Posted in Education, Gonzaga University

Road to Thesis: Conference Call

Well I turned in the first written assignment for the Master’s Thesis last night just before midnight: The One-Page Proposal.

This afternoon I got on a conference call with the lead professor and three other students to go over the professor’s notes and comments on our proposals.

I started my proposal by pulling the salient elements from by Literature Review I put together for the penultimate class last spring. It included this summary line:

In computer-mediated communications, how do contextual codings affect work productivity in the United States to India cross-cultural environment?

There were some issues we discussed about the project, which I cannot detail here because of work confidentiality, but when it got done, I found my root topic getting pointed in a different direction. Instead of a research paper, I will look at a best practices project.

The sketch is rough right now, but it would be more about creating training  modules to help businesses avoid pitfalls and establish best practices where computer-mediated communications is concerned.

Posted in Education, Gonzaga University, Social Issues, Uncategorized

The Thesis

Since I began my Master’s degree in January 2014, I have spent a significant amount of time blogging about various classes and reading for my degree.

But I’ve taken a break from the program for almost a year, due to work considerations. Yet today, I am suddenly back in gear. Starting the class late, but aiming to finish it up by spring.

This is the capstone course: writing the Thesis. Despite all my preparations, I feel like I have no idea how to get it done, yet also feel confident that it can and will get done.

My catch-phrase I started at work is going to hold me in good standing here: “Let’s Pool Our Ignorance”.

So this weekend I will be writing up my 1 page initial proposal and see where that goes.

Posted in Gonzaga University, Social Issues

Communication: Understanding or Power

(Note: Those reading this post will hopefully note that it reflects an attitude generally in opposition to my normal one. Not that I think it untrue, or not worth saying, but that it is difficult and painful to paint in these colors for very long. Nor do I think it constructive to do it for long, though often essential to remember now and again.)

One of the things the students in my Master’s in Communication class dislike the most is the comparison of Communication as an exercise in power. We like to think of it as a practice in understanding. Yet recently I have been rubbed in the face with the power aspects of communication.  Those with the power get to decide what your communication means. They even have the power of Humpty Dumpty to pay YOUR words to make  them mean what they want them to mean in their favor.

One of the problems in trying to communicate a subject like this, is you cannot directly refer to any of your examples.  Either a direct reference risks your exposure to those in power and their reinterpretation of your words, since they will doubtless find them reflecting unfavorably upon them, or it is someone or a relationship you care something about and the person will misunderstand the use of your communication with them as trying to be mean instead of being a didactic and teachable moment that increases understanding. In either case, the potential for your words to be effective in communicating empathy and understanding are severely weakened. And it doesn’t matter how close or how far you actually are to those organizations and circles of power, they will mark your words and see what they can do to make you suffer for your attempt at truth and understanding.

This again removes the POWER of the teachable moment, and reduces the situation to the lessons learned by the less powerful about how power uses communication for power instead of understanding.

One of the chief weapons against understanding and in favor of power by those in power is the deconstruction of language, and the obliteration of linguistic and literary tools. I observed a recent example where the use of hyperbole by someone near me — a tool reflecting one’s positive expectations on the intellectual capabilities of the recipient — was painted as the use of extreme and demeaning sarcasm. Never mind how difficult it is to use hyperbole as sarcasm, I saw the inversion of literary definitions achieved and the reprimand painted.

It is dangerous to use hyperbole, irony, simile, metaphors, allusions,  because they connect people’s thoughts to larger themes, and make them explore and question the items around them. None of these are good for those who see communication as power.

An expansive vocabulary is not safe either. I interact inter-culturally every day, and never dumb down my vocabulary to the people I am talking to. A lot of them like the way it expands their own comprehension of English, as well as stimulates them into a greater understanding of both American language and culture. But within organizations it looks like this might be dangerous too — as the use of big words could be considered condescending, no doubt.

I was commenting to a leader in one organization that they had created one team and given them a great project to work on — one really to be proud of — but had misled them on their final intent for the group and the project. The leader tried explaining to me how it was in the best interest of the organization that the team be mislead. If people knew the truth too soon they might choose to bail instead of be committed to the project. My response was that this point of view robbed those team members of the pride they should have had in the work accomplished, and left them with fear in its place. It also telegraphed to them that their leadership did not trust them. Past experience, the leader said, showed the leadership that this lack of trust on the leader’s part was justified. I don’t think either of us was convincing the other one of which lack of trust started this downward spiral of distrust. Yet, my assertion still, is that, no matter where it starts, the important communication fact is that it is a downward spiral, and that stopping it should be more important than finding which point on the circle started it. Yet that would require a relinquishment of power in communication that those in power are not willing to give up.

