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After reading Lederach’s article I found myself feeling how I often feel after hearing a haiku recitation- as if, in attempting to capture a sense of fullness in a scant conundrum of syllables, nothing had been said. Contrary to Lederach’s claim, a haiku approach to any effort of mediation in arenas of social change is inherently problematic for a variety of reasons. First, such an argument presupposes that opposing voices share a common aesthetic around which they can formulate a possibility for social change. If antagonists could conceive a collective sentiment for resolution, there would be no antagonism. The fundamental essence of antagonism is the inability to agree on prospects for synthetic progress. Secondly, a mediator, rather than serving to streamline a barrier of communication and understanding, more often than not, only serves to add to the cacophony of voices and miscommunication/misunderstanding that underscores and perpetuates conflict. A mediator is not a poet. A violent conflict is not a hodgepodge of images that only requires a creative intercessor capable of composing a visual amalgamation to find its resolution. To find, and speak to, the essence of things, one must assume an essentialist perspective. Any such essentialist approach to complex, multifaceted conflicts will never approach any true prospects for lasting, meaningful change. Mediators should help others speak for themselves, not speak for those others.

We live in a postmodern age where singular solutions have become incompatible with convoluted, compound problems. The dissonance of competing claims can no longer find common expression in any shared language or aesthetic; rather, these claims can only be balanced against each other to ensure the greatest possible common good for all. A poetic approach to mediating social change is an inherently dictatorial one. The mediator is no longer practical. What is needed more now than ever is a paradigm shift in our conceptions of representation. Figureheads cannot, and should not, speak for their constituents. The constituents must be empowered to speak for, and amongst, themselves in order to both make their claims heard and negotiate their enactment. The Occupy movements have, more than anything else, demonstrated these emergent elements of postmodern social evolution. There is no Occupy manifesto per se, nor is there any identifiable leader. Though there is a New York Times article entitled “A Manifesto for Wall Street Protestors”(http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/business/a-manifesto-for-wall-street-protesters.html), the demands outlined by said article demonstrate the most basic common conception of the problem, not any concrete, ideologically unified proposition for its solution. The only element of Lederach’s article that I agree with is that the core of conflicts must be uncovered to progress towards any solution; however, the prospect of any solution is not as harmonious or reducible as Lederach seems to believe. We are not going to solve our problems by condensing their imagined elements into a succinct poesy. What is required is a collage of independent images that retain both independence and unity, as tensely as the two can attempt to be balanced.

The role of mediators as defined by Lederach seemed opposed to the ‘facilitators’ of Occupy movements. Lederach seems to advocate for mediation that conveys the basic meaning for others, rather than allowing those others to mediate their own meanings. Facilitators, on the other hand, simply guide others in their vocalizations of their own meanings and desires. This is, itself, a performative process with its own codified signs. A brief summary, and short instances, of this performance can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odFygPMwbIM

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In her introduction to Oral History and Performance, Della Pollock discusses various dialectics inherent in the performative act of oral historicization. I found Pollock’s discussion of the interrelation between performer and audience, specifically the intersection between subjective experience and collective memory, to be especially vital to the importance of oral history performance. Pollock goes on to describe the subjective teller of oral history as a witness to history- providing their own testimony for its possibility of relation to another. Thus, the act of remembrance undertaken in the performance of oral history becomes wrapped up in a Hegelian dialectic of identity mediation between the self and an other, through which both may come to recognize and identify with each other. This process functions not only in it’s historicization, but also in the space for change that it opens. Both the performer and audience are made to recognize, through the performance of oral history, the multiplicity of possibilities for the future through the revelation of previously unheard, though unavoidably translatable, experiences of the past.

I found Pollocks example of the “Leaves of Magnolia” performance to be the most poignant of all the performances she sights. Through telling their histories of criminality and consequent subjugation, the Anson County inmates are able to provide a vital warning for the at-risk youth brought in to bear witness to their witnessing. The fact that the inmates themselves were barred from performing would seem to detract from the immediate urgency of the performance; however, the fact that they were not allowed to participate also seems emblematic of their totally encompassing experience of oppression. The act of placing the youth on the line the prisoners walk not only allows them to witness the plight of the penal system, but also to experience its physically and mentally consuming domination. The “Leaves of Magnolia” project reminded me a lot of the show “Beyond Scared Straight” on A&E. In “Beyond Scared Straight” inmates speak to at risk-youth that are brought into the prison, not by simply presenting their story, but also by vocally and physically confronting and challenging their youthfully naive audience members. The youth are also carted throughout the prison and forced to participate in several routines the inmates experience on a daily basis. Through this performance, the inmates are not only able to relate their own subjective history, but also relate that history to an audience who can then identify a possible future for themselves in the incarcerated subjugation of the inmates.

