Prof. Mohan J. Dutta presents at the National Communication Association 102nd Annual Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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NCA Opening Session: Putting Bodies on the Line and Words into Action - Celebrating the Joys of, Challenges in, and Opportunities for Civic Engagement

Sponsor: NCA First Vice President
Thu, 11/10: 5:00 PM  - 6:30 PM
Marriott Downtown
Room: Grand Salon E - Level 5
Dr. Bryant Keith Alexander has built a career thinking about and embracing queer black bodies moving through the vectors of racism and homophobia; Dr. Mohan Jyoti Dutta has spent the past decade advocating for health care justice in developing nations; Dr. Billie Murray has chronicled her participation in movements for social justice in the wake of Confederate memorializing and in the face of hate speech. A Dean, a Chair, and an Assistant Professor; a colleague from LA, another from Singapore, a third from Philadelphia. While our speakers embody diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and methodology and area expertise, they are united in their commitment to using communication activism for the common good. Come hear their stories from the front lines of change; listen as they engage in spirited dialogue about why communication matters, and how, and to whom; and please lend your voice to our collective celebration of those who put their bodies on the line and words into action. The NCA Opening Session is sponsored by Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

Chair

Lisa A. Flores, University of Colorado, Boulder  - Contact Me

Presenter(s)

Bryant Keith Alexander, Loyola Marymount University  - Contact Me Mohan Dutta, National University of Singapore  - Contact Me Billie Murray, Villanova University  - Contact Me

Sponsor/Co-Sponsors

Activism and Social Justice Division
La Raza Caucus
NCA First Vice President
 

The nuts-and-bolts of building cultural resources for health in a Santali village, West Bengal

[video width="960" height="540" mp4="http://www.care-cca.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/IMG_29512.mp4"][/video]   In 2008, the village of Piyalgeria in Jhargram, like many other villages in the area at the time, had erupted in protests against the extreme marginalization, poverty, and police harassment experienced by the Santali community in the region. Attacks on dignity of the Santali life were often voiced by community members as the underlying causes of the protests. When the CARE research team led by Prof. Mohan Dutta started working in the villages, one of the key questions guiding the culture-centered projects was: What, according to community members, is the source of health? Drawing then on this fundamental question, the CARE team collaborated with community members in identifying the challenges to health they experienced, and the potential solutions they envisioned. In the voices of community members, the dignity of Santali cultural life held the threads to good health. Thus started our collaborative journey in building a community cultural center as a health resource. This health center would serve as a space where the young and old participate in songs and dances. These songs and dances, in community voices, are repositories of health, healing and wellbeing. substandardfullsizerenderimg_3162

Listening to voices of the poor: Academic freedom and policy making

img_3028 The work of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) has applied the tenets of the CCA to work in communities across the global margins. The poverty and communicative inequalities projects that are carried out by CARE reflect the overarching theme of the CCA, theorizing the communicative constructions of poverty in the global mainstream, and creating spaces for the voices of the poor in these mainstream and elite platforms through collaborations in solidarity with the poor. Comparing the discourses of poverty in mainstream  and elite networks with discourses of poverty as voiced by those living in poverty across countries offers a conceptual framework for examining the ways in which communication of/about poverty works in mainstream/elite constructions, the gaps in these constructions, as well as the possibilities of transformative change when  these stories are grounded in the accounts of the poor about their lived experiences. Essential to this work then is a commitment to empirically work in contexts of poverty. The CARE team and I spend countless hours conducting participant observations, in-depth interviews, focus groups, surveys etc. to arrive at the empirical constructions of experiences of poverty. A CARE project is minimally a product of two to three years of rigorous, field-based empirical work, with strong CARE projects spanning over a decade. However, more importantly, the communicative turn of actually listening to the voices of the poor ensures that we spend many hours collaborating with advisory board members, shaping our research instruments, reflecting on them, and most importantly, undoing and redoing them when and where necessary. The actual lived experiences of collaboration in academic-community partnerships teach us about the mechanisms of communication that work toward generative frameworks that address the needs of the poor as envisioned by them. In this sense, a well conceived culture-centered project becomes one of the poor, turning the tools of research into the hands of the poor, and working through these tools to challenge the misconceptions around poverty that circulate in the mainstream. Reflecting this overarching tenet, the "Voices of Hunger" projects that have been carried across seven countries spanning North America and Asia reflect the value of stories from the margins as shared by the poor in challenging the overarching stereotypes about the poor that are often misguided and factually incorrect. Of course, the sanctity of culture-centered projects rests on the pillar of academic freedom. Moreover, the usefulness of the projects depend upon their ability to engage with policy making. The voices of the poor often offer vital lessons that policy makers ought to pay attention to. Take for instance the narratives of the poor in our fieldwork in India that point to ways in which the Aadhar card, an ID system implemented across India to supposedly streamline the delivery of public services actually fails to deliver these services because of faulty technologies, inaccess to technologies, and the interplays of poverty and technology inacess. As a result, those who are the poorest are often the ones that are being unserved. This narrative emerging from the grassroots not only interrogates the power of a monolithic story, but more importantly, offers a framework for redoing policy. Such lessons are only enabled by a sufficient commitment to academic freedom. Academic freedom enables the inconvenient but empirically grounded stories to emerge. Academic freedom offers in this sense of the CCA an opportunity for thus ultimately developing policy frameworks grounded in the lived experiences and struggles of the poor. Because the narratives of and by the poor fundamentally disrupt the dominant assumptions held by elites, the power of the work of culture-centered approach lies first and foremost in keeping intact these spaces of academic research that are anchored in a steady commitment to authenticity and truth. Rather than telling stories of and by the structure, framing these stories in symbolic artifacts that appeal to the elite, culture-centered stories engage empirically the very bases of these dominant narratives. The CCA has worked, however contingently, across global spaces because the tenets of academic freedom retain the spaces in academe where this work has been carried out and where it continues to be carried out. It is after all, an overarching commitment to the broad ideas of academic freedom that makes possible the continuous search for truth, grounded in the lived experiences of the have-nots in a highly unequal world.