The interactions are complex, and it is easy to justify keeping people in the dark. Yet I still contend that using the communication to inform and create understanding, and allowing people to make informed decisions, is eminently preferrable, on the whole, to controlling communication to the point that its primary use is that of power.


Posted in Education, Gonzaga University

OJT Training: Theory Influencing Practice

(Note: This is a paper I turned in for my class on consulting and training.)


OJT Training: Theory Influencing Practice

Jonathan R. Lightfoot

Gonzaga University



OJT Training: Theory Influencing Practice

Three source documents are being used to analyze the theory and practice of On-the-Job-Training. The oldest is a 1996 article from a manufacturing magazine, Water Engineering & Management, about the use of OJT vs. classroom training classes in factories. The next is a Train the Trainer handbook copyrighted in 1999 and used for several years at to educate first line managers and supervisors on how to best train new hires in their operational responsibilities. The final document is a 2013 study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management on the effectiveness of OJT and PDCA training.

Each of the three materials will be reviewed in chronological order, and then compared and contrasted with each other to see what the disparate perspectives can yield when brought together. The author of this paper was trained in the second document’s methods in the early 2000s, and is writing this paper to place his education and experience in context of the greater field of study. By reviewing the materials chronologically, the training materials can be placed in an appropriate context, and then evaluated to see where current theory can be used to approve or amend it to be more effective.

On-the-Job Training

Smith and Kules (1996) did a practical article for plant managers on when and how to apply on-the-job-training to their plants, and how to know when classroom or OJT training made more sense.

Their leading point was that good OJT training is not the “sink or swim” method, where an activity is demonstrated once, quickly, to the trainee, and then they are left alone and expected to be competent. Instead, evaluation is done to understand what the trainee knows before training, and training is done to ensure the trainer is trained. This structure teaches the trainee problem solving skills. The trainee learns more information about the why of the process, and is thus more open to ask questions of the trainer. The trainer/trainee relationship is also one of more respect than the sink or swim method.

Smith and Kules gave guidelines for deciding between classroom and OJT training. Note, these are considering factory/plant training, but their recommendations can be applied elsewhere. One factor should be cost per person. What can affect those costs? The expense and availability of capital equipment, experience of employees and number of employees needing similar training. Another factor to consider is the experience of the employee(s). Less experienced employees usually do better in classroom training first before OJT.

Tools and Techniques of OJT Training

The materials in this OJT training book by Instructional Design Associates (1999) concentrate on creating the best trainer for OJT training. It is high on principles and concepts. There are the characteristics of successful OJT training:

1)         Structured

2)         Timely

3)         Accountability

4)         Premeditated

5)         Consistent

6)         Human

Then there is the 4-step training model, as detailed in the below table:




Trainer   Student
Prepare Leaner Put student at ease, get student interested in materials Motivation
Present the job Tell, show and illustrate the task Understanding
Try out performance Have student practice the task, correct errors Participation
Transition to job Put student on own, tell where to get help, check frequently Application


That is balanced by an analysis of trainer/trainee styles. Again, another table:

Trainer: Tour Guide

Student: Gadfly

Trainer: Balanced

Student: Thinker

Trainer: Administrator

Student: Rock

Trainer: Engine

Student: Engine


The key is to work through the 4-step training model while recognizing the student’s training style and aligning the material and the trainer with that style to achieve the end training result. A trainer needs to recognize the student’s quadrant on the style table, and move the student to the place of greatest learning.

The PDCA Cycle and OJT Training

Matsuo and Nakahara (2013) put the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle and On-the-Job-Training (OJT) through a research study to compare their effectiveness in fostering the organizational learning process.

