Communication styles LO20306 -Was: Which Came first?

Roper, Laura (
Mon, 4 Jan 1999 16:24:01 -0500

Replying to LO20280 --

I was pleased to see the comments from Gray Souton because as a relative
newcomer to this list serve, I was orienting myself and over time giving a
certain amount of thought to the nature of discourse here. After reading
numerous entries one day, I happened to pick up an interview I had
conducted with a brilliant popular educator in Mali named Maria Keita a
number of years ago. What struck me again about her communication style
was its clarity and its simplicity. Let me excerpt briefly from her

In critiquing how development workers approach poor African villages she
says, "Most people don't stay in a village long enough to see the
strength, the adaptability, the cultural richness. So they define
villagers in terms of needs, in terms of what they don't have rather than
in terms of what they do have. Thinking this way is neither positive nor
constructive and we need to change that if we are to have a positive

Speaking of program development she says, "We build and build upon our
experience in each village. With each [literacy] campaign we ask the
participants to do a portfolio, to show their progress. We ask them to
write about their homes, or if they can't write yet, to draw pictures. In
looking through the portfolios, we often see that a woman is having a

" One issue that comes up is domestic violence. At first we approached
this as a legal question - letting women know there were laws against it
and that women can go to the police. But we saw this wasn't changing the
situation. One day a woman surprised me by saying she provoked the
beatings. I thought she meant that she deserved them, but she showed me
how she provoked them - by cowering on the ground with her arms over her
head. It was like a signal for him to go ahead and beat her.

"She said that women had to figure out ways not to allow a husband to hit
his wife, and then the women in the group began to discuss strategies.
Through the discussion, the thinking shifts from accepting the beatings as
a matter of course, to realizing you can take measures to avoid beatings,
to realizing you have a right not to be beaten.

" I tell you, I'm learning all the time."

The reason I quote this at some length is that her words tell a rich story
in a very limited space, in a way that people who "do" international
development can hear (despite her criticisms of those of us in the field)
and in a way that is understandable to donors who may be confused about
the meaning of empowerment, the utility of awareness-raising, and the
usefulness of teaching village women to read. She also demonstrates how
she has learned to calibrate her engagement to where the population she
serves operates.

I have been interested in this site which is dedicated to learning that
the discourse it seems is getting more learnED and more arcane. Obviously
there is an audience for this, At in particular has many admirers and I am
always curious to see what he has to say. At the same time, I too have
noticed a style of discourse developing (or maybe it ebbs and flows having
not followed this site for long) that is not particularly engaging, and in
fact at times alienating. I've also noticed - this may be coincidental or
there may be a cause -- that few women post on a regular basis, which
strikes me as interesting in a discipline that not only welcomes, but
relies on diverse perspectives. Finally, when I've written to people who
have made interesting points and asked for references, the majority have
said that they draw their material from experience and that, in general,
they haven't documented it systematically - which also strikes me as
interesting (how does practice inform theory then, how does implicit
knowledge become explicit, how is learning shared?)

This is an interesting community we have created and are participating in
in different ways (and I too extend my appreciation to Rick Karash who
manages this site so beautifully). I enjoy it and have learned a lot from
it. It has also made me think a great deal about how we communicate and
ways that I feel are "learning" ways and was that are less so (by my
lights). Why do I find some engaging and others not? How might I try to
communicate some of these ideas and are they worth communicating (e.g.
does it really matter which came first for any practical purpose?)? In
any event, one can skip authors that one finds less congenial (either due
to style or message), but then - as a credit to this list - one might miss
something important.

[Host's Note: Thanks, Laura, for this contribution. I recommend that
people read selectively; in too-large doses, even wonderful material is
hard to take! ...Rick]

> From: Gray Southon []
> I must respond to At Lange's reponse to John Gungler.
> I feel that I have some competence as a person who has studied
> (with a PhD), have studied the emergence of NMR in medical
...big snip by your host...


"Roper, Laura" <>

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