Friday, December 17, 2010

Post the 12-16 Omnibus

December 17, 2010

In the aftermath of last night’s jarring political action in which the Senate dropped the Omnibus bill, I’m reading my morning paper: The NWP Daily In recent weeks, I’ve felt jerked around quite a bit as the House, the Senate, and the White House played around with taxation and funding. I’d watched the Senate floor live via cspan and read various commentaries on the compromises and negotiations over earmarks. I’d made numerous calls to congressional offices and urged persons associated with our University of Maryland Writing Project to engage in advocacy for National Writing Project funding. Most of us know it by experience as by far the preeminent professional development for educators. The House dodged, the White House compromised, and then the Senate dropped the ball. My feelings might condense into a title posted on Twitter this morning: “All I want for Christmas is my profession back.” ( )

That’s a bit of the context in which I looked at the Kevin’s generous gathering of news. Just under the banner, on the top left of the front page was an item from budtheteacher:

Third place

The third place is
a term used in the concept of
community building to refer to social
surroundings separate from the two
usual social environments of home and
the workplace. In his influential boo...

So I was skimming, ok? Given the terms “community,” “home,” and “workplace” and the almost exact letters, I read it as “third space,” which is a rich and complex concept from Homi Bhabha (Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994). But the link didn’t give attribution to Bhabha and seemed incomplete, so at some point I looked closely enough to see it was “place” not “space.” Now I was into it, though, wondering why this was featured in Kevin’s news and on Bud’s radar screen.

I haven’t figured that out, but I was pulled back into “third space” which has lodged in my consciousness by Bhabha’s provocative writing about hybridity in culture with the potential for . . . well, although I don’t know if Bhabha or Kevin or Jason or anyone else would say it this way, but I sense it’s about making peace. The mess in Congress mirrors the bipolar divisive thinking and action that’s all over our world, that powers hostile words and wars. Third space gives a transformative alternative to this.

I began to wonder if NWP-ers were in position to act with this concept. I think we already are, at our best, as we bring forward an experiential empowerment that shifts the locus of external “expert” authority from assessments, edicts, and lecturing and moves it toward constructivist local knowing. Trying to be appropriately modest yet empowered, we-NWP-ers have the complexity of thought to engage third space and to broker between the haves and the have-nots. Can we bring that capacity to our advocacy work involving hotly divided Reds and Blues in government?

If we are to move into that audacious work, we might consider the writing about political situations. I’m still wading slowly through Bhabha—actually, it’s staying on the shelf while I’m trying to write our Continued Funding Application. I’m troubled by the funding morass and distracted from trying to manifest a third space between/within university and school systems that barely share common language and have many hidden agendas consuming most of our resources. Perhaps it helps to summon the energy needed by connecting with the vision in third space. I’m remembering the notion of “universal audience” (Perlman?) in which we write not for the actual contingency but with an eye toward our vision. In NWP, we’ve also had the taste of the vision.

And I read from another twitter lead yesterday that persons in their 60s have higher emotional intelligence than others, and this means (according to the published research from I forget where, but can find it if you need to know) that we older guys can see/construct more opportunity in apparently negative circumstances (than younger folks, including us when we were there). So let’s take a deep breath and try.

If you want more of the sense of “third space,” you might try out something I found in a quick Google search. Paul Meredith gives a fairly readable and condensed version. He wrote a dozen years ago ( ) that “the emergence of a cultural politics in Aotearoa/New Zealand concentrated and contested around the binary of Maori (the colonised) or Pakeha (the coloniser).” Notice the similarity to the situation in our government and funding situation. Meredith continues, “The dichotomous categories of ‘us/them’, ‘either/or’ have alarmingly found an increased currency resulting in adversarial polarities premised on exclusion and purity.”

Yet within this difficulty, he sees the opportunity with the third space. I’ve copied about 7 sentences that offer language for catching the vision of transformative work, possible by NWP-ers at this time as we move ahead past December 16:

“Thus, the third space is a mode of articulation, a way of describing a productive, and not merely reflective, space that engenders new possibility. It is an ‘interruptive, interrogative, and enunciative’ (Bhabha 1994) space of new forms of cultural meaning and production blurring the limitations of existing boundaries and calling into question established categorisations of culture and identity.

The concept of the third space is submitted as useful for analysing the enunciation, transgression and subversion of dualistic categories going beyond the realm of colonial binary thinking and oppositional positioning. (Law 1997) Despite the exposure of the third space to contradictions and ambiguities, it provides a spatial politics of inclusion rather than exclusion that “initiates new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration and contestation.” (Bhabha 1994: 1) . . . the possibility of a cultural politics that avoids a ‘politics of polarity.’

Any redesign must recognise and provide for the hybridity dynamic of those relations. This redesign should take place in an alternative ambivalent site, a third space, where there is ongoing [re]vision, negotiation, and if necessary, renewal of those cultural practices, norms, values and identities inscripted and enunciated through the production of bicultural ‘meaning and representation’. (Bhabha 1994)”