Teaching lost voices to speak

In an activity Peter Elbow led in a 1998 workshop each participant was asked to list the different voices that were important to us, then choose one that we didn’t often use and write in that voice about whatever seemed pertinent. After moving to a private space, we had to practice a phrase in that voice. Finally, we came back together to discuss the experience of exploring “the range of voices that could be said to be part of us or available to us.”

In John Weimer’s book Back Talk she develops conversations between herself (her dominant self), the writer (Constance Fenimore Woolson) who was the subject of her research, and other “lost selves” that she identifies from dreams and reflections on her then new state of being disabled and in pain – perhaps a permanent state, but at best needing a slow period of unsteady recovery.

A possible combination of Elbow and Weimer would be to identify one’s different voices, have the under-expressed one speak uninterrupted, setting the agenda or agendas, then continue in conversation. The conversation would always be open to finding further voices, say through reflections on dreams. What would the conversation be about? Possible answer: remembering the past with a view to understanding – re-evaluating – why the under-expressed voice had got lost or buried, where, in the spirit of narrative therapy and community work, the reevaluation would center on re-membering, that is, “rich description of the ways in which… connection[s with others] shaped… the person’s sense of who they are and what their life is about” (White, workshop notes).

Stay tuned for reports on attempts to put this into practice.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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