Saturday, September 22, 2012

A study process description (Cultural Encounters at Roskilde University)

At Roskilde University, students enrolled in the Cultural Encounters M.A. program are required to send in what is known as a studieforløbsbeskrivelse (study process description) at the end of each semester. There's no set format for the study process description, nor does the language have to be particularly academic, but it does have to indicate what you read over the semester, and what you learned relative to the five governing angles of the program. In addition, it must be approved by the supervisor of whatever project you undertook during the term; in the final term, that will be the supervisor of your thesis.

At RUC's Cultural Encounters, an MA student must show that she has effectively worked with all five of these governing angles by the end of her studies, so an important aspect of the study process description is the choice of which angle/s to apply for in a semester. The student must then provide enough material to support that application.

Through the study process description, the student reflects on what she has learned so far, and fits it into the larger pattern of her studies, including work she did for her bachelor's degree, and even her life. It's also a great way of keeping track of what one has read (or needs to re-read, or hasn't read, or is supposed to have read). And the very act of summing it up and committing it to writing imprints it on the brain, so that (hopefully) one need never stand slack-jawed at a cocktail party when asked, "Sooooo, what did they teach you at university?"

Here's how I answered that question in the last study process description I sent in, albeit with considerably more time than one gets at a cocktail party:

"This study process description incorporates what I learned from the coursework that I took in the fall term of 2010 and the spring term of 2011, at the same time that I worked on the integrated thesis.

"In the autumn 2010 term I completed the Course in Communication (Formidlingskursus) at cultural encounters organized by Helle Bach Riis. The reading material included essays on method and intercultural communication studies (Hannah Løngreen), multimedia journalism (Andy Bull), cultural diversity and the global media (Eugenia Siapera), internationalization issues in Denmark (Karen Risager), translation issues (Susan Bassnett) and postcolonial translation (Ganesh Devy).

"In the spring 2011 term I completed the Theory of Science course organized by Heidi Bojsen. The course was designed to familiarize students with different theoretical stands and the way they represent cultural meaning and difference, the focal point being the conceptualization of the relationship between historical, ideological and social embeddedness and the production of cultural meaning. Resources for this course included work by Michel Foucault, Bryan Turner and William Outhwaite; on postcolonialism and national localities -- Edouard Glissant, Homi Bhabha and Heidi Bojsen; on power and economics -- Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, and Ramon Grosguel; on hermeneutics and cultural encounters studies – Jean Grondin, Jurgen Habermas and Richard Bernstein.

"In the next section, I discuss how the thesis (integrated with my English subject) covers each of the five governing angles of Roskilde University’s Cultural Encounters program.

"Governing angle 1: The cultural encounter.

"The thesis revolves around the teaching of Danish at a language center (sprogcenter) for immigrants in Denmark. It describes a situation in which people from different cultures respond to one another, and to the experience of learning the language and other aspects of a foreign culture, namely that in Denmark. 

"Governing angle 2: Cultural and linguistic development dynamics.

"The temporal processes by which English grew to be a language with global reach are a theme of the theoretical framework of the integrated thesis. I tried to show, referring to the work of Alastair Pennycook, how the policies of British colonization (contextualized within particular colonies or settings) cumulated in discourses that endowed the English language with the attributes of power, and in turn how language justified and perpetuated colonialists' attitudes of superiority towards the governed. Time is a significant factor -- I try to show that the prestigious status of English was not immediate, and resulted not from one colonial policy (the external framework), but from a series of policies that developed in response to changes in the sociopolitical situation of the colonies (dynamics that are specific and internal). I also discussed the 20th century (and continuing) spread of EngIish referring to the work of Robert Phillipson, who has tied this in with the project of the British Council to disseminate the language and dominant cultural values through education. I eventually wrote about how, in the culture of the institution under study, English had become the gauge for placing students in a hierarchy, and this hierarchy influenced the strategies through which the students were to learn the target language, Danish.

"The empirical data gathered in the study, although limited to a time frame of four months, nonetheless reflects linguistic development of its subjects (in terms of how much Danish they have learned) and shows different groups of people at beginning and advanced levels of the program, demonstrating the amount of Danish they have acquired. The thesis likewise aims to show the cultural effects of being educated at the language center – including the heightening of a sense of disempowerment or of empowerment.

"Governing angle 3: Socio-cultural parameters.

