Title

Seeking and becoming the ‘Other’: A story about culture and race

Location

Hiawatha 2

Start Time

17-10-2014 10:30 AM

End Time

17-10-2014 11:00 AM

Session Type

Research Paper

Abstract

Much has been written and critiqued about the conceptualization of culture in social science literature including occupational science. Not as much attention has been directed to race within cross-cultural encounters. This paper will examine the presence of race within such relations between groups from ‘the West’ traveling to developing countries. To introduce the awareness of race into the experiential narrative of a trip abroad invites the risk of reification and misrepresentation. However to deny the influence and presence of racial difference within and between groups is to presuppose an imagined equality (Dunlap, Scoggin, Green & Davi, 2011).

An ethnographic study was conducted over a nine month period, of the lived and narrated experiences of American occupational therapy students who traveled to West Africa for a two week immersion. Data from narrative interviewing, participant observation, extensive field notes and reflective essays across this time period revealed anticipatory, participatory and retrospective student perspectives. Narrative analysis was used to highlight individual experiential and reflective themes, from which broader socio-cultural constructions emerged.

The ‘pursuit of culture’ was identified as a motivating variable to participate in the immersion experience, and was discussed and even problematized as a primarily external concept. Acknowledgment of race and difference was present though subtly embedded in the narratives, often indirectly nested in humor or seemingly neutral statements. The social construction of race and the legacy of immersion trips being potential spaces for perpetuating inequalities were only distantly inferred. Instead, stories of curiosity and pride at being the ‘outsider’ or of moments of ‘first contact’ - being the first white person a child may have seen - were shared.

Is culture a more neutralized framing for conversations inclusive of race (Adichie, 2013)? The narrative and experiential recognition of power, class, race and politics are all present during international sojourns, particularly those involving travel to nations with colonial history (Bruner, 1991). However this is also present in the home communities and in the personal narratives which professionals and researchers must acknowledge (Hammel, 2013). In striving to demonstrate sensitivity to difference, the gaze is frequently cast outward. This paper proposes that attending to the ‘Other’ within ourselves (Straker, 2011) in the intersubjective milieu of clinic, classroom and community is as necessary as deconstructing the cultural realms we occupy.

References

Adichie, C. N. (2013). Americanah.New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Bruner, E. (1991). Transformation of self in tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 18, 238-250.

Dunlap, M., Scoggin, J., Green, P., & Davi, A. (2007). White students’ experiences of privilege and socioeconomic disparities: Toward a theoretical model. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring, 19-30.

Hammell, K. W. (2013). Occupation, well-being and culture: Theory and cultural humility. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 80(4), 224-242.

Straker, G. (2011). Unsettling whiteness. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 16, 11-26.

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Oct 17th, 10:30 AM Oct 17th, 11:00 AM

Seeking and becoming the ‘Other’: A story about culture and race

Hiawatha 2

Much has been written and critiqued about the conceptualization of culture in social science literature including occupational science. Not as much attention has been directed to race within cross-cultural encounters. This paper will examine the presence of race within such relations between groups from ‘the West’ traveling to developing countries. To introduce the awareness of race into the experiential narrative of a trip abroad invites the risk of reification and misrepresentation. However to deny the influence and presence of racial difference within and between groups is to presuppose an imagined equality (Dunlap, Scoggin, Green & Davi, 2011).

An ethnographic study was conducted over a nine month period, of the lived and narrated experiences of American occupational therapy students who traveled to West Africa for a two week immersion. Data from narrative interviewing, participant observation, extensive field notes and reflective essays across this time period revealed anticipatory, participatory and retrospective student perspectives. Narrative analysis was used to highlight individual experiential and reflective themes, from which broader socio-cultural constructions emerged.

The ‘pursuit of culture’ was identified as a motivating variable to participate in the immersion experience, and was discussed and even problematized as a primarily external concept. Acknowledgment of race and difference was present though subtly embedded in the narratives, often indirectly nested in humor or seemingly neutral statements. The social construction of race and the legacy of immersion trips being potential spaces for perpetuating inequalities were only distantly inferred. Instead, stories of curiosity and pride at being the ‘outsider’ or of moments of ‘first contact’ - being the first white person a child may have seen - were shared.

Is culture a more neutralized framing for conversations inclusive of race (Adichie, 2013)? The narrative and experiential recognition of power, class, race and politics are all present during international sojourns, particularly those involving travel to nations with colonial history (Bruner, 1991). However this is also present in the home communities and in the personal narratives which professionals and researchers must acknowledge (Hammel, 2013). In striving to demonstrate sensitivity to difference, the gaze is frequently cast outward. This paper proposes that attending to the ‘Other’ within ourselves (Straker, 2011) in the intersubjective milieu of clinic, classroom and community is as necessary as deconstructing the cultural realms we occupy.