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What is culture anyway? : looking back on a workshop design experience Stevenson, Fiona 2011-07-27

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What is culture anyway? Looking back on a workshop design experience Fiona Stevenson EDST 590: Graduating Paper Supervisor: Dr. Pierre Walter University of British Columbia July 27, 2011 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? 2 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? Abstract This graduating paper describes the author’s self-reflective process in developing a workshop on Canadian workplace cultures with an accompanying workbook and facilitator’s guide. These were developed for Workplace Connections, a volunteer mentorship program in MOSAIC, a Vancouver based immigrant services provider. This paper, the workbook and facilitator’s guide are counted together to fulfill the graduating paper requirements. The paper firstly examines the struggle to situate MOSAIC’s request to incorporate the theory of cultural dimensions (Hofstede 2001) as applied to Canadian workplaces (Laroche 2003, Laroche and Rutherford 2003) within a socio-constructivist understanding of multiple cultures and experiences. The paper also outlines the author’s attempts to explore the workshop content through a learner-centered, dialogical workshop format drawn from popular education and critical pedagogy approaches. A description of an initial trial workshop compared to the final design identifies some concerns with the final products, highlighting some of the institutional constraints of workshop design and program planning. These lay the groundwork for reflections on the author’s positionality, the connections between theory and practice and a discussion of culture with the framework of immigration, before a final consideration of how this process has affected the author’s teaching perspective. 3 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? Introduction “Eternity is very long, especially towards the end.”(Woody Allen, American actor and director). “A common consequence of neutral superficial recognition of culture difference is negative essentialism...In order to avoid this, it’s necessary to understand that much of our conception of cultural difference is politically implicated” (Kubota, 2003, p. 18). “Through dialogue...the teacher is no longer merely the one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while bring taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow” (Freire, 1970, p.67,). Eternity might seem somewhat of an exaggeration, but as I start the last phase of a practicum with a Vancouver based immigration organisation, it feels rather fitting; I feel as though I began this journey long before hearing about the practicum. My professional interest in ESL pedagogy, as well as theoretical interest in the construction of national identities, readily expanded during my first semester of study here at UBC as I sought to learn more about immigration and the benevolent, welcoming, pluralist society I believed Canada to be.  However, I soon became disillusioned as I read about a colonial history of racialized immigration practices (Thobani 2007, Guo 2006) and the continued subordination of the indigenous population (Razack 1998). I read sobering facts about just some of the barriers immigrants faced on arrival; racial and ethnic discrimination (Bauder 2005), difficulties getting credentials recognised (Guo 4 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? 2010) and language struggles (Gibb 2008), and unfamiliarity with Canadian workplace conventions (Bauder, 2005, Stone & Stone-Romero 2008, Laroche & Rutherford 2007). Thinking back on my own fairly seamless transition into Canadian society and a “Canadian workplace” as an immigrant, these were experiences I struggled to identify with, and I came to realise the extent to which the immigrant identity, especially in the workplace, is constructed as non-White, non-English speaking and “culturally different”. As I learned more about immigration within in Canada, it became increasingly clear that diverse immigrant experiences were bundled together under the umbrella of “culturally different” thereby warranting a long history of “interventions”, some through education, to resolve such “differences” and encourage integration or assimilation. Further reading brought my attention to the appalling treatment of the Indigenous population through such “interventions” as well, and the complex intertwining of colonial, Indigenous and immigrant histories (Thobani 2007). I came to understand being an immigrant in Vancouver is a complex, multilayered experience, situated within particular histories which are often negated in educational programs aimed at immigrants. At first, I thought I could draw on my own experience as an “outsider” when living in Chile to understand immigrant experiences in Vancouver. However, my colonial identity as a White, Scottish/British female working within ESL teaching, a field of work loaded with  its own oppressive colonial history, placed me in a particular location in relation to Canadian settler history and society, a location which, as this paper discusses, I am only just beginning to understand.  I drew on my undergraduate fascination with how Scottish identities were constructed within the British film industry, and my own ambiguous national identity, having been born in England, but raised in Scotland with Scottish parents. As an immigrant I was located simultaneously as “Scottish” based on my accent and sentimental attachment to the 5 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? cultural artefacts of Scotland (music, céilidhs and kilts!) and British, through a white colonial identity in Canada and my location as an ESL teacher within “British English”, itself often constructed as superior to other types of English within the ESL world. I was thus excited, yet hesitant when a practicum opportunity for an immigrant services organisation, MOSAIC, was circulated around the UBC Education department: design a workshop on “Canadian workplace culture” for mentors in a program that matches highly skilled newcomers with volunteers in the same professions to help the newcomer find a job. At first, the proposal seemed straightforward and clearly contained, but I soon realised just how difficult it would be to neatly package it in a workshop format for two particular reasons. Firstly, if our understanding of cultural difference is “politically implicated” (Kubota 2003, p. 18), so too are the multiple ways that Canadian workplace cultures1 can be understood, and how relations are organised with such workplace cultures. My positionality, as outlined before, was thus implicated in how I approached “cultural difference” and “Canadian culture” in