"Language and education were the chief socio-cultural parameters of my empirical data gathering, following the system in force at the language center that was the locus of my study. Eventually, my analysis led me to an examination of how other conditions – particularly resource access, class and nationality, but also gender, race, ethnicity and age – become embedded in seemingly neutral classifications like “language” and “education”, and how the confluence of discourses around a level of education have a negative or positive impact on the individuals who have been classified according to that level.

"Governing angle 4: Cultural and linguistic globalisation and localisation.

"The integrated thesis addresses this angle by looking at the languages that immigrants to Denmark (displaced in terms of space) bring with them, or are presumed to bring with them. However, the thesis tries to show that these languages are not static nor bound to a single locality, but are fluid – used idiosyncratically by every individual (whose linguistic repertoire may consist of a mix of languages), and infusible/transmissible into the culture of one geographic space through migration/movement. Thus my immigrant subjects are  transmitters of culture and language to Denmark – I try to show how, in the culture of the school, this role is expressly acknowledged yet not made much use of, since opportunities to share culture in-depth are restricted; I try to show, as well, that discourses surrounding the culture and language of the subjects are tacitly transmitted but are accepted rather than interrogated. Lastly, I attempt to show how the subjects of my study may be agents in the conveyance of culture and language recently incorporated into their habitus, back to their home countries and to other parts of the world. 

"Governing angle 5: Theory, empirical work and method. 

"An important component of my theory was the connection between language and power propounded by Pierre Bourdieu, an interplay that he describes as exercised and manifested through transactions (conversations, ritualized acts) between at least two actors. I thus made it one of my objectives to study actual conversations and interactions. This called for qualitative data gathering at a definite physical spot, the institution where my subjects were studying Danish. Participant observation was chosen as my chief means of data gathering – from the start I decided to define my observations as “participant” or “participatory” since, upon entering the environment of her subjects the researcher becomes an immediately perceptible component, influencing the responses of those around her, no matter how limited her movements are. Participant observation also gave me, as researcher, the freedom to draw out my subjects, avoiding the inhibitions that interviews might cause; nonetheless, the semi-structured interview was also included as a means of data gathering.

"My position as a former student of the school was significant --

"I already had knowledge of the objectives of the course work, a general idea of what preceded it, what expectations attended it and what were to follow. I knew the routines of the school and some of the teachers; the latter was an advantage in that it enabled me to gain access to some of the classes. I knew how to behave like a student in order to blend in and not distract the subjects necessarily. These were advantages, but they also posed challenges: they mandated that I examine everything with a more critical eye; during the observation period, nothing could be dismissed as "regular" or "routine."  It heightened the need to distance myself from the subjects and the phenomena observed -- not just at the moment of participant observation, but in the process of organizing,interpreting, and finally writing up my data. It was not possible to remove my prior experience and present the final work as "objective;" rather, this was addressed with as full disclosure as possible,  indicating at certain parts of the thesis, where my experience heightened my understanding of the context of an action.

"My background and the angles I am applying for

"During the Fall term of 2009 I was enrolled at RUC in the B1 core course, which was a pre-requisite for my enrolment as a full-degree MA (K1) student in Spring 2010. I sat in a K1 core course on methodology, and the B1 thematic course on gender. Previously, in the Spring and Fall terms of 2006, I had been a guest student at RUC, in the K1 English program, taking the courses in in Postcolonial Literature taught by Kirsten Holst Petersen, American literature taught by Michael Funk, British literature taught by Ebbe Klitgård and South African literature, taught by Kirsten Holst Petersen; I also took an English-to-English Communicative Translation course, taught by Ida Klitgård. Cultural Encounters studies. 
"That I was an English teacher of undergraduates at the University of the Philippines in 1994-1997, and then a journalist (editor, feature writer, columnist) in Manila from 1995-2003, is an aspect of my background that exerted an influence on the writing of the theory section of my thesis – having been positioned among the forces that produce/reproduce the dominance of English in the Philippines, a southeast Asian country, specifically the “standard” (American and British) variety English. And, consequently to quell other varieties of English, and render illegitimate other Philippine languages, except Tagalog. Yet, within the environment of Manila, I had practiced, without fully appreciating the relevance of, the fusion of different types of English with more than one Philippine language, in daily speech and even writing. By contrast, as a student at Ballerup Sprogcenter, I too had found my position in the hierarchy in which English-speaking is privileged. Thus I did not go into the writing of this thesis “blind”, but the process of recognizing its themes in my own experience was a lengthy one... "

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