They defined the organizational learning process as:

  • Acquisition of knowledge by individuals or groups
  • Sharing and interpreting knowledge within groups and organizations
  • Incorporation of knowledge into organized routines
  • Elimination of anachronistic routines

To determine effectiveness, they put forth four hypotheses:

  • OJT – Direct supervision is positively correlated with workplace learning
  • OJT – Empowerment is positively correlated with workplace learning
  • PDCA – Positively correlated with workplace learning
  • Reflective Communication is positively correlated with workplace learning

They used learning outcome survey data from a Japanese firm to make their analysis. What they discovered is that the first hypothesis was false, but the other three were true. The general conclusions were that quality management based on the PDCA cycle can markedly improve development by promoting problem solving and stimulating experiential learning. In contrast, the effectiveness of OJT depends on its style.

They did note that the results might be affected by the culture of the Japanese firm, and need to be expanded to other cultural settings to confirm a more general conclusion.

Historical Progression

The article by Smith and Kules (1996) can be seen as a first step discussion of the effectiveness of OJT vs. classroom training, and the need for conscious structure to OJT training, instead of the “sink or swim” method. The training materials experienced by this author (Instructional Design Associates 1999) were designed where the assumption of OJT was already in place. The focus of these materials was on preparing the trainer with the skills necessary to assess the status of the trainee and adapt and direct training to make the most effective use of where the trainee is to learn the materials for the job. Neither of these sources had any assessment phase to validate the accuracy of their assumptions. The research study (Matsuo and Nakahara, 2013) added this level of complexity to the information available on the OJT process.

Analysis and Reflection

The experiences of the author of this paper with OJT started prior to his participation in the training class on how to be an OJT trainer. That is the usual progression: someone who has been a de facto trainer is sent to a class to learn all the right theories and practices to do what they have already been doing. The OJT trainer usually doesn’t have any relief from the other duties of their workday. Training the other employee is an addition to the already busy workload. This creates the temptation is to do the “sink-or-swim” method mentioned in the Smith and Kules article. The Train the Trainer class is the encouragement to put more thought into the process.

Being a trained OJT trainer creates a mindset that should make the trainer mindful of the training process, both of the trainee and the information to be learned. What the Train the Trainer course expected is a fairly structured concept of what information needs to be learned, in what context and time frame, by the trainee. In practical experience, many of the training events are one-off and ad-hoc events that fit into the total knowledge of the trainee. There isn’t a scheduled course of instruction that gets worked through. The initial crunch of essential information is learned at the beginning, and then the intensity of the relationship tapers off, and the trainer becomes more of a resource than a focused trainer.

The Train the Trainer materials give a mental mindset, but doesn’t give a real strategy for the perpetual training cycle. That is where the insights from the research study come in.

The research study, with its focus on PDCA and OJT visualizes the training process as a perpetual, recursive function. PDCA in particular, with its plan-do-check-act cycle, visualizes training intentionally and perpetually. The study also gave a caution for OJT training: The wrong style can actually be counterproductive to the learning of knowledge.

The training materials encourage supervision of the student, until the appropriate time for putting them on their own. The PDCA study suggests that the empowerment of putting the trainee on their own (but not in a sink-or-swim manner) sooner is more productive than a prolonged period of supervision. Longer supervision is actually counterproductive. Earlier episodes of independence, properly coached, can stimulate problem solving in the trainee and increase experiential learning.

A side result of this process is something I have experienced multiple times as an OJT trainer. I call it “the right mistake”. This “right mistake” is an important part of the OJT learning process. Rather than train the trainee on everything they could possibly need to know, rather than show them all the steps and possible logical branching tree options available, you concentrate on the core information needed now, along with the how and why information. Then the trainee is allowed to proceed and experience their learning. Sooner or later they are going to come to a point where their knowledge, and training, tells them what the correct answer is going to be, but it isn’t; what they try is wrong. Then they come to the trainer to understand what happened. And my response is: “you made the right mistake”.

What they did shows they understand what they have been taught, and are applying it correctly.  Yet no explanation can ever be complete, or show the whole picture; no training can cover everything. Letting them work out their understanding until they run into something where it doesn’t work, is an important part of the learning process. Equally important is assuring them that their “failure” is a sign of success in their understanding. Thus, the concept of the “right mistake”, and the need to look beyond what you know when you make the “right mistake”.

(The wrong mistake, of course, would be one where they didn’t follow what they already knew correctly, and requires a different remediation; review of what they should already understand until they fully internalize it.)

