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Dialogics, Identity and Self-Narration in European Internet Communications: Operationalising the Research.

Presentation to l'École Normale Supérieure, Paris within the « Atelier Internet : réseaux, savoirs et territoires »
on the invitation of
Éric GUICHARD, 19 March 1999.

Author: Charlie MANSFIELD
Centre for European Studies
University of Sunderland
charlie.mansfield arobase-anti__spam

Narration & Identity

SELF-NARRATION is a method of making a comprehensible history of the past. The re- narration of the self in psychoanalytic dialogue is effective because the analysand appropriates story spaces to form their own narratives for their previous behaviours. (Bernstein 1995; 64) (Mansfield 1999). Identity is formed during the process of self-narration as beliefs are tested. For beliefs to have the value of true beliefs they must be acquired without indoctrination or censorship; if there is a mark of the origin of the indoctrination in the belief then this is a false belief (Bernstein 1995: 65). The value in western European culture for belief acquisition to take place without the mark of the origin is when the belief is acquired in the field of reason and in an ideal speech situation. Self- reflection is a way to remove any deception which may have taken place during the acquisition of beliefs. Thus, a belief acquired during re-narration of the self will have the value of a true belief and will go towards the formation of personal values and self-identity. Habermasian self-reflection is both cognitive and tragic. "Narratives represent events not as instances of general laws but rather as elements of a history where a continuing or collective subject suffers or brings about dramatic ie meaningful, changes. A change is meaningful in virtue of its relation to past and future events." (Bernstein 1995; 62) "Constructing narratives involves eliciting connections between events by describing them in one way rather than another." "In narrative self-reflection we rehearse past events as turning points in a life-history." (Bernstein 1995; 62) By using a theoretical language, available to us in the present, we can re-narrate events from our past in a such a way as to come to a new self-understanding using those events which did not make sense at the time.

Responsibility in Social Research
A basic research issue in Europe's Information Society is the production and social value of knowledge. The Information Society is rapidly giving way to a new Knowledge Society and "... the importance of knowledge is increasingly being recognised today. We are living in a society that is characterised as much by the production of knowledge as by anything else ... can social scientific knowledge provide society with a discourse of renewal and critique or will it suffer the fate of increased specialisation and academization?" (Delanty 1997: 5).

"Social science does not stand in a neutral relation to the social world, as an instrument of technological change; critique cannot be limited to the criticism of false lay beliefs. The implications of the double hermeneutic is that social scientists can't but be alert to the transformative effects that their concepts and theories might have upon what they set out to analyse." (Giddens 1996: 77). Thus a socially responsible project accepts the role of its agents in research but then seeks to extend that role to one of social engagement by establishing a network that will have long-term importance in questions around the production of new knowledge and new learning.

After the Enlightenment "... [T]he idea that there are homogenous cultures separated from each other by essentialistic traits and that science can overcome these divides was a very influential view, inspiring Europeans to study 'primitive' and 'exotic' societies." (Delanty 1997: 44) This gave rise to anthropology and orientalism. Edward Said (1979) criticises the practice of these sciences in the 1970s as being imperialist rather than dialogic. A new project, then, should aim to be dialogic in principle to avoid stereotyping and to empower the study group in the process. This will lead to the training and education of the group studied.

Habermas attempts to rescue social science as a synthesising science. "His approach can be seen as a radical constructivism since it is centrally concerned with an attempt to link knowledge to cognitive interests." (Delanty 1997: 80). We aim to apply this synthesising process so that cultural knowledge can be generated during the research process, this radically moves the research act from one of investigation and reporting in the tradtional sense to an opening of the academic system. "For postmodernists, culture is not a closed system of meaning but is an open system of linguistic codes. The production of culture and the production of knowledge are not separate, for knowledge is part of the cultural system." (Delanty 197: 96).

Postmodernism in social science research has several features which it owes the Barthes' pioneering Mythologies (1973 [1957]), and Derrida, Delanty (1997: 101) "(1) society can be interpreted as a text; (2) the deconstruction of agency involves a shift in emphasis from structure to culture - the literary text becomes a cultural discourse; and (3) postmodernism is an anti- foundationalism approach involving cultural relativism and plurality."

Foucault brings links between power and language into social research, he writes of "a plurality of resistances" (Foucault 1980: 96) to power which functions as a network in society, each of being responsble for its perpetuation. In Foucault, the intellectual "can only 'deconstruct' identity and power by revealing how they are constructed." (Delanty 1997: 107).

Evolving a Methodology from Dialogism
Dialogism has its roots in literary theory. The researcher can plant a word and watch its trajectory through the dialogue recorded in, for example, a conference group or forum established and managed on the worldwide web.

Other objects to look for in dialogues include locemes, that is words about place, The researcher can ask, where is the centre in a European forum on the Internet? Dialogics lets the researcher see the writer's relationship with place as shown by dieitic references and prepositions (see Serres Angels on prepositions in English and French). The observation of network behaviour, the anthropology of the social community in dialogue, considerations of network as from Latour and observation of the proliferation of seeded information from de Rosnay are all fruitful indicators in this type of study.

Chronotopes. The researcher can look for evidence of changes in the chronological ordering of events. The researcher can take readings from points in the texts created by others where a poetics occurs (poetics is about patterns). Readings become authorings.

