The Fielding Graduate Institute
Dissertations & Theses, Unpublished Paper
This interpretive case study identifies discursive processes that support the emergence of transformative dialogic moments in the engagement of socially and historically defined group differences. Social construction and communication theory as well as relational theory provide the theoretical grounding for this research. Building on Martin Buber’s definition of dialogic moments (1958), and more recent writings from Kenneth Cissna and Robert Anderson (1998; 2002), dialogic moments are defined when meaning “emerges in the context of relationship and when one acknowledges and engages another with a willingness to alter their own story” (2002, p.186). McNamee and Gergen (1999) described the transformative process as “first transforming the interlocutors’ understanding of the action in question … and second, altering the relations among the interlocutors themselves” (1999, p 35).
The methodology used to collect the data was an appreciative cooperative inquiry, an integration of the principles of appreciative and cooperative action inquiry. The participants in this study were members of two pre-formed groups whose purposes were to explore their social identity or collective group differences. One group was exploring faith issues and included 18 women from different denominations of Christianity and Judaism, and from the Muslim and Bahá’i traditions. The other group’s members were organizational development consultants exploring issues of race and gender. There were 8 members of this group including 2 African American women, 2 African American men, 2 White women and 2 White men. One of the White men was homosexual; the other group members were heterosexual.
The data consisted of the conversations from two consecutive group meetings. During these meetings, I conducted a guided reflection of dialogic moments from prior group meetings. I met with the participants individually before each group to begin their process of recollection. Individual interviews were conducted following each group interview to deepen the reflection.
The Coordinated Management of Meaning Model (CMM) (Cronen, Pearce, & Lannamann, 1982; Pearce, 2001, 2004) and circular questioning (Tomm, 1984a, 1984b) shaped the interviews. CMM also guided data interpretation and analysis. Social identity, empathy, and transformative learning, usually discussed in the literature from an individual, cognitive paradigm were explored from a communication perspective as shared meaning construed in the turns of conversations.
Research takes time to come to fruition. Between the posing of the research question and the collection and interpretation of the data, tensions across the globe seemed to accelerate. The intifada in Israel in 2000, the shock and devastation of September 11, 2001 in the United States, and the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, were among the most prominent conflicts featured in public discourse in the United States. In the wake of the continuous challenges of bridging different socially and historically defined group identities, the context of this study has only deepened and expanded in meaning.
Research findings contributed to the theorizing of dialogic moments, particularly in the engagement of deeply embedded social group or collective group identities. Several discursive processes were found to catalyze dialogic moments and transformative learning. Taking time for intentional reflection using storytelling and circular questions for mutual sense making both identified and created dialogic moments. The opportunity to reflect collectively on encounters where there had been dissonance also created dialogic moments. Storytelling moved the person position of the reflection from the first to the third person such that the participants were at once the subject and the object of their stories. This enhanced emotional connecting and empathy with another’s story and objectivity in relationship with one’s own story. Consistency of membership and regular attendance were enabling conditions.
Taking a communication perspective in collecting, and analyzing data, on dialogic moments in the engagement of social group identities that have a history deeply embedded differences, provided examples of how social identity, empathy and transformative learning are construed in the process of relating. The study also contributed to theorizing concepts such as social identity, empathy and transformative learning, generally defined from the individual psychological or cognitive perspective, by illuminating the relational perspective. As relational theory is an emergent theory, the language is new, limited, and at times, awkward.