The one part of the that I haven’t seen focused on from the research study is step four of the organizational learning process: Elimination of anachronistic routines. That is something that should be focused on in future papers.


While a small sample, statistically, of the literature, the three articles selected show a certain progress in the way On-the-Job-Training has been viewed over the past two decades. The starting point is taking a serious view of OJT as more than just a quick show-tell sink-or-swim session. This led to training materials for the OJT trainer. Just being experienced in how to do the task is not enough to be able to train it: one needs experience in how to connect with the trainee to convey understanding. Yet the results of this train-the-trainer experience was also mixed. Further analysis, the research study, shows that style in OJT is critical to the amount of knowledge learned.

When using this to analyze my personal training experiences, I see that those occasions where I felt inclined to greater supervision were actually the most counterproductive, requiring further intervention on my part. Following the empowerment model is what actually led to my own “eureka” moment about the “right mistake” as an excellent teaching tool and measurement of trainee progress. While some tasks had obvious “right mistake” points, others tend to be more individual, yet the “right mistake” moment itself is always recognizable as an achievement of learning by the trainee to be celebrated and encouraged. Empowering a trainee to learn from failures in a precious form of empowerment.



Instructional Design Associates (1999). Training employees: Tools and techniques of OJT training. Training manual.

Matsuo, M., Nakahara, J. (2013). The effects of the PDCA cycle and OJT training on workplace learning, The International Journal of Human Resource Management. Pages 195-207, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2013

Smith, M., Kules, J. (1996). On-The-Job Training: Harder Than It Looks. Water Engineering & Management 143; 12; ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry


Posted in Gonzaga University, Uncategorized

Summer Plans change

Today’s post is late and short. Seems the class I’d planned on taking this summer — Digital Storytelling — is being canceled. No idea if it was because of low attendance, or because of a change in the teacher’s schedule. I was really excited about this class, the one elective choice that really gave me something directly practical.

Now they are offering me three other options for summer classes.  But I’ve already taken one, one requires a trip to the campus on dates I can’t go, and the final one doesn’t pique my interest. Trying to decide what other options are available.

So we will see what course I have to write about soon enough…

Posted in Gonzaga University, Social Issues

A response to “James Baldwin’s Topoi”

(Note: I spent a whole two days putting the below together for class, and thought I could post it here, despite most people not having read the document it is a response to.  For those wanting to look it up, “James Baldwin’s Topoi” is the title of a chapter written by James Dorsey in New Approaches to Rhetoric by editors Patricia A. Sullian and Steve R Goldzwig, copyright 2004 by Sage Publications Inc.)

This reading reminded me why I feel like an anachronism so often. It also branched in so many directions that I often had trouble being certain which direction or point was being made.

Sullivan and Goldzwig talk a lot about Baldwin’s attempt to establish his sense of place, or lack thereof, within a world that denied him the sense of place he expected for himself and imposed a different one upon him. Much of the reading details his struggle to break out of the imposed sense of place, and his attempt to establish a new one, while still maintaining that ultimate sense of place as an American.

The questions I am to answer are: How does the James Baldwin reading inform the way you understand your identity? How about your understanding of the identity of others in your life? What is one way that you could communicate with yourself or with other people to take advantage of what this reading offers?

This reading has a lot to say about our sense of place, or lack thereof, and our awareness of the same, or lack thereof. It also talks a lot about that sense of place changing.

There were many places in the reading that reminded me of various images and readings from my past. I am going to mention some of them before I directly answer the questions.


See the above picture. I took this picture back in 2013 while in Barcelona, Spain. After all, where else would you go for good Tex Mex food but Spain. Apologies, Barcelona, Spain. This is an example from my own life of the line in the writing about that restaurant with the “Buffalo, NY wings, Southern style”. (p 8)

Next, I want to bring in my favorite quote about sense of place. It is quite a long one, from Heretics by G.K. Chesterton, but I think it gives a good context and contrast to the Baldwin writings about place:

Mr. Rudyard Kipling has asked in a celebrated epigram what they can know of England who know England only. It is a far deeper and sharper question to ask, “What can they know of England who know only the world?” for the world does not include England any more than it includes the Church. The moment we care for anything deeply, the world—that is, all the other miscellaneous interests—becomes our enemy. Christians showed it when they talked of keeping one’s self “unspotted from the world;” but lovers talk of it just as much when they talk of the “world well lost.” Astronomically speaking, I understand that England is situated on the world; similarly, I suppose that the Church was a part of the world, and even the lovers inhabitants of that orb. But they all felt a certain truth—the truth that the moment you love anything the world becomes your foe. Thus Mr. Kipling does certainly know the world; he is a man of the world, with all the narrowness that belongs to those imprisoned in that planet. He knows England as an intelligent English gentleman knows Venice. He has been to England a great many times; he has stopped there for long visits. But he does not belong to it, or to any place; and the proof of it is this, that he thinks of England as a place. The moment we are rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the whole strength of the universe.