workplace settings. Furthermore, MOSAIC employees and the potential workshop participants were all likely to have their own particular assumptions about cultures and difference based on their locations. Secondly, I had begun a critical examination of my ESL teaching background during the previous semester, becoming aware that my understanding of a learner-centred pedagogy often floated closer to what Freire (1970) has described as a banking model of education rather than a dialogical model. Although I was a keen advocate of learner-centered, personalised activities in my ESL classes, I still believed that the teacher should appear as the authority of knowledge, that I didn’t need to bring “politics” into the classroom and that I didn’t necessarily learn anything from my students. I was in the process of radically reassessing these teaching 1 The original practicum description used the term “culture” but I use the term “cultures” from here on to indicate the plurality of Canadian workplace cultures which was a key point in the finished workshop. 6 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? beliefs, particularly in relation to questioning the supposed neutrality of English and the English language teacher in a globalised world (Pennycook 1998, Kumaravadivelu 2007). As I look back now on the struggle to pull these threads together, and still produce a cohesive and useful workshop in line with MOSAIC’s original proposal, eternity, does indeed, seem very long. Undertaking this practicum has made me reassess many of my assumptions about national and immigrant identity construction, cultures, difference, inequality, adaptation and integration. Furthermore, it has revealed to me the complexity of my positionality within a set of social relations that guide the Canadian immigration experience, aspects of which have made me consider whether I often position myself as an “innocent subject” (Razack 1998, p. 10), who is not complicit nor accountable in histories of oppression of particular groups within and outside of Canada.  A previous paper reflected mainly on the process of designing the workshop, discussing concerns with the approaches I had taken in a trial workshop. This paper continues some of these conversations, and also reflects on the process as a whole to consider what effect it has had on my own teaching assumptions. I first give an overview of the workshop format originally proposed in my literature review and compare it to the revised workshop format. In this comparison, I identify some ongoing concerns with the “finished” products which lay the groundwork for some overall reflections that I am continuing to work through, namely, the connection between theory and practice, my positionality, and finally my overall understanding of culture(s) within the framework of immigration. I conclude by assessing where this experience might take me in the future, and how it may affect my teaching perspective. 7 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? Workshop Overview Workshop as proposed in literature review In my literature review, I identified three key parts of the workshop: 1) Defining culture 2) Defining Canadian culture 3) Identifying strategies for cultural learning. Defining culture was intended to give mentors a critical understanding of culture as a complex and fluid phenomena that could not be reduced to symbolic expressions, or lists of identifiable behaviours. Drawing on critical multiculturalism and anti-racism theories (Gupta 2003, Ibrahim 2006, Mackey 1999, Steinberg & Kincheloe 2001), I also intended to introduce mentors to the concept of dominant cultural groups, and the interplay of power that marginalises certain groups over others. In Defining Canadian culture mentors would move onto “naming” aspects of workplace culture by drawing on their personal experiences to identify particular commonalities in the cultures of their workplaces. MOSAIC had expressed an interest to introduce mentors to the theory of cultural dimensions put forward by several cross cultural psychologists (Hofstede 2001, Triandis 1994, 2000a, 2000b, Triandis and Watsi 2008) which are identifiable patterns of values that can be mapped on continuums such as individualism/ collectivism. MOSAIC was keen to incorporate parts of a particular book on “Canadian workplace cultures” by Laroche and Rutherford (2007) which draws heavily on the work of Hofstede and his colleagues. I initially came across a fair amount of criticism of the cultural dimensions approach questioning the 8 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? validity of the data (Erez & Earley 1993, McSweeney1993, Heine et al 2002). These approaches have also been criticised for being representative of a modernist paradigm that constructs culture as a monolithic, static entity waiting to be discovered and measured scientifically (Kubota 2003). However, I was not confident enough to suggest we forgo such an approach altogether in workshop, and also wanted to honour MOSAIC’s request to use the Laroche and Rutherford book. Finally, Identifying strategies for cultural learning was intended to provide mentors with a positive and multi-faceted understanding of the acculturation process and to consider “strategies” for cultural learning to assist their mentees in negotiating new identities within the workplace (Garcia et al 2011). This was connected to the notion of fostering a “third space” a concept drawn from both interculturalism (Weber 2003, 2005) and post-colonial studies (Bhabha 1994, Ibrahim 2006). By introducing the idea of the third space I hoped to draw the mentors’ attention to their newcomers’ active learning when struggling to construct “old” and “new” identities (Bhabha 1994, Gibb 2008). The third space also references the way we can try to establish common meanings between people of different cultural backgrounds (Weber 2003, 2005). This resulted in a confused and convoluted third section which incorporated “intention and impact”, “interculturalism”, and “strategies”. The idea of “Intention and impact” was adapted from some comments made in an online video presentation by Laroche. It draws attention to how the effect we want our behaviour to have (intention) could be very different to the effect our behaviour actually has (impact) when interacting with someone from a different culture. This was to be presented through a story of a so-called misunderstanding, accompanied by a quick introduction to interculturalism, which I had reduced to a series of verbs based on how we could work through this misunderstanding (listen, observe, consider alternative 9 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? explanations, reflect etc). Strategies represented a vague activity in which I intended for the mentors to think about how they could apply the model