Link to Beyond Scared Straight ‘testimony:’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CthN6Pem74I

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I found Boal’s comparison of photography to language to be especially interesting as a means to empower those who often have no other way of ‘officially’ expressing themselves in national contexts. The oppression underscoring the enactment of a single-language literacy program in a multi-lingual culture, such as the Peruvian one cited in Boal’s article, can only be countered through an appeal- framed in the majority/literate language- to the individual’s agency. For many new language learners, the language they are being encouraged to speak associatively represents the oppression of those that are requiring them to speak it. This tendency was clearly highlighted by the man who took a picture of the bloody, teary-eyed boy when he was asked to take a picture that would capture his sense of home. For him, home was not merely a spatial living space, but an arena of struggle and subjugation: protective dogs could be summarily captured by the state, leaving their owners vulnerable to mutilation by rats in their sleep. I find this type of language education to be especially valuable within a contemporary American context where migrants are actively encouraged to learn a language in a formalized, disengaging manner that often reinforces their apprehension in engaging not only forms of expression, but social, political, and economic processes as well. Language should be presented as a means of self-determination and self-expression, not formal or bureaucratic requirement. Such a presentation would allow new language learners to critically confront the oppressive structures they feel themselves burdened by in their forced adoption of a new language.

I also found Boal’s performative practices in prisons to be applicable to constructive dialogues. The idea of allowing people to reverse roles, and thereby critique or sympathize with their oppressors/subjects, sets the foundation for a mutually-beneficial reformation of prison systems. The American prison system is broken. The antagonism between prisoners and prison guards has become so stark that it seems no reconciliation is possible, with both parties experiencing equally imperiling consequences. Prison guards all but allow prisoners to govern themselves within a certain unspoken codex of acceptable behavior and brutality, thereby leaving prisoners, and prison guards, subject to the malicious and coercive forces nurtured and reinforced by our prison systems. Prisoners refuse to cooperate with prison guards for fear of retaliation by their fellow, ‘ruling’ prisoners. Prison guards refuse to sympathize with prisoners for fear of being attacked. etc. If these diametrically opposed groups could be allowed to experience each other from their respective perspectives, a mutual progress might be made possible. If prisoners and prison guards could be made to see that they are both sovereign individuals, and not just impersonal members of a massified opposition, their individual concerns could be addressed and reconciled. Boal’s emphasis on the function of performance as a possible way of opening this discursive space reminded me of a video of Philippine prisoners who are taught, and perform, dances in prison. These prisoners are allowed to be human in their performance, capable of creative productivity in a place where they are often abandoned to a regimented life of collective sterility. Thus, a catharsis is experienced by both the prisoners, who are able to present themselves in their own light, and the guards, who come to see them in a different, less antagonistic, light.

Youtube video of Prisoners doing ‘Thriller’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMnk7lh9M3o

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I found all of the dialectic tensions presented in the readings to be valid and engaging; however, I think there is a definite bias in the definition of empowerment, as it is explored in the text. Whereas dissemination, dialogue, fragmentation, and unity seem to be largely unproblematic definitions, the configurations of control, emancipation, oppression, and empowerment are far too complex to be standardized by anyone outside of the community engaging in those dialectics. I will draw specifically on the author’s treatment of the dialectic of oppression and empowerment to demonstrate my point:

In the text, Papa and Singhal discuss how the veiling practice of purdah is simultaneously empowering and oppressing for women in India. According to the authors, veiling exhibits a clear subjugation to patriarchal codes that keep women in the domestic domain; nonetheless, these practices, within their framing patriarchal order, also bestow respect and honor on women. Thus, Papa and Singhal make sure to first criticize the patriarchal order for it’s purdah practices which are, apparently, self-evidently oppressive, but then go on to ambiguously cite that patriarchal order in invoking the honor and respect it bestows upon those women who veil themselves. This example demonstrates a clear Western-feminist bias against patriarchal orders, subsuming that such orders are inherently oppressive towards women- in all cases, times, and places- while largely ignoring the empowerment of women that is inextricable from innumerable patriarchal orders and practices throughout the world. While Papa and Singhal take great care to cite interviews and anecdotal evidence to support some of their other dialectic tensions, there is no such engagement in the discussion of oppression and empowerment. It is simply assumed that all women feel themselves to be restricted and subjugated by veiling practices, without any consideration of individual agency and subjectivity.