The globe-trotter lives in a smaller world than the peasant. He is always breathing, an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo. But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men—diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons. The man in the cabbage field has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men—hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky. Mr. Kipling, with all his merits, is the globe-trotter; he has not the patience to become part of anything. So great and genuine a man is not to be accused of a merely cynical cosmopolitanism; still, his cosmopolitanism is his weakness. That weakness is splendidly expressed in one of his finest poems, “The Sestina of the Tramp Royal,” in which a man declares that he can endure anything in the way of hunger or horror, but not permanent presence in one place. In this there is certainly danger. The more dead and dry and dusty a thing is the more it travels about; dust is like this and the thistle-down and the High Commissioner in South Africa. Fertile things are somewhat heavier, like the heavy fruit trees on the pregnant mud of the Nile. In the heated idleness of youth we were all rather inclined to quarrel with the implication of that proverb which says that a rolling stone gathers no moss. We were inclined to ask, “Who wants to gather moss, except silly old ladies?” But for all that we begin to perceive that the proverb is right. The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive.

Chesterton talks about sense of place as a rootedness that encompasses the entire world. Baldwin was attempting to change a sense of place into a cosmopolitanism that Chesterton would describe as exclusive – Just as Baldwin would see the “parochial” view of Chesterton as exclusive.

Okay, one more piece of evidence before I start to answer the questions. Let’s lift another line from the Baldwin reading:

“What happens” Schlesinger asks “When people of different ethnic origins, speaking different languages and professing different religions, settle in the same geographical locality and live under the same political sovereignty… Unless a common purpose binds together, tribal hostilities will drive them apart.” (p 9)

The description by Schlesinger about is the Middle East for the past millennia, most specifically for our purpose, the past century, when it was allowed out of the box of great powers to go its unfettered way. I know, Schlesinger is warning us about the USA, but I think it is well worth noting that we have another example, one we could do well to heed.

A very good example and defense about what America is and could be, can be found on this post by author Sarah A. Hoyt at According to Hoyt. In this piece Hoyt expands a sense of place beyond geography, to a philosophy.

She starts by quoting someone she believes in, who says:

Patriotism is good. Nationalism through a patriotic lens, seeing your country as worthwhile, as having prospects and things to be proud of, is not only acceptable but necessary for the health of any nation. But MOST especially the United States, because it’s one thing for the French to be ashamed of being French, but at the end of the day, they’re still going to be French. France is established on ethnic and historical foundations, and even if the French think they suck, there can still be citizens of France. Just not very long, since self-loathing aligns you, first metaphorically, then inevitably in practice, with enemies who ALSO loathe you.

But an American just CAN’T believe in nothing, CAN’T reject the philosophy underpinning America, and be one. Philosophy IS America. There’s nothing else to base it on, and there’s no “philosophy on the side” option. There’s no “shared values” or that bullshit. There’s a piece of paper that lays out precisely how the government functions, tells it what it doesn’t get to do, and tells YOU to go shift for yourself. Now yeah, maybe you can quibble with a point or two of it. Lots of people did then, too. But people who reject, wholesale, that that makes sense as the foundation of a country- who complain about negative rights, who call the constitution outdated- de facto, aren’t American, the same way you couldn’t be a Catholic but not believe in G*d. Aphilosophical American is a contradiction in terms. The most they can do is live somewhere between Mexico and Canada. We’ve got a lot of that kind of “American”.

Then she expounds:

Let’s go back to what Sam said “Philosophy IS America.”  If you don’t believe in the founding principles, you’re not an American.  You’re at best a permanent resident who grew up here and behaves generally within the law.