of intention and impact and interculturalism within their mentorships. The revised workshop The final product now addresses many of these intentions, but has some significant adaptations based on extensive conversations with MOSAIC, mentor feedback on the trial workshop, feedback from my practicum supervisors, and my own reflections. Making these revisions has made me more fully aware of the constraints I was working under; not just due to time, but also my attempts to make the workshop compatible with my own beliefs and the expectations of MOSAIC. I was committed to many of the suggestions (my own included), but in some cases when I felt I couldn’t resolve something, I found myself either slipping something into the text that could allude to a revision, for example an extra debriefing question, or just ignoring the issue altogether. I have come to understand just how piecemeal revising a program, workshop or initiative can be, as value judgements of suggested revisions, territoriality over work produced, and accountability for the decisions made invariably disrupt the process. The revisions I have chosen to make have resulted in the following three sections: 1) Defining Cultures, 2) Cultural Values and 3) Intention and Impact. Defining Cultures works with two key metaphors; the “cultural net”2 and “culture as an iceberg”. In the  “cultural net” activity, mentors are encouraged to think of cultures as groups of people who share similar thoughts, values and behaviours, meaning that a cultural group could 2 I would like to thank Dr Shauna Butterwick for this suggestion. I am not sure I have interpreted the suggestion as intended, perhaps interpreting it a little too literally, but I still find the metaphor of a net to be useful. 10 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? be based on nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, profession etc. A person can belong to multiple cultures, some of which have a strong impact on their identities and are therefore evident in their personal cultural net. The net metaphor could also suggest the fluid nature of our identities, as some elements pass in and out of our nets. However, mentors may not reach such a conclusion, perhaps preferring a more static conception of identity.  This activity also stresses the plurality of cultures and disrupts the emphasis placed on nations as homogenous cultural entities, one of the drawbacks of the cultural dimensions approach. Plurality is also emphasised by always referring to cultures or a culture in the workbook rather than “culture” an objective entity. The often used metaphor of “Cultures as icebergs” constructed a more complex view of cultures by encouraging mentors to consider “visible” culture (food, clothing, body language etc.) and “invisible culture” (values, concepts, societal roles etc.). This metaphor is extended to identify aspects of visible/invisible cultures in the workplace through some group discussion questions. In this process, workplace cultures are identified as multiple, complex and subject to change. A major drawback of the metaphors I have used is that they fail to account for the notion of dominant cultural groups, and do not highlight the complexities of cultural group membership. In effect, they paint cultural group membership as an uncontested fact that is voluntary or natural, thereby negating an overt discussion of how culture works with power. In the Cultural Values section, mentors are introduced to one of two cultural dimensions in the context of an aspect of workplace cultures; either individualism/ collectivism in terms of teamwork, or power distance (hierarchy) in terms of employee/manager relations. I had originally envisioned presenting a myriad of cultural-cross cultural psychology approaches and their relationship to workplace cultures within the workbook. However, time and space constraints forced me to abandon this, and just focus on the two previously mentioned 11 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? dimensions that MOSAIC saw as key points of discussion. In order to destabilise the “power” of such a theory and emphasise local, contextual knowledge (Usher, Johnson & Bryant 1997), the concept is introduced through an agree/disagree continuum activity based on personal reactions to sets of statements about teamwork or management/ employer relations. The agree/disagree ends of the continuum are then turned over to reveal two poles of a dimension (either individualism/collectivism or power distance). The facilitator then introduces “cultural dimensions” as one type of language we could use to describe the relationship between aspects of visible and invisible workplace cultures. The focus on “one type of language” is to emphasise that there are many ways to approach “cultures”, and this approach reflects one of the most popular. Careful facilitator questions and the actual experiences of the mentees provide a range of experiences and preferences, thus subverting a homogenous view of a quantifiable national workplace cultural practices that could be taught or learned (Kubota 2003). Furthermore this emphasises each dimension as a continuum, rather than the simplified dichotomy they are often reduced to by social scientists (Kumaravadivelu 2007). Despite my continual critique of the cross-cultural psychologist approaches, I was not brave enough to get rid of them entirely, but did make a conscious decision not to include any of the graphs that show nations mapped out across the different continuums. I also do not provide the facilitators with any of Canada’s or the other countries’ “scores” or positions on the continuums, so that any conclusions drawn on commonalities across Canadian workplace cultures are based on the mentor experiences rather than “facts”. Such data based on the two dimensions used in the workbook (individualism/collectivism and power distance) often reduces experiences to a dichotomy of the West as individualist and less hierarchal and the Non-West as hierarchal and collectivist. From a post-colonial perspective this simply results in “cultural 12 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? otherization” of Non-West cultures, ignoring histories of colonial domination (Kumaravadivelu 2007, p. 16). Indeed these binary assertions did come up at one stage in the trial workshop, but as the mentors had been introduced to the cultural dimensions of individualism/ collectivism in the context of their own teamwork preferences first, they actually concluded that in some aspects, Canada was more collectivistic. Although the facilitator’s guide encourages the facilitators to constantly ask about different experiences and situations to highlight the range of positions on the continuum, I struggled to write debriefing questions to the activity that could adequately