Those under study, that is the texts and the individuals participating in the process, become responsible when they are aware of being observed. The awareness of being observed is dialogic. The observed individual, when aware, regards the gaze of scrutiny as another incoming text which needs a response. The response may be an alteration in behaviour and an alteration in the text authored by the individual. This has a close parallel with Foucault's explanation of surveillance in 'Panopticon' in Discipline and Punish (202-203). Here in Foucault, the idea that the aware observee takes reponsibility is again proposed.

Responsibility. Using dialogism as the basis of a method of enquiry implicitly accepts that the researcher is part of the dialogue and process and as such has no alibi to avoid taking responsibility for the process.

"Implicit in all the Bakhtin group's writings on the dialogic interdependence of speaker and addressee there is, moreover, the recognition that this is a dynamic inscribed by power." (Pearce 1994: 4). Pearce continues by arguing that power is most explicit in intonation. In her work she analyses telephone conversation using dialogics; she seeks out intonation in the speech. However, Pearce does suggest that tone of voice can be seen in written texts, too.

Bakhtin's different subjects and objects differ from Derrida's since while Derrida's are alienated in a constant deferral, Bakhtin's communicate with each other in a both/and dialogue (Pearce 1994: 10). "While no longer possessing the authority of the Cartesian subject ('I think, therefore I am') the dialogic subject can nevertheless achieve a provisional and dynamic perception of the self/world through the refractive mirror of his or her addressee" (Pearce 1994:10).

"Or interlocutors are always very precisely situated on a socioeconomic scale vis-à-vis ourselves and this, together with the degree of formality/intimacy inherent in the relationship, will determine who holds the balance of power. It is important to recognize, too, that this power dynamic is not restricted to Bakhtin's writings on spoken language: his stylistic analysis of the novel, in particular his discussions of polyphony, heteroglossia and doubly voiced discourse are all implicitly concerned with the question of power. Textual voices, no less than actual ones, are shot through with the registers of nationality, race, class and education." (Pearce 1994: 11).

Since dialogic analysis offers this insight into power relations it is a useful method of operationalising the research of interactions conducted using telematic communications technologies. One of the aims of this research is to discover the perceived centres of power in this emergent structure called Europe, and particularly how power is negotiated between different language groups with different identities. Dialogics suggests that dialogue demands some difference between its participants; at what point, culturally and linguistically, does the difference become too great to initiate and maintain the dialogue that is European culture rather than French culture or English culture?

It is at the point of language difference that European identity formation may or may not breakdown. Over the web, in, say web forums, the participating contributors must be different enough from one another for dialogue to be worth continuing with but if that difference is too great, for example, if neither party to the dialogue knows the other language, then no dialogue and hence no new identity formation occurs.

The other agent that this research will be aware of is the machine itself. The Internet and its nodal points of interactivity with human agents is a further addressee in the dialogue. Turkle and Weizenbaum both foreground the importance of the effects of the machine and the interface in the formation of the user. Computerization appears to be an ordering medium, at least in its impacts during the 1970s and 80s in Europe. It provided the perfectly modern receptacle for the disciplined society that evolved in the mid 20th century. Reduced to data, the individual could be individuated into increasing layers of separation, files, records, fields, bytes and bits. The Internet with its basic record being the web page and a blurring between file and field has re-opened the complexity with which we can conceive of and with the machine. However, this study will not lose sight of the potential for the design of the machine to enter into dialogue with the users.

Designing an Experiment
I would like to conduct an experiment across the Internet with l'École Normale Supérieure in order to operationalise the ideas outlined above. Design features: 1. English and French to be used. Each participant must have some knowledge of the other language but not be a fluent writer in the other language. 2. A web forum will be used so that participants can see that their writing appears in the European public sphere (after Habermas). See Forum at 3. Dialogue must take place around a common corpus of cultural texts accessible to both groups (after Habermas). 4. Opportunity for self-narration must be available. 5. Participants must be aware of the methods of analysis. 6. Method of analysis will include: concordancer to look for similar vocabulary, search tools to look for locemes and chronotopes.

Bibliography as References

J M Bernstein (1995) Recovering Ethical Life, London Routledge

Chris Bowerman, Charlie Mansfield & Keith Sewell (1997) Using JavaScript to simulate formative assessment questioning in web-based open learning materials in EURODL European Journal of Open and Distance Learning December 1997, Ed. Martin Valcke & Anne Bruce, NKS-Gruppen, Pilestredet 46, Postboks 5853 Majorstua, 0308 Oslo, Norway ISSN 1027-5207

Gerard Delanty (1997) Social Science: Beyond Constructivism and Realism Buckingham, Open University Press

Michel Foucault (1980) Volume 1, London, Penguin [1976] La Volonté de savoir.

Anthony Giddens (1996) In Defence of Sociology Cambridge, Polity Press

Charlie Mansfield (1996) Designing Outcome-driven Independent Learning Materials for the Worldwide Web, in Online Educa Berlin 1996 - International Conference on Technology Supported Learning, eds. Jaeger, Marks & Stahl, ICEF GmbH, Bonn, pp. 133-136. ISBN 3 925144 09 9

Charlie Mansfield (1999) Self Dialogue, Identity and Narration in Chris Marker's La Jetée and the Appearance of the Internet as a Symptom of Cold-War Anxiety, Colloquium paper, KU Leuven.

Lynne Pearce (1994) Reading Dialogics London, Arnold

Edward Said (1979) Orientalism New York, Vintage

Actualités et nouveautés Le colloque de 1999 Articles
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