research. New York: Teachers College, 2001. 113-22. Print.

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