Turning the Kaleidoscope: Telling Stories in Rhetorical Spaces

By Winfield, Bonnie M. | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Turning the Kaleidoscope: Telling Stories in Rhetorical Spaces


Winfield, Bonnie M., Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


In this essay, I reflect on the work of Lorraine Code on Rhetorical Spaces and the work of Dorothy Smith on Institutional Ethnography to explore how stories are translated and seen as though looking through the different turns of a kaleidoscope. The stories I am referring to here are intake stories in human service agencies. The question is how do the front line human service workers translate the noise of everyday/night life of the "client" into the human service jargon/forms. I also explore the issues of how the front line worker with the intention of being professional, disembodies herself and the self of the client by dissociating from her life story during the translation process The ultimate purpose of my work is to develop a pedagogy for a human development program.

Introduction

As I write these words, I contemplate my position as a social researcher. I question my ability to use the language of Smith, Code, Lugones and other social theorists. I question my legitimacy, my ability to write in a persuasive manner the many thoughts dwelling in my head, heart and soul. I question my fluency in a language, a scholarly discourse, which is not my first. I wonder if, perhaps only secretly, those who "know," who have dwelled in this situated territory of sociological discourse, will discover upon reading my work that I am indeed an impostor, an illegal alien in their land. I experience a bifurcation of consciousness, I dissociate from my being, from my roots and experience, I am afraid my real self, the struggling working class, single parenting "other" will appear like the green hulk from an old television show, filled with rage when I write of my experience and the experience of students who are also learning a second language.

As I anticipate my story telling, I turn and adjust the kaleidoscope, a kaleidoscope of rhetorical spaces, to find the pattern that is most authentic to the telling of this story. The many colored pieces are always there, placed between two plates of glass for all to see. As I turn the kaleidoscope the pieces reconfigure and shift into different patterns, making visible different stories in the same space and time. It is this visibility of the same yet different stories that I want to explore in this essay. As I tell my story in the discourse of sociological theory, I want to be sure the pieces of my self remain, perhaps reconfigured yet at the same time authentic to the meaning and circumstances of my experience. It is through this process that I hope to begin a pedagogy that will enable students, future human service workers, to turn the kaleidoscope of both theirs and their client's stories. This process will enable them to meet professional standards and at the same time stay embodied in both time and space and true to the authenticity of their real selves.

I will first define and discuss Institutional Ethnography. I will then using a life story define my own standpoint in this research. This is followed by a discussion of Lorraine Code's work on rhetorical space and a reflection on the theoretical understandings of Code and Smith as it applies to the work of human service agents. As a department, my colleagues and I have made a commitment to introducing a critical, reflective awareness to our students. In addition, we are searching for a vehicle, a window, if you will, through which as human service workers, they can resist the hegemonic ruling relations of our capitalistic society at work in their profession, a hegemony which reduces names, places and stories to numbers, statistics and social problems. My purpose in writing this essay is to inform that pedagogical philosophy and practice.

Institutional Ethnography: Unveiling the Rhetorical Spaces

Dorothy E. Smith describes her beginnings in the women's movement as a time when women needed to find a place in the sociological discourse. Until that time, sociology was written for and by men. …

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