discuss if there was any truth in such the dichotomies. This section also does not really address the notion of cultural dynamism, adaptation or hybridity, although these themes are somewhat glossed over in discussion questions in the Defining Cultures section. The final stage of the actual workshop, Intention and Impact, has gone through the most changes to try and provide the mentors with an actual “tool”, or rather a take-away component to apply in their mentorships (Vella 2004). In the trial workshop, the mentors had responded positively to the idea of intention and impact which was introduced via a personal story of a “cultural misunderstanding” from the facilitator accompanied with a board diagram constructing the relationship between two people in involved in the misunderstanding. This story asked about the intentions and impacts of each person within that situation. My main concern with the original intention and impact model was that it could be reduced, in effect, to the “critical incident” models that are popular in cross-cultural training (Stephans & Stephans 2001) and used to demonstrate “inappropriate behaviour” when in another culture (usually identified by country). In the video, Laroche does in fact originally present the concept in terms of cultural differences, without giving due attention to other factors affecting 13 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? the relationship between the two people. The use of critical incidents, or a reduced version of “intention and impact” risks pathologising certain types of behaviour, and thereby pathologising difference; “culture” becomes the culprit and the sole explanation for the misunderstanding. Other factors that affect the relationship between the two people are discounted, such as discrimination or events that lead up to that moment. Critical incidents also individualise the solution by stressing that such inappropriate behaviour can be corrected by developing cultural sensitivity and an awareness of culturally appropriate behaviours through “cultural competency”. This simplifies a complex moment, presenting cultures as lists of knowable facts or truths about another country, equating culture with race or ethnicity (Lee & Farrell 2006), and ignoring institutionalised racism (Moio 2009). It also exempts institutions or organisations from making any changes to their policies to accommodate increasing cultural diversity (Gibb 2008, Solomon 2001). Difference thereby becomes a marker of deficiency and deviance compared to Canadian norms based on a dominant White colonizer identity (Guo 2006, 2009). In programs for immigrants that focus on “teaching” workplace cultures and Canadian “values” such as a training program produced for immigrants produced by the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC 2007, 2008), these norms are often presented as neutral and representative of the whole of Canadian society; there is no consideration given to “whose culture” or whose “norms” are being taught. How much power are immigrants given to choose between values and cultural identities in these contexts? Do the programs promote integration or assimilation3? The questions 3 Integration and assimilation are problematic terms, as they are often used with clarifying their meanings. Care should be taken to establish what is exactly meant when a program promotes “integration”.  Berry’s (1997) model of acculturation remains dominant in defining “integration” as maintain some of one’s old culture, but seeking continual contact with the new culture, and “assimilation” as no desire to maintain one’s old culture while seeking continual contact with the new culture. While Berry argues that Canada has a clear “integration” policy, this has been critiqued for being symbolic (Elabor Idemucida 2005) and that many groups face barriers to full participation in Canada society. Furthermore, Li (2003) writes about an unfair and limited “integration discourse” by which policy documents, academic literature and policy discourse unfairly measure the extent to which  “immigrants converge to the average performance of native-born Canadians and their normative and behavioural standards” (p. 316). 14 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? become not just which cultural values should be taught, and to what extent immigrants are expected to adopt them , but whether cultural values can or should be taught at all. In the case of the workshop, I hoped that at least situating the cultural dimensions theory within personal experiences would lead to a more dynamic, constructivist understanding of cultures and values. Working from a definition of culture as “produced, as implicated in politics and ideology, and as employed in various convenient ways to exercise power” (Kubota 2003, p. 15), I wanted to make culture just one factor affecting workplace “misunderstandings” or “critical incidents” by drawing mentors’ attention to the complex set of relationships that guide workplace interactions. The mentors had also expressed a desire to spend more time on personal story sharing, particularly in relation to how they might coach mentees. To this effect, I reimagined my example story from the trial workshop as a “what’s up moment”, similar to a critical incident, but to be addressed through an examination of several factors in a four step process identified initially as Intention, Impact, Relationship and Resolve and later changed to Intention, Impact, Relationship, Reflect4. This is connected to the previous section by using a story that illustrates what could be an aspect of “invisible culture” (the intention, based on their values) interpreted through visible culture (the person’s behaviour). The most significant change is the focus on Relationship which meant that a number of interrelated factors could be introduced; discrimination, power and prior experiences as well as cultural backgrounds. Instead of a critical incident, a “what’s up” moment becomes a context dependent, localised and personalised story which, with careful facilitation, can lead to a discussion of some of the factors like discrimination and power relationships that I had been 4 I would like to thank Dr. Pierre Walter for suggesting that my original phrase “resolve” suggested an end to the incident or learning rather than a new beginning. This feedback allowed me to not only find a suitable alternative in “reflect”, but to also simplify the workshop activities used in this section. 15 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? struggling to include, but had not wanted to spotlight so as to detract from the main objective of the workshop. Mentors discuss how the factors of the Relationship affect the Intention and Impact on each person.  