David Anderson Hooker

Dissertation Title:
Performing Greensboro: Using Foucauldian Analysis to Deconstruct ‘Trouble in Mind ’ and Generate Alternative Community Narratives

Sept. 2014
Tilburg University

Abstract:

As scholarship evolves to embrace race and other identity markers as social constructs, so too should methods of community engagement incorporate constructionist principles and practices. The author argues that various familiar models of community engagement used for undoing socially constructed inequities are ineffective because they operate from positivist or structuralist assumptions about identity. He posits that among the practices emerging from “the narrative turn” in constructionism, narrative mediation, when structured for collective processes, are better-suited for adaptation to community engagement in the context of compressed and conflict-saturated narratives. Using race as an example, this study introduces two community engagement dialogue practices to the context of Greensboro, North Carolina, — narratively modified focused conversations and narrative restorative community conferencing – each of which is grounded in social constructionism and derived from narrative principles.

This study was conducted as a qualitative investigation using a bricolagic combination of methods. The dialogue practices weave together focus groups, Freirian emancipatory dialogue, principles and questioning practices drawn from narrative mediation, restorative conferencing, and collective narrative practices.

The study reports on the initial testing of both methods during two focus group sessions facilitated in the fall of 2012. For the first conversation, twenty-eight and, for the second, twenty-two diverse community members first viewed “Trouble in Mind,” a play by Alice Childress which was performed by the Triad Stage, a local theater company. Using the play as a Freirian code or problem-posing material, the participants joined in a discussion that analyzed the problematics of the Greensboro community that result in unequal lived experience across racial, ethnic, and geographic lines.

The analysis process can also best be described as bricolage. The facilitation methods were evaluated using Turnbull’s (2002) eight stages of social constructionist theory-building, Riessman’s (2008) assessment of internal coherence for narrative methods, and they were also evaluated by considering the extent to which they comported with Heikkinen, Huttunen, and Syrjala’s (2007) five principles for validation of narrative action research. In addition to analyzing the facilitation methods, the content of the two conversations is analyzed in the light of Michel Foucault’s conceptualization of power/knowledge and Judith Butler’s conceptualization of performativity. The author also advances his model of granular communications and demonstrates its explanatory value for communications processes and how that model can guide inquiry for counselors, mediators, and community action facilitators.

The study finds the methods to be internally coherent and to be experienced by participants as organic, contextually relevant, democratic, and revelatory.  In the context of a Foucauldian power analysis, it is argued that socially constructed divisions in communities, even those that have been legally and violently produced and reinforced over a long time, can best be discussed in discursive and performative terms. This approach also holds great promise for the deconstruction of conflict-saturated narratives, for opening up compressed narratives to fuller articulation, and for building action agendas toward radical community transformation.

Key Words:
narrative; deconstruction; narrative compression; power/knowledge; performativity; community transformation, Michel Foucault; race; equity; bricolage.

This is the first book to come out of my dissertation, The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing. It is available at Amazon and other distributors.