Monday, March 26, 2012

Dialogue as Epistemological Tool for Social Change

In Chapter 6 of Communicating Social Change, Dutta 2011 articulates the centrality of dialogue in bringing about social change. According to him, dialogue creates opportunity for listening to alternative rationalities that disrupt dominant views, and structures ultimately leading to social transformative politics. Dutta also identifies the following as important attributes of dialogue humility, reflexivity, authenticity, listening, willingness to learn, and commitment to social change. This means that for an expert or academic to promote social change using the Culture Centered Approach, the person must embody these qualities. The person must be willing to listen, must be willing to lower his/her ego to learn from indigenous populations, or subaltern population, and must continually reflect upon the privileges of his or her actions and inactions. I could not agree more with the potential of dialogue in bringing about social change. For instance, dialogue with community members in the Hunger and Food Insecurity Coalition meeting is an exemplar. The intent here is not to hype the success recorded thus far in the hunger and insecurity project. Listening to community members discuss the changes noticed in the pantries in the community following their photo voice illustrates in important ways Dutta’s argument about dialogue and providing spaces to the marginalized. As the community members noted during our last week meeting, their narratives about the quality, and quantity of foods provided to the food insecure at the pantries disrupted dominant narratives. For clarity purposes, dominant narratives in food provision are the views of pantries that only highlight the overall quantity of food donated and distributed to the hungry and food insecure in the area without paying attention to the quality, and types of food being distributed as well as the barriers faced by the food insecure.
According to the community members, the photo voice project also provided a platform for listening to alternative voices, the voices of the food insecure, their challenges, and these narratives have brought about tangible changes in the quality of food delivered at the pantries. A typical example is the inclusion of certain food types that were rarely found in the menu. This consensus about the benefits of the photo voce by members of the coalition is a confirmation of the value of dialogue in bringing about social change.
While these are some advantages of dialogue for social change, the challenges, I believe are:
1. What strategies does one adopt to avoid being coopted by dominant structures in a dialogic space, particularly given that indigenous representatives to dialogic spaces are often appointed by the dominant structures?
2. How does one maintain authenticity in dialogic spaces? Or how does one ensure that only those committed genuine social change are appointed to speak at dialogic spaces?
3. Where does an academic/expert draw the line between creating space for dialogue and maintaining his/her own agency?

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