Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Audience Has Two (or More) Faces

I'm inclined to think that Barbra Streisand has all but destroyed any expectations I have for myself as a future educator.  In cultural studies, we talk a lot about knowing our audiences and writing/speaking to them.  As Michael Pryke explains in "Situated Audiences," audiences aren't just there for the reading of our pieces, to take them or leave them and interpret them however they want (163).  The act of writing does not happen within a culture-less bubble, but is impacted a great deal by the various cultural forces that surround the writer.  Spivak suggests that audiences themselves be thought of as "co-investigators," allowing us to consider how our works may be interpreted outside of our own bubbles (qtd. Pryke 180).

This quarter in the IAS Graduate Research Colloquium, I thought a lot about audience and particularly my role as a member of these researchers' audiences.  As a response to the first reading, Dan Goldhaber's "Is It Just a Bad Class?: Assessing the Stability of Measured Teacher Performance," I could only really note that I was not a part of Dan's intended audience.  The piece utilized a great deal of primary and secondary data analysis techniques, which, while potentially useful for my future work, have little to do with the language and aesthetics studies of my current research.

Perhaps as a result of seeing how patients' words became quantified via the McGill Pain Questionnaire in my research on pain mapping, I am extremely leery of using numeric values as stand-ins for the rainbow highlighter-based coding version of grounded theory developed in my current program.  Recently, it occurred to me how my research, which challenges the position of power wielded by the physician in doctor-patient relationships, might easily irk any doctor who came across it, in much the same manner in which I became instantly uncomfortable with Dan's work.  Even in terms of the Streisand piece there is an audience member, in this case the male lead, Jeff Bridges, who misunderstands the lecture, in this case because he has left too early.

It may be impossible to truly account for the various levels of interest and familiarity various readers/listeners bring to my work.  Yet, another professor, Jin-Kyu Jung, offered a partial solution to the widespread/diverse audience problem through the effective manner in which he spoke to a spectrum of peoples in both his written piece, "Computer Aided Qualitative GIS," and lecture on the same topic.  In particular, Jin-Kyu used his visuals quite adeptly, so that his powerpoint was not merely a crutch reiterating the same points being spoken or something to keep the eyes from him as a nervous speaker, but a tool that truly complementing his talk.  At various points, definitions appeared on the screen for those of us less familiar with GIS, and, when maps appeared on the screen, he explained them himself, rather than depending on a caption.  Yet through the questions of more GIS-proficient audience members, it became obvious that Jin-Kyu is not only very familiar with the material on which he spoke, but an expert on its various nuances and vocabularies.

Perhaps in the middle of these two paths is the talk given by Gwen Ottinger on communities surrounding oil refineries.  A lot of the science in this talk was beyond my understanding, yet the methods were extremely familiar to me, particularly the "kitchen table talks" defined by Ottinger as "loose, off-the-record histories[...] strategic stories better consider larger ramifications in the case that such a story were made public" (3).  Now, similar to Dan's talk, I felt much that I was not the targeted audience, though, in this case, I knew a fair amount Gwen's topic.  In particular, I am well informed about the possibilities of "kitchen table talks"/"dinner table conversations"/"coffee table chats" and one important reason why these words are often chosen: they allow one to slip around having to file an IRB.  I'm pretty sure that Gwen had to go through this process anyway and perhaps she speaks more at length about this topic at another point in her book, but it felt odd that she brought up this language without speaking to the way sneaky grad students use it.  Or at least that's how I felt, being a sneaky grad student.

In the end though, all of these talks demonstrated that the professors had some familiarity with their audiences.  The published pieces were, after all, not written explicitly for the colloquium, while the talks were aimed at interdisciplinary arts and sciences graduate students.  These were not required sessions, and thus the professors knew we all had some "extracurricular" interest in learning for learning's sake (and/or impressing our capstone advisors).  We were there to learn, not to get regaled with amusing nuggets as the 300+ students in Streisand's fictional class appeared to be.  And learn we did, which, in my opinion, makes these successful talks.

Of course, some people, like the professor below, may not be so lucky.

Works Cited

Goldhaber, Dan. "Managing the Teacher Workforce in Austere Times: The Implications of Teacher Layoffs." IAS Graduate Research Colloquium. University of Washington Bothell. Bothell, 5 Apr. 2011. Lecture.

Goldhaber, Dan, and Michael Hansen. "Is it Just a Bad Class?: Assessing the Stability of Measured Teacher Performance." CEDR 2010-3: 1-58. Print.

Jung, Jin-Kyu. "Computer-aided Qualitative GIS: A Software-level Integration of Qualitative Research and GIS." Qualitative GIS: A Mixed Methods Approach. Eds. Meghan S. Cope and Sarah Elwood. London: Sage, 2009. 115-136. Print.

---. "Qualitative Geovisualization for Community Planning: Masten District Neighborhood Plan in Buffalo, NY." IAS Graduate Research Colloquium. University of Washington Bothell. Bothell, 7 June 2011. Lecture.

Melzack, Ronald. “The McGill Pain Questionnaire: Major properties and scoring methods.” Pain 1.3 (Sept. 1975): 277-299. Print.

The Mirror Has Two Faces. Dir. Barbra Streisand. Tristar, 1996. Film.

Ottinger, Gwen. "The Biopolitics of the Fenceline." IAS Graduate Research Colloquium. University of Washington Bothell. Bothell, 3 May 2011. Lecture.

---. "Dangerous Stories." Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Solve Environmental Justice Challenges. Unpublished. 1-52. Print.

Pryke, Michael. "Situated Audiences." Using Social Theory: Thinking Through Research. Eds. Michael Pryke et al. London: Sage, 2003. 163-180. Print.

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