Mentors would already engage in a reflective process by working through the first three steps, so the final stage of Reflect was simply to make this process more salient and to connect it to action; “What new insights have you gained from this discussion? What are you going to do with this information?” This stage also made it easy to connect to the theme of “coaching mentees through what’s up moments”, which had become the important “take away” element of the workshop (Vella, 2004), as mentors could easily work through all of the stages of Intention, Impact, Relationship, Reflect in informal dialogues with their mentees and expand upon the reflective questions. Using Reflect means that the model remains open- ended, whereas Resolve implied an easy-fix solution to the original “what’s up” moment, placing that particular moment within a vacuum. Reflect can suggest that a “what’s up” moment occurs within a series of misunderstandings that are sometimes turned into “ah ha” moments of learning, as discussions of “what’s up” moments can lead mentees and mentors to reflect upon what actions they are able to take, and to identify what barriers exist for their desired actions. Based on all of these revisions, I think the workshop has been improved considerably, although it still covers a great deal of diverse materiel over a short period of time. I attempted to remove sections and activities, but felt that the workshop would lose crucial elements that I had originally been explicit about including.  I have tried to address this by providing a couple of suggestions in the facilitator’s guide on how to adapt the workshop for more than one session or to shorten or expand it. Other concerns with the workshop relate to some of my overall reflections on the practicum process to which I now turn. 16 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? 17 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? Final reflections Linking theory and practice. As I have not been working as a teacher during this period of study, I have struggled with the relationship between theory and practice. While I have deconstructed many of my teaching assumptions through various reflection tasks, I have yet to fill those spaces with new teaching experiences based on those reflections. As a result, I have come to distrust my own body of experience; my “practitioner knowledge” as it were (Usher, Johnson & Bryant 1997). I pinpoint this distrust to my ongoing difficulty of connecting theory to practice. I identify with the practitioner attitude Usher, Johnson and Bryant (1997) describe in relation to the “rigour” of theory: “rigour, the relationship to a scientifically validated body of knowledge appears therefore to warrant practice. Yet it is precisely this “rigour” which often makes theory seem remote, irrelevant and unworldly” (p. 122). Practitioner knowledge is discounted as local, experiential and context dependent and thereby deemed an illegitimate body of knowledge in the traditional “social division of labour between theorists and practitioners” (p. 124). This frustrating dichotomy had several effects on my assessment of my own knowledge. Whenever the theories I was reading for my literature review became too uncomfortable or impenetrable, I went on the defensive and closed myself off to them. For practitioners, such a defensive mode is “convenient” as “provided they can live with feelings of powerlessness, their life is in many respects made a lot easier” (p.125).  By avoiding theory, I put a stop to my critical reflection process on more than one occasion due to my unwillingness at times to reassess my assumptions about teaching. In this way, I asserted my own “experience and craft knowledge” 18 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? (p. 125) over theory; I effectively stuck my fingers in my ears and chose to ignore other possibilities of approaching cultures, difference and learning. I saw theory as a static and all encompassing, external entity representative of a systematic way of knowing which I had to engage with on some level so as to be a “successful” graduate student. It seemed completely at odds with what I had always imagined to be my “messy” take on the world. Furthermore, the division between theory and practice also had an effect on what I would call “doing academia”; I often tried to avoid theory by claiming that I didn’t know the mechanics of working with theory; for example, I had no idea what a literature review was, let alone how to write one. By constructing the experience of “doing academia” as some kind of innate knowledge that I equated with theoreticians, rather than a skill developed over time, I could distance myself from theory even further. Some theory contained within a classroom activity seemed approachable and comprehensive, yet theory in the container of independent assignments such as a literature review, seemed to be steeped in the prestige and expectations of academia, and therefore removed from the safe and familiar world of my practitioner knowledge. In some ways, my resistance to theory was partially a reaction to being out of my comfort zone and it must be acknowledged that there is considerable support available for approaching such work through supervisors, graduate student mentoring and workshops. In classes and conversations, I was encouraged to think about theory as fluid and multiple: as knowledge that is actively produced within particular social conditions, then defended, debated, challenged and adapted. I came to accept that, in my program at least, I did not need to “get” everything; my understanding of theory could be partial and inductive. I came to engage with theory in much the same way as I was trying to get mentors to engage with “culture” in the workshop! 19 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? Ironically, once I finally worked through these processes and produced my literature review for the practicum (essentially through a trial and error process with some late nights!), I become completely immobilised again with translating theory back into practice; the process of turning the literature review into a workshop. I felt powerless and unqualified to produce the workshop, again due to the dichotomy of theory and practice, which I didn’t recognise as part of a modernist paradigm of how knowledge is constructed. Schon (as cited in Usher, Johnson and Bryant, 1997) describes this as the technical-rationality model of a modernist paradigm; as theoretical knowledge is research based and systematic, practice becomes “the solving of technical problems through rational decision-making procedures based on predictive knowledge” reducing practitioners to technicians (p. 126).  