We’re a volitional citizenship.  Yes, if you were born here, you are LEGALLY an American.  You can legally be a lot of things that you’re not even close to being in reality.  Take all the college people running around screaming they want to be protected from micro-micro aggressions.  They are legally adults.

Hoyt establishes the sense of America as a place in Philosophy, and I feel, pretty much, that sums up where all senses of place ultimately end up, rooted in a person’s philosophy.

So maybe I’m starting to answer the questions.

The first question is how does the Baldwin reading inform my sense of identity. I think it helps me understand my sense as an anachronism, being out of place from where the world expects. Baldwin felt himself out of place, perhaps born before his time. Me, I’m from a time that never existed to most people today – buried and forgotten under the epithets like “White, Anglo-Saxon, Puritan Protestant.”

It also helps me understand how my sense of identity shifts as the world around me shifts, they shaping me, and hopefully me shaping some of them. And yet I still retain that sense of place that Chesterton posed, where caring for something deeply makes the world “the enemy”.

How it informs my understanding of other people’s identities  (question #2), is in realizing that other people have that same sense of place, or lack thereof, where they are either defending something that they care deeply for, or are else dilettantes adrift without a place. When I was a religion editor for my hometown newspaper I often found devout people of vastly different religious  backgrounds had more in common, through their sense of caring, than those with none. Rootedness, again.

Third question, one way I can communicate with myself or others to take advantage of what the reading offers: I think the answer to this one encapsulates both communication questions. Ask myself how their sense of place impacts my sense of place, changes or challenges it? Then ask how they see my sense of place impacting their sense of place, how it changes or challenges it? What conflict and benefit might their be in the understanding of each.

Now that I have answered the three questions, let me get radical – if I haven’t already managed to be radical enough.

As both Chesterton and Hoyt have indicated, it is the people who have come to America without being here that is at the heart of much of our current cultural issues. Someone like Baldwin was here – even when he was abroad, fighting to make better that which he loved. He accepted our philosophy. But those who come here without being here, without leaving their prior sense of place behind to join us, are the ones who “Balkanize” us, as the saying goes, though by “Balkanize” I really mean the entire sense of chaos that I previously alluded to as the issue in the Middle East.

And now for the final radical statement. Which starts with the below quote from the reading. The authors wrote: “Being all that society denies and denigrates, he contains all that society embraces and values.” (p 28). They wrote this meaning Baldwin. But today, I want to propound the idea that the holder of this marker is actually the White Heterosexual Male – the one denigrated through White Privilege for all the evils that anyone not a White Heterosexual Male experiences, and yet at the same time subtly envied by them for the mythos projected about him.

Posted in Gonzaga University, Uncategorized

Of class materials and PDFs

I’ve been taking these classes from Gonzaga University for a master’s degree. It’s online, and fairly amazing. The interactive blackboard is a marvel at bringing us together interactively like we are actually together is the class.

But some of the things are odd. Like the reading materials they give us. Old school. Watch the below video for a sample.

P.S.  — I also discovered an editing error that never gets corrected, from one version of a textbook to another.

Posted in Education, Gonzaga University, Reviews

Crafting Identity: Coda

(Note: I’ve posted comments and summaries of the texts of several books that I have had in my Master’s in Communications degree. This isn’t one of them, though it is by one the professors I have had for said degree. But it is the book I have most enjoyed reading from that academic background. I am sharing my own perspective on the book, and doubtless have missed much of the scholarly point and may even have misunderstood some of it. For the scholarly among you, I apologize for that. For the rest of you, I encourage you to read more deeply than you usually do with my “scholarly” reviews. This one is more fun, and more worth it.)

CODA: Between Dreams and Nightmares of “the Other”: Rural Michoacan in the Summer of 2013

And so he ends with a story. This is more a montage of his visit to the region in 2013, after a six-year gap. Now the story of the region has changed. Violence and the drug wars are what people hear about. It has made the art and tourist markets more difficult. Xavier and his family are still managing, in more tight straights, but they are fortunate ones that still survive.

It is a mixture of images that shows again the fluidity of the creating of identity, and of their striving to craft their own, as they craft their own masks.

It is an end that isn’t an end, but a reflection to the future.

