2011-2012 WFI Funded Research Projects

Grant Awarded: CMM and COSMOPOLITAN SOCIAL WORLDS: AN APPLIED STUDY OF FUTURE COMMUNICATION SCENARIOS

Principal Investigator:

Stephen W. Littlejohn, Member of the Board and Associate, CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution

Abstract

This project has received funds from the WFI for the initial stages of an innovative study of the use of web-based simulations to heighten awareness of the importance of communication in making better social worlds and to build skill in making communication choices that lead to strong relationships, effective dialogue, respectful management of difference, and social milieus in which people can thrive. The overall study will aim to develop, test, and refine a web-based simulation of one or more future social worlds, in which visitors to the site make communication choices with personal and social consequences.  The project will proceed in three stages:  Conceptual Development, Development of a Graphical Interface, and Going Interactive.  These stages are explained in greater detail below.  The Waterhouse Family Institute has provided $10,000, and the researchers have received matching money from a New York University, to raise the total budget to $20,000.

The Concept

This project involves the development of a socially positive simulation experience for educational, research, and general use.  The simulation website will be engaging and fun to play for children and adults, encourage learning new ideas about communication and skills for making good communication choices in a variety of social situations, and allow observation or data-tracking for research purposes.

The simulation is built around a fictional future community tentatively named “Cosmopolis 2045.” Visitors will enter the community via a Visitor‘s Center, which will include a time-tunnel feature that projects possible ways in which multiple future social worlds might evolve, utilizing the CMM concept of “bifurcation points” (i.e., points in the life of a conversation or a series of cultural conversations where significant choices create turning points and push the person, relationship, group or in this case, the broader culture in a particular direction of development). This time tunnel feature will allow visitors to move along one or more hypothetical, but realistic paths of cultural development and compare and contrast alternative social worlds representing the consequences of the cultural communication choices made along the way.  As participants exit the Visitor’s Center, they enter one of two or three communities indicative of possible future social worlds.  (The number of possible future worlds may be infinite, but for purposes of manageability, the site will likely be limited to two or three such worlds, as defined through the use of a scenario-based research methodology.) One of those social worlds will be called “Cosmopolis,” set in the year 2045, and will depict a community in which residents have evolved an understanding of communication, and a set of tools for managing their communication, consistent with the heuristics associated with the theory known as the “coordinated management of meaning” (CMM). Once participants have entered “Cosmopolis” for instance, they will observe depictions of interactions among people living there.  The site will tell the stories of these people and their social worlds, perhaps showing video clips or animations of dramatized conversations.  The “story” would be that folks living in Cosmopolis still create and encounter many of the same communication problems that are manifest in our own time, but have better tools available to help them navigate through them.

Some conversations could depict metacommunicative moments in which one or both participants recognize unproductive patterns and act into them to change the pattern.  In other instances, a problematic conversation might be depicted and left unresolved, with CMM hierarchies of meaning popping up on screen to show how each person is contextualizing the conversation.

The visitor could be encouraged to take the participants to the virtual Institute or one of several other sites within the community where resources are available to assist with difficult conversations.  Or the story could be told by depicting how people dealt with (or failed to deal with similar situations in years past and how they had learned to deal with them differently by 2045). In other words, there are any number of options for how to make this site work.

The WFI is pleased to be able to offer funding toward the initial stages of this innovative project, uniting communication theory and practice in the creation of better social worlds.

Grant Awarded: Culture, Performance and the Transcendent Body: The Libratory Poetics of Post Colonial Identity Negotiation in Jamaica

Principal Investigators:

Maurice Hall, Villanova University; Heidi Rose, Villanova University

Abstract

This project has received funds from the WFI for a detailed examination of performance as a unique element of contemporary Jamaican culture, with the goal of expanding understanding of how this nation continues to carve out an independent identity after years of oppressive rule. Specifically, this project explores how theater organizations in Jamaica help to constitute the country’s national identity post-independence. The work of theater organizations in Jamaica and the artists associated with them has been at least as influential as politicians or events such as the annual arts presentations for Independence Celebrations. Drawing from the theoretical frameworks of performativity and cultural hybridity, the project investigates the sociopolitical role of theater in the lives of contemporary Jamaicans, examining theater/performance as both constitutive and epistemic. The Waterhouse Family Institute has provided $9,000 to fund the project’s early stages.