To this effect, I couldn’t equate my lived experience as an ESL teacher with that of workshop designer and when it came to thinking of activities to embody the literature review theories, I drew blanks. I saw workshop designer as a position requiring particular technical knowledge; as a specific set of practices that could be taught or learned. As I had never designed a full workshop, I felt like a fraud, compounded by my positionality in relation to MOSAIC which had constructed me within an “expert” role, as a source of legitimate knowledge. A further irony is that to counter the cross-cultural psychology approach of treating cultures as a discrete unit of comparison, I had premised a workshop that would capitalise on mentor experience and stories; knowledge that is like practitioner knowledge; “narratively constructed, context specific and particularised” (p. 124). Thus, while I was seeking to validate mentor knowledge, I was struggling to validate my own. Despite a fairly ridiculous period of frantic Google searches along the theme of “how to design a workshop”, I finally saw parallels between my teaching experience and designing learning tasks for workshops overall when I read some of Vella’s (2000, 2004) suggestions based on popular education , as I 20 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? discussed in my previous reflection. After this, I was able to start producing and working through activities by adapting ideas from my ESL experience.  I have also become increasingly interested in popular education which arises out of the work of Friere (1970). Freire critiques the teacher centered banking model of education based on monologue in which students are empty containers who passively receive a body of information transmitted by the teacher, leaving students no room to critically engage with the information. Problem posing education, on the other hand, uses dialogue to challenge students to respond critically and reflectively to new knowledge about the world; students and teachers become equals, all committed to reflection and action. However, once again, I had a theory that I finally understood but was not sure how to apply it in the classroom/workshop in a manner that was not just a reiteration of my ESL “learner centred” teaching (discussion, personalisation, eliciting concepts from students etc).  It seemed easy to “talk critically”, but how do you actually “teach critically”? While institutional setting certainly limited what I could achieve,  I also believe that I have stopped short of creating something truly critical in the workshop for other reasons. Firstly, retaining the cultural dimensions section shows my lack of trust in the alternative- a workshop completely founded on the mentors’ experiences. I think part of this relates to my unconsciously enacting the “expert” stance by distrusting the potential facilitators’ experience and ability to navigate such a workshop. While I remain critical of the cultural dimensions approach, and have sought to problematise it within the workshop, I still struggle to discount it completely; I think part of my decision to include it comes from the supposed scientific “weight” that such theory has, hoping that its inclusion will in part validate the other ideas within the workshop. Secondly, the Intention, Impact, Relationship and Reflect model is demonstrated through a facilitator story, which ideally, can be skilfully done in dialogue with students through elicitation and questioning 21 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? etc. However, a truly dialogical approach would have been to use a mentor story to bring in the model, or to provide mentors’ with a self-discovery framework. I did at first include vague instructions in the facilitator’s guide on how to do this, but struggled to figure out the mechanics of such an approach, and so have taken them out. My positionality I have briefly discussed my positionality through which I have had to confront difficult concepts that I had never considered before such as White privilege and a colonizer identity as a White, British, native English speaking immigrant. Maher and Tetreault (2001) explain "the idea of positionality, in which people are defined not in terms of fixed identities, but by their location within shifting networks of relationships, which can be analyzed and changed” (p. 164). Takacs (2002) argues that for social justice educators the “and changed part is crucial” (p. 169); we need to understand our positionality in relation to power. Positionality, like identity, is not fixed; these sets of relationships are constantly shifting, and thus acknowledging positionality does not mean simply a default declaration such as “I am White” before undertaking an educational task, but requires me to actively engage with the changing elements of my positionality on a continual basis. By seeing positionality as static as I often did, I either reduce to something that is easily resolved through one or two moments of reflection, or use it as an excuse to remain immobilised; “I know that I am ....., therefore there is nothing more I can do.” Either way, it makes me complicit in ongoing patterns of subordination, committed to social justice in theory, but not in practice. The duration of this practicum, however, has forced me to confront many of my assumptions repeatedly, and I have a greater understanding of how my positionality has changed. 22 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? As an example of this changing positionality, I had particular concerns over the location of race in the workshop and raised this concern in my last reflection as to whether the decision to avoid addressing race explicitly in the workshop was a reflection of White privilege (my MOSAIC contact is also a White female). I had originally felt “shame and sullen resistance” (Lopes & Thomas 2006, p. 229) about taking what I thought was the easy way out, by not including any mention of race and letting the issue of racism or discrimination rise spontaneously in the workshop. I was also worried about conflating race with culture and thus setting up a workshop situation in which racialised “othering” could easily occur once a discussion of cultural difference began. I was using my positionality as a way to remain immobilised and avoid making an important decision. However, I finally recognised that race could be included through discrimination as a factor of the Relationship stage of the model. During a recent conversation with MOSAIC when we were deciding whether to simplify Intention, Impact, Relationship and Reflect we expressly decided that discrimination had to remain as a central factor- we agreed that we should not use our power as White females to disregard what could be an important factor in the Relationship for many people. We had both become more conscious of our positionalities, and also how the positionalities of the facilitator and mentors themselves were going to affect which parts of the Relationship were considered most important. I am also more aware now of how my positionality as “expert” or “student” changes in relation to the task at hand. I have often been uncomfortable with taking on the role of the expert, preferring to locate myself as student/mentee.  