Thursday, June 11, 2015

Listening in the culture-centered approach: An invitation to conversation

One of the elements I often discuss when sharing the framework of the culture-centered approach (CCA) is the role of listening in opening up the space for communication. As a research device thus, listening performs a meta-theoretical function. It teaches us about the processes of communication capacity building even as it creates spaces for diverse voices, articulating multiplicities of understandings and solutions.

This two-step framework is particularly salient when we as researchers work with communities at the margins. Listening is not simply about creating the spaces for those in the margins to voice their meanings but is also about questioning what we know about listening. Because our understandings of communication are situated at the intersections of culture and structure, the interpretations of listening are also contextual.

So what are some ideas that we can work with when considering the processes of listening?

At one level, to introduce a framework of listening into the research process suggests that the process has to always be open-ended as a conversation, with openings for revising what one does as a researcher, questioning the tools, frameworks and concepts, and being tentative about what one comes up with. To listen is to recognize the limits of the methods one is trained in, being open to revisions in how one approaches the research design.

For instance, in working in a rural community in Bangladesh, my research through the archives might suggest that the main problem in this community is the lack of motivation to remain healthy among community members. As a researcher then, I might go about designing solutions on the basis of this assumption, framing my survey questions on the basis of this understanding from the secondary literature. Yet, in doing so, I run the risk of bypassing the real problems experienced and voiced by community members in the context of their lived experiences.

To listen suggests that one ought to question the hypotheses and conceptual nets one begins with as a  researcher, thus creating a framework for interactions and iterations. This iterative process also means that the research journey is layered, working through multiple meaning frameworks and with multiple actors with the goal of solving the problems as envisioned by the marginalized.

CCA thus is an invitation to multiple participants  to  a conversation, anchored in the voices of those who voices have historically been unheard.

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