The Concept

This project examines performance as a unique element of contemporary Jamaican culture, with the goal of expanding understanding of how this nation continues to carve out an independent identity after years of oppressive rule. With a population of 2.8 million on an island slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut, Jamaica provides a rich site to study the negotiation and evolution of postcolonial identity and culture. Like many previously colonized nations, after attaining independence in 1962 Jamaica could not simply erase all traces of British rule and thus continues to retain a complex web of British-influenced language, behaviors, and traditions that the Jamaican people have both absorbed and re-shaped to create a distinct identity. Studying the cultural hybridity in Jamaican performance will provide insight into larger socio-political, class, and economic realities that continue to challenge the nation.

As a small island, Jamaica faces fierce global economic competition. To the South, the many larger developing countries pose an economic threat. To the North, the geographic proximity of the United States provides economic, political, and cultural resources and aid of different kinds, but also relentless political, cultural, and economic domination (Thomas, 2004). Without strong natural resources to provide the country with a competitive leg up in the global economic market, Jamaica is forced to depend on creating well-functioning public and private national organizations and institutions that are culturally Jamaican in order to create sustainable economic progress (Robotham, 1998).

The aftermath of slavery, and then colonial rule, created a deeply stratified society divided along lines of race, skin color, and class (Robotham, 1998). The social and political upheaval that developed in the 1980s and 1990s in the wake of austere economic policies instituted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) made life all but impossible for most lower class and many middle class Jamaicans (Robotham, 1998; Patterson, 1995). Simultaneously, in the 1980s, a more politically conservative Jamaican government made cultural and political links to the United States a priority, thus opening a floodgate of American consumer goods (Patterson, 1995). Jamaican theater and poetry performance speak to the complexities and nuances of these oppressive forces through the very bodies of Jamaican performers. The current study is part of a book-length project that aims to investigate the role performance plays in Jamaican culture. Specifically, we will explore how theater organizations in Jamaica help to constitute the country’s national identity postindependence.

Theater organizations such as The Little Theater Movement (LTM) were founded by Greta and Henry Fowler in the period before independence to provide Jamaicans with access to the arts and to cultural expression—from a purely British point of view. While the Fowlers may have set up institutions such as The Annual Pantomime to mimic British traditions, over the years since independence Jamaicans have in fact coopted the British format of the pantomime to make it Jamaican. Some of the most prominent Jamaican artists have participated in the pantomime and they have used the show as a vehicle to parody Jamaican events, recreate Jamaican myths and folktales, and investigate aspects of the national consciousness through stock characters and more complex representations of the Jamaican psyche on stage. In doing so, LTM has helped shape Jamaican understanding of its national cultural identity.

The work of theater organizations in Jamaica and the artists associated with them has been at least as influential as politicians or events such as the annual arts presentations for Independence Celebrations. National theater icons have helped Jamaicans define “Jamaicanness” apart from the British colonial misconceptions of the Jamaican. Contemporary organizations such as JamBiz are continuing the tradition of using the theater to tell stories that reflect Jamaicans back to themselves with varying levels of complexity. This project investigates the socio-political role of theater in the lives of contemporary Jamaicans, examining theater/performance as both constitutive and epistemic.

The project thus supports the mission of the WFI in at least two ways: 1) it will contribute to scholarship in critical-cultural studies that has explored multiple facets of postcolonial identity, and 2) it will offer new directions for understanding performance in the context of Jamaican culture as a form of liberatory poetics.

The WFI is pleased to be able to offer support for this innovative project, uniting performance studies and postcolonial theory in the study of communication as a powerful force for social change.

Dr. Emory Woodard

Dr. Emory Woodard, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, Villanova University--recipient of the first WFI-sponsored research grant for his project on YouTube as a vehicle for social justice.

Dr. Emory Woodard and YouTube research