This Eurocentric delineation of feminine empowerment reminded me of an article I read recently by a Muslim feminist, Fatemeh Fakhraei, about the tendency of Western feminists to project their conceptions of liberation onto foreign contexts without any consideration for the desires and beliefs of the women within those contexts. These projections, as well as the ones invoked in the readings, evidence clear ethnocentrism, prejudice, and victim constructions that sleight any effort towards ‘liberation’ undertaken or proposed by such alien agents. The standardization of liberation is itself a problematic example of the dissemination that the authors seem so apprehensive of in their texts. These authors disseminate their biased perspectives without any consideration of constructive dialogue, only to go on to critique such disengaging practices later in the text.

In my opinion, rather than simply disseminating self-projected biases, the individuals engaged in struggles towards emancipation and empowerment should set the framework for their own struggle. A foreign definition of freedom should never dictate the liberation struggles of native populations. This act is itself a form of colonialism that should be opposed by all those who wish to retain their self-determined autonomy and independence.

This piece reminded me of a poem I have heard recited a few times by various Muslim women, both native and non-natives, here in the United States, to demonstrate and criticize the presumption and cultural judgment inherent in several arguments against hijab. There is specific reference to oppression in the poem, with subsequent reaffirmation of the hijab as a source of empowerment. This youtube video shows a young Indian girl reciting the poem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tqJtReLceI

link to Fatemeh Fakhraei’s article: http://www.altmuslimah.com/a/b/a/3171/

Unveiling Consciousness

In his collection of essays The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois draws upon a collective experience of oppression, striving, and affliction amongst African Americans, throughout their history, to highlight a double-bind of aspirations and limitations that he thematically recapitulates throughout his essays in the image of a ‘Veil.’ The cloak of Du Bois’ omnipresent ‘Veil’ can be understood as a social anathema which simultaneously prevents whites from recognizing blacks as equally deserving human counterparts, and blacks from seeing themselves from any other perspective than that of their socially authoritative, constraining white observers. This same veiling is apparent in the introduction of When Bullets Begin to Flower, wherein Margaret Dickinson describes how the native Angolan population oftentimes placed the hope for their freedom, or, at least, the hope for their equality, in a Portuguese education system which, despite any amount of accomplishment, would never acknowledge blacks as equals. Both the colonial Portuguese and white Americans maintained an inherently exclusive social sector which unrelentingly held the currencies of full citizenship and equality over the heads of their black subjects, regardless of how vainly said subjects strove within that exclusive social structure to earn them. Coming to recognize this unwavering limitation, the native populations of the Portuguese colonies came to reconstruct and reevaluate an independent, precolonial culture, modeled in the incorporation of African symbolic elements into the protest poetry that is the focus of When Bullets Being to Flower. By reinstating this symbolic precolonial past, the native African poets were able to reimagine a post-colonial future. Thus, the precolonial history becomes a source of inspiration for the post-colonial future. The power of pre-colonial symbolism awakened an unveiled self-consciousness in the African colonial subjects that sparked their earnest, violent quest for sovereignty.

Deconstructing Oppression

Paulo Freire, for all his focus on the intrinsic powers of the metaphysical subjects of freedom and humanity, fails to consider those ideals as concepts arising from discursive formulations within the oppressive systems they aim to flaunt. For Freire, there are very static and ambiguously defined concepts which everyone, nonetheless, seems to share in some common cultural currency, around which they can mobilize and operate collectively. Is the teaching of such concepts not, in and of itself, a form of oppression? Would it not be presumptuous to assume that all of the ‘oppressed’ folk have a common conception of, and concomitant aspirations sought from, their freedom and humanity? In embracing the reified definitions of freedom and humanity, as they are understood within the status quo they seek to revolutionize, is that revolutionary possibility not somewhat diminished in its concession to the totalizing metaphysical constructions of said status quo? It is often the case that freedom is defined in opposition to oppression, but when it is merely reduced to such a negative thesis its possibilities for progress become limited by the definitive terms of its oppressive antithesis. If we are to assume life-long wage labor in a capitalistic society represents the oppressive status quo, then it seems most definitions of freedom would simply propose a rejection of such a systematized lifestyle of endless work rather than considering a total redefinition and rehabilitation of the dehumanizing society that produces freedom seeking impulses in so many of its members.  Perhaps Freire would do well to analyze his own faith in the ability of conventional pedagogical processes to counter the dehumanization and oppression of the oppressive systems which rely on those very pedagogical processes for their own entrenchment, as, if any self-determining revolution is to be achieved in any meaningful way, surely it would have to start with the reconstruction of our understandings of the pedagogical process and self-definition first. Freedom and humanity can only be fully achieved on a collective level when the inherent plurality those terms are explored, negotiated and experienced by all individual members of society.