I am deeply disturbed by dominant discourses in society that silence the voices of others, particularly women and ethnic minorities. I am frustrated by people who put others down, particularly online. And I am always surprised by teachers and academics who talk of empowering and encouraging their students while they constantly put others in academia down, by belittling their research, providing harsh and hurtful feedback, stifling dissent, and harming them in countless micro-aggressive ways.
How do we (women, young academics, minorities) protect ourselves from this micro-aggression? One solution can be found in self-reflection, by listening to our inner voices and not allowing others to put us down or question our self-worth. But this worries me, too.
Over-listening to our inner voice might blind us to diverse perspectives that may otherwise benefit us. We risk becoming egocentric or sociocentric because, as Barry Dyck says, when we think alone, we are not really alone: our thoughts are really the product of social interaction and thinking. This is a point Deleuze and Guattari emphasize in saying “we are multiple.” We may even reinforce social expectations rather than breaking free from them. Listening to our inner voice can be an act of reinforcing our own biases based on social discourse that has become internalized, rather than an act of critical consciousness. In short: over-listening to our own voice may blind us to the many diverse perspectives available.
So I’d suggest that we might lose our criticality if we overemphasize “inner voice” in ways that are not dialogical or open to others’ ideas and thoughts. It is difficult to do this when faced with criticism. I face this resistance in my personal and professional life all the time: how do I maintain my own self-esteem (which is admittedly quite difficult to shake, but still shakeable by micro-aggressions) while trying to listen constructively to the perspectives of others. But it is difficult to listen empathetically and openly to antagonistic criticism. I’ve been thinking recently that while I struggle with how to handle micro-aggressions against myself, I may myself be guilty of similar behaviors, often unintentionally.
I think when we stop thinking of criticism as antagonistic, and begin practicing empathetic and constructive views of criticality, we become less aggressive when we tap on someone else’s inner voice. So I have been thinking of examples from the practice of sharing criticism in productive ways (e.g. Women’s Ways of Knowing; Nussbaum’s notion of Narrative Imagination), and considering: how do we both encourage inner voice, and open it up to different perspectives? Furthermore, what is our role and responsibility as teachers to not kill our students’ inner voices, and yet encourage them to open up to the world, and toward transformational learning?
In Peer Review
In our quest to be critical and objective, how often do we recognize that our feedback might harm or silence others? Traditional peer review in academia can be harsh, as opposed to Hybrid Pedagogy’s constructive peer review process. When we give feedback in loving, caring, gentle ways, with the intention of supporting others to develop their work and make it better (as I hope most of us do with our students), doesn’t everyone win? Of course, it is more difficult to be on the receiving end of feedback that is clearly not given in a supportive way; you want to be able to take from it what will help you grow, but not the aspects that will feed into unhealthy self-doubt. But at least we have the power to be the change we wish to see in academia. I conduct peer reviews for journals with a very different ethos from Hybrid Pedagogy, yet I strive to keep my reviews constructive and supportive.
On the one hand, it can be disempowering and almost an act of violence when some educational researchers conduct research that reduces learning and student engagement to numbers and generalizations divorced from context. On the other end of the spectrum (and there are many approaches in between), one can conduct research like autoethnography, interpreting and analyzing one’s own lived experience, and this can serve as a counterpoint and an act of resistance. It is beautiful and valuable in its subjectivity. Still further is to do something like collaborative autoethnography, a participatory approach to researching lived experience from participants’ perspectives, done collectively. This kind of research privileges the voices of the participants and empowers them to research themselves rather than have others research and write about them. It also has the collaborative element which provides a supportive way of incorporating the worldviews of others to help us understand our own selves more critically, and perceive our experiences in the light of how others see theirs. It supports inner voice by challenging it, and in doing so, I believe, such an exercise has potential to raise critical consciousness.
This research approach is not perfect. There are still power dynamics amongst group members (issues of gender, race, etc., as well as seniority and research experience, let alone differences in personality, popularity, and influence over the group) and it involves the risk of developing groupthink (as if there is an “inner voice” for the group as a whole that misses some important perspectives outside its vision). This research remains partial, but it goes beyond inner voice without destroying or violating inner voice, and goes a long way beyond some of the other extremely impersonal and disempowering forms of research that exist.
Carolyn Ellis, a proponent of autoethnography as a research approach, suggests that teaching itself involves ethnography, as “we learn how to open ourselves to ourselves and to each other, we find it easier to drop some of our resistance to different ideas”, which she considers a step towards “ethnographic consciousness in the classroom that is personal, intimate, and empathic” (in Ellis and Bochner, p. 761). I do know that my own interpretive and (auto)ethnographic research has made me a more open teacher/facilitator.
One recent online experience that challenged my views of constructing knowledge and collaborative writing was the #fedwikihappening organized by Mike Caulfield, where a small group of us worked together to experiment with the Smallest Federated Wiki (SFW). The beauty of SFW is that it allows for a variety of forms of collaboration. One can write on one’s own, another person may choose to edit or add to a piece (via “forking”), and the original author may choose whether to incorporate those edits or not. It allows participants to consider the edits of others, take them or leave them, but at least be aware of them, and of different ways of writing.
Occasionally, editing someone else’s work (or having my own work edited) seemed like an act of violence or de-personalization. In other instances, it felt evolutionary, taking a piece of writing to the next level. Collaborative writing, in general, is an activity that builds on our inner voice while opening us up to alternative voices. But what is special about SFW is that, unlike traditional wikis and google docs, there is no rush towards consensus; our inner voice can last a little longer, if we choose. This concept is not without its shortcomings, but it is a new approach to looking at knowledge we construct together.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Bakhtin (although it was discovered indirectly – 1981,p. 287, quoted here):
“I am conscious of myself and become myself only while revealing myself for another, through another, and with the help of another.”
This article (though not formally peer reviewed) itself is not of my thoughts alone. It is influenced by my life experiences and conversations with colleagues and friends in my online and face-to-face life. It has been influenced by direct feedback from Sean Michael Morris and Adam Heidebrink-Bruno. It is indirectly influenced by conversations with Rusul AlRubail, Frances Bell, Alyson Indrunas, Kate Bowles, Audrey Watters, and Mike Caulfield. It is influenced by my collaborative auto-ethnography research, particularly with my friends who were participants in #rhizo14, and it is influenced of course by my reading of Freire, Palmer, Sidorkin, bell hooks, Nussbaum, Belenkey et al, and (the very little I have read by) Deleuze and Guattari. And probably many more unacknowledged influences.