However, I have asserted the “expert” identity on occasions where I felt strongly about including something in the workshop, which has been further reinforced by MOSAIC’s positive reception of what we have created. I now find myself getting increasingly territorial over the workshop, and while I have enjoyed a fruitful and 23 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? collaborative relationship with MOSAIC, I have still made a number of decisions as I see fit, exerting power that I often deny I have (by insisting to myself that I am creating what MOSAIC wants). One example of this is the inclusion of the mini example stories in the workbook to illustrate some of the theories which are adapted from a previous mentor handbook MOSAIC had used, in turn adapted from the Laroche and Rutherford (2007). I saw the stories as decontextualised and running counter to the personalised narrative workshop approach. From the beginning, MOSAIC wanted to include these stories and I continually resisted insisting that they were not suitable, until the latest draft when I gave up and included them. However, I removed all cultural references in them, so that no behaviour could be used as “evidence” of the behaviour of another culture. Ironically, in doing this, I believe I have decontextualised the stories even further, and reduced all the people in the stories to a homogenous “other” located outside of historical and social relations, which is perhaps even more damaging. Approaching cultures During this process, I have stopped trying to arrive at a satisfactory definition for culture because it quite simply remains “one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language” (Raymond Williams, 1976. P. 87. as cited in Kumaravadivelu 2007, p. 9). At the beginning of the practicum, I was slowly becoming aware how I had continuously employed a cultural relativist approach in my ESL teaching (Kubota 2003). Difference was to be celebrated in the class and students should be encouraged to demonstrate their cultures whenever possible. I had an uncritical essentialist understanding of culture in which I believed that much of my students’ behaviour, English proficiency and learning style in class could be explained through their cultural backgrounds. I told myself that I was not employing stereotypes, but rather drawing 24 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? on generalisations: e.g. the Japanese were quiet, indirect and had well developed vocabularies; the Swiss had high standards for themselves, and got annoyed if the lesson didn’t follow a distinct plan. Now, I sit and listen to my colleagues explaining away classroom issues in the same fashion, discussing the importance of using country/ culture compare and contrast activities, and calling on students in class to represent entire cultures. Suggestions that there may be alternative ways to view culture are met defensively; after all, the ESL teacher is supposed to be far more culturally sensitive than other professions, how could I suggest otherwise? I can only shake my head at the pervasiveness of the essentialist approach. As Razack (1998) argues, “encounters between dominant and subordinate groups cannot be ‘managed’ simply as pedagogical moments requiring cultural, racial or gender sensitivity” (p. 8). Much like Barbara, the imaginary teacher in Kubota’s (2003) critique of the cultural difference approach in second language teaching, I was introduced to a constructionist approach to culture via parallels from constructionist feminism which argues that “womanhood is produced socially and historically” (p. 15). In the same vein, whereas a essentialist position views culture as fixed and objective traits, a constructionist position views cultural differences as “constructed by discourses rather than existing a priori. There is no such thing as pure empirical cultural characteristics” (p. 15). I do still resort to essentialism at times; for example, in a workbook editing session with MOSAIC in which we were trying to make some of sentences more direct, I explained my writing style as “British”, preferring to say things in a long-winded, indirect manner so as to be polite. Although, I think my reasons here were just in defence of my personal writing style, understanding essentialism means understanding the numerous uses to which it can be put, whether flippantly in a conversation like I did, or to much more damaging effects (Kubota 2003).  I am also slowly beginning to understand the way that, on a much 25 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? grander scale, essentialism can also be employed strategically for political reasons by subordinate groups (Kubota 2003, Kumaravadivelu 2007). Mentors and mentees alike may employ an essentialist understanding of cultures in order to exercise or resist power in their own daily experiences. Although I premised the workshop from a more constructionist position of culture, it is impossible to avoid essentialist explanations of the ideas discussed within the workshop. I have also been influenced by post-colonial approaches to cultures (Bhabbha 1994, Gibb 2008, Ibrahim 2006) and hoped to somehow incorporate them into the workshop. Post-colonial perspectives see cultures as endlessly hybrid, and seek to illuminate the imperialist interests that are served in declarations of national cultures. Declarations of difference become a way to validate a body of “scientific” data of cultural differences that relegates the colonized to a continued subordinated, dehumanized position of “other”, legitimizing ongoing colonial rule. Razack (1998), for example, is highly critical of the cultural sensitivity approach which suggests that we simply need to learn how we interpret behaviour according to our own standards, and therefore just need to gain an understanding of culturally different behaviour. This is essentially the approach I took with the original intention and impact model in which cultural difference was the only factor given consideration. However, as Razack (1998) points out, without an examination of on-going colonial relations, culture is removed from it socio-historical contexts; “a sensitivity to history merely produces a refined catalogue of cultural differences... and the imperial relation remains undisturbed” (p. 8). Furthermore, dealing with the “difference” is offloaded to the immigrant themselves. In fact, I would argue that the increasing number of programs like Workplace Connections (for which the workshop was made) is evidence of this approach. Immigrants