Posted in Education, Gonzaga University, Reviews

Crafting Identity: Some Conclusions

(Note: I’ve posted comments and summaries of the texts of several books that I have had in my Master’s in Communications degree. This isn’t one of them, though it is by one the professors I have had for said degree. But it is the book I have most enjoyed reading from that academic background. I am sharing my own perspective on the book, and doubtless have missed much of the scholarly point and may even have misunderstood some of it. For the scholarly among you, I apologize for that. For the rest of you, I encourage you to read more deeply than you usually do with my “scholarly” reviews. This one is more fun, and more worth it.)

Studying Up, Down and Sideways: Conclusions and Departures

I made a quasi-conclusion of my own with my notes on the last chapter. Here is where Shlossberg starts his own conclusion.

He gives a quote from Saha that I think is a good statement of the dynamic tensions of this situation: “Ethnic identities do not exist in a pure state prior to commodification, but are reproduced through the social and material processes of cultural production itself … Commodification as a process is enabling as well as constraining.” (Shlossberg 214).

His conclusion, alas, has no real story to it, so it isn’t as fun reading. Not that I am saying the book is meant to be read for fun, but I have found it an interesting read.

One of his conclusions is that “self-reflexive and self-critical work is needed to examine and address how discourse and scholarship within the field has itself accepted, produced, reproduced, and policed the racial distinctions and boundaries between authentic indigenous and traditional arts and the global mass media and mass culture.” (Shlossberg, 217).

He also suggests “Research in critical anthropology and international communication can be advanced by shifting the research focus from issues of media and cultural globalization and its role in social change to an examination of cultural politics and the social relations in which claims … about media and cultural globalization and social change are embedded.” (Shlossberg 218).

Posted in Education, Gonzaga University, Reviews

Crafting Identity: Scholars and Museums

(Note: I’ve posted comments and summaries of the texts of several books that I have had in my Master’s in Communications degree. This isn’t one of them, though it is by one the professors I have had for said degree. But it is the book I have most enjoyed reading from that academic background. I am sharing my own perspective on the book, and doubtless have missed much of the scholarly point and may even have misunderstood some of it. For the scholarly among you, I apologize for that. For the rest of you, I encourage you to read more deeply than you usually do with my “scholarly” reviews. This one is more fun, and more worth it.)

Chapter Six: Indian Arts, Scholars, and Museums

Shlossberg gets very pedantic at the beginning of this chapter. He lays out his thesis and intends to make the point very clear. Yet he still ends up doing it within a story. See the quote below:

Too many American scholars, curators, and museum directors imagine that they have broken down cultural barriers, that they are acknowledging and honoring unexamined, endangered, and “noncapitalist” ways of life by presenting Indian tales. Ironically, by presenting Indian tales, these scholars and their institutions have accomplished just the opposite – they have sustained and perpetuated the cultural hierarchies and the elitist identity-cum-cultural politics in Mexico and the United States that have justified and moralized the exclusion and subordination of poor rural Mexican citizens in both countries. (Shlossberg, 182)

Shlossberg then goes on in the rest of the chapter to tell a “baroque” story. He tells the same story twice: as a screwball farce, and as an American tragedy.

The screwball farce is about a book called “Cordry’s Masks of Mexico.” Of questionable scholarship it managed to become the “authoritative” source of masks in the 1980s. Artesanos changed their masks to match it to sell what people wanted as “authentic”. Then the cultural specialists who fostered all the artists, “discovered” the fraud and protected the “authentic” artists again.

The tragedy is that these artists that were encouraged to make “Cordry” masks by the cultural elite of Mexico, were then blacklisted by the same elite, which took no responsibility for its part in the farce. And the result of the new, as of the old, view of the authentic, was that same exile and separation of the Indian, even as the same Indian was idealized.

I can’t help but stop at this point and make my own observation. Throughout many of the chapters in the book comments are made about how the market spoils the Indian and his art. Yet Shlossberg showed specifically in one chapter how being a good merchant and a good artist was essential to being a good artist. And in every example about the market as corrupting, the evidence in the book is opposite.  It is the elitist, the one that separates, that wants to keep the Indio separate and ideal, that denies the benefits of capitalism to the Indio. And it is when the Indio is allowed access to the benefits of the market that he loses his separation, and gets the chance to forge his own identity. For as the title of the book indicates,  it is the making of the crafts that crafts identity here, and who gets to craft that identity for the Indio? The Indio? The Mestizo? An interaction of both?