are encouraged to voluntarily attend a program in order to learn “Canadian 26 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? workplace culture” norms and values, exempting the government and organisations from making institutional changes (Solomon 2001). Pedagogically speaking, Razack (1998) argues that the ongoing subordination of indigenous and immigrant populations can only occur through “disrupting the hegemonic ways of seeing through which subjects make themselves dominant” (12). In the workshop I tried to create a more complex, relational approach of workplace interactions using the “what’s up moments” examined through the Intention, Impact, Relationship and Reflect model. While I believe the different factors under Relationship prevent quick blanket explanations of the “what’s up” moment, I don’t think it goes far enough. In the same way as cultural competency, the Intention, Impact , Relationship, Reflect  model is still easily reduced to an individualised experience, solved by the person taking steps to adjust his/her behaviour.  Such an approach lets institutions and organisations off the hook from making changes to policy. Furthermore, the “what’s up” moments don’t examine the immigrant experience historically or in relation to other subordinate groups in Canada, such as the indigenous population. While discrimination presents a possible avenue for such discussions in the workshop, power is ambiguously defined, and can easily be read mechanically in terms of manager/ supervisor positions in the workplace, rather than how power is exercised discursively. The result is that the post-colonial approaches I was so keen to draw upon in my literature review are largely absent in the workshop; the themes of cultural hybridity, adaptability and fluidity are only addressed through one or two debriefing questions. During this process, I have often told myself that really dealing with these issues is beyond the scope of the workshop and also out beyond the scope of what MOSAIC had requested. However, I wonder if this is also the easy way out, and I am constructing not just myself, but also MOSAIC and the workshop participants as “innocent subjects, standing outside 27 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? hierarchal social relations, who are not accountable for the past, or implicated in the present” (Razack 1998, p10). In the end, the workshop is a tiny part of a vast array of educational interventions into the immigrant experience in Canada. I find Nakata’s (2002) notion of the “cultural interface” best explains the multi-layered learning that occurs in the mentorship itself and potentially within the workshop. Nakata describes the cultural interface as the intersection between Western and indigenous domains, however, his definition could be extended to the immigrant experience of adaptation; “the place where we live and learn, the place that conditions our lives, the place that shapes our futures and more to the point, the place where we are active agents in our own lives- where we make decisions- our lifeworld” (p. 285). This space is filled with tension and competing discourses to the effect that “distinguishing traditional from non-traditional in the day to day is difficult to sustain even if one was in a state of permanent reflection” (285). Immigration remains a complex set of lived experiences that, much like national cultures, cannot be reduced to a single, quantifiable body of knowledge easily worked through. From this perspective, the workshop is just one way of highlighting such experiences. At the very least it has the potential to create a space for the shared stories of the mentors in which they are encouraged, if only for a moment, to reflect on their assumptions about their mentees’ learning and experiences of cultures. 28 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? Conclusion The effect on my teaching perspective On a professional level I have loved this practicum experience and have certainly had the chance to develop my skills in workshop design. Certainly, the experience and knowledge I have gained of immigration experiences and organisations in BC by working with MOSAIC will be a valuable stepping stone from private ESL teaching to working within a wider education and immigration context. Furthermore, I have a much greater understanding of the complexity of the immigrant experience in a Canada that declares a commitment to multiculturalism but remains tied to a colonial past. On a personal level, I have had to look critically at my own assumptions regarding cultures and difference, and became immobilised at various times throughout this experience due to my positionality, and I realise how difficult it is to move towards a more social justice orientated teaching perspective. This is not just due to institutional constraints, such as MOSAIC’s position, but it also comes down to the continued reflexivity needed within such a perspective, which means being fully aware of the contexts in which I made decisions regarding the workshop. While I need to be accountable for these, I need to also remind myself of the academic, institutional, community and personal influences that affected them. For example, as I am starting to read more indigenous and place-based learning scholarship, I wonder how the original trial workshop would have looked had I engaged with these theories earlier on. At the very least, I can commit to understanding the “ambiguity and ambivalence” of cultural spaces (Gibb et al 2008, p. 7) in classrooms or workplaces and the complex identity construction and 29 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? contestation that occurs in these spaces. I can only hope to remain aware of these complexities and my own location within them regardless of whether I work for a language school or an immigration organisation in the future. As a student and a teacher, I still have much to learn. 30 Fiona Stevenson. EDST 590: What is culture anyway? References Bauder, H. (2005). Habitus, rules of the labour market and employment strategies of immigrants in Vancouver, Canada. Social & Cultural Geography. 6 (1). Pp. 81-97. Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The Location of Culture. London, England, New York, USA: Routledge. Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC) (2008) Canadian Workplace Essentials. 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Adult Education and the Postmodern Challenge: Learning Beyond the Limits. London: Routledge. Vella, J. (2000). Taking Learning to Task.: Creative Strategies for Teaching Adults. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass. Vella, J. (2004) Dialogue Education at Work: A case book. San Francisco, California: Jossey- Bass. 36


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