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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Learning Journal 25: Social Situations Scavenger Hunt

1. A common greeting (observe and describe)
Two men standing with their backs to the walkway, looking at figurines in a glass cabinet. A woman walks by and passes the men by about two feet when one of the men call and say, "Hey, [name]!" She turns around responds with "Hi." She is dressed in a skirt and leather booths and a white coat, and is carrying a backpack and a pink umbrella. The two men are both wearing jeans and hoodies and have backpacks. One of them is wearing a baseball cap, and they are both eating ice cream. Only one of the men speak to her. He asks her why she is dressed up, and she says she is going to the temple. He smiles and says, "that's good," and acts rather pleased with her response. She says goodbye, he says goodbye, and the conversation ends. She did not get any closer to him during the conversation, and while the man stepped to face her during their conversation, he did not get any closer than five or six feet. She had been walking very quickly before he stopped her, and continued to walk quickly after the conversation, so maybe one of the reasons why the conversation was so short was because he sensed she was rushed. She did smile at the man, but not as much as he smiled at her.

2. A conversation between a man and a woman
A man and a woman were sitting at a table in a room full of other people walking around and sitting at similar tables. The man sat sideways in a chair, the woman sat on his lap. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and she was wearing a hat and glasses and coat and jeans. He had his arms around her waist, and she had her arms around his shoulders. They were talking rather quietly, and even though I was only probably about ten feet away, I couldn't really make out distinct sentences, only a few words here and there. At one point they looked together at an advertisement for a marathon, each held their own advertisement and the woman read parts of it out loud. Although they occasionally looked at each other, they never looked at each other at the same time the other one was looking at them. The man drank a Jamba Juice. They seemed to do a lot of agreeing with each other, and did a lot of smiling, laughing, and nodding. There are some silences in their conversation, but judging by their body language, the silences did not seem awkward. Every once in a while she squeezed his shoulders tightly.

3. A conversation between two women
Two women were sitting at a table in a room full of other people walking around and sitting at similar tables. The girls sat about two and a half feet away from each other. Each had their laptops out in front of them and they were talking about texting people and who was responding to their texts and why the people who didn't respond had not responded. They did a lot of giggling. They both had long, somewhat straight and somewhat wavy hair, and were wearing a considerable amount of makeup. One of the was wearing a hat. At one point one of their phones rang and they answered it. The other girl who did not answer the phone smiled and laughed at what she heard from the phone conversation. Both girls kept eye contact for at least part of the time while the one was on the phone. The girl who was not on the phone did not seem to find it rude at all that the other had answered her phone in the middle of their conversation. Their conversation in general (outside of the phone conversation) consisted of a lot of agreeing with each other and assuring each other. They talked a lot without looking at each other. One of them was chewing gum, and one of them put on some lip gloss. While the one was on the phone, the other did things like rummage through her bag, write in a notebook, and type on her laptop. Much of their stuff was strewn out on the table. They both had water bottles, and one of the women was crossing her legs.

4. A conversation between two men
Two men were standing and looking at a glass cabinet of figurines. They both were wearing hoodies, jeans, and backpacks. One of them was wearing a baseball cap. They spoke seldom and very quietly to each other, even though I was only about 5 feet away from them, I could hear conversations 10-15 feet away better than I could hear their conversation. They were facing away from the main walkway, and they seemed pretty intent on looking at the figurines. Every once in a while one of them would point at a figurine and make a comment to the other, and the other might respond with a few words or say nothing at all and just acknowledge them through eye contact or body language. They were eating ice cream and would sometimes point at something with their spoons. At one point one of the men had a short conversation with another woman (as described above). After the conversation, the other man asked him who the women was, and they talked about her for a few seconds.

5. Participate in a conversation of five minutes or more with someone of the opposite sex
I went and asked a man at a counter selling watches if he had any women's watches with a digital face that weren't sports watches. He did not answer my question, but said I could come behind the counter and look at the women's watches. The space behind the counter was very small, but since there were many people crowded around the counter, it did not feel awkward to be in such close proximity with him because everyone else was in close proximity as well. He was wearing a white striped shirt, a tie, khaki pants, dress shoes, and a lanyard with BYU Bookstore employee ID on it. His hair was nicely styled, and as I looked at the watches behind the counter, he was busy looking at the watches in a display case. I asked if these were all the women's watches, and he said yes. I asked again if there were any women's watches with a digital face that weren't sports watches, and he pointed out a few that did not have digital faces, but that showed the seconds in the background of the face. I asked him about prices even though they were pretty clearly displayed on the watches, and he pointed them out to me. At this point I think he started to think that I was going to buy something, because while before he answered my question and then went back to work, now he was answering my questions in detail, elaborating on the different types of watches, and talking about the watches even though I hadn't asked anything more. We rarely made eye contact. During most of the conversation, we stayed about 1 1/2 feet away from each other, but the distance may have been more if the space behind the counter wasn't so small. He talked about different places in the store to find other watches, the brand of watches, why they were expensive and better than other watches, and the free carrying case that you got if you bought one. After a pause in the conversation I thanked him for his time and left, and he said, "no problem," and did not make any attempt to keep me there longer or try to get me to buy something, as some salesmen do.

6. Participate in a conversation of five minutes or more with someone of the same sex
At the Stop-n-Serve I asked an employee at her desk how to fix one of the hat knitting looms which appeared to be loomed incorrectly. I told her that I was somewhat experienced with looming, but that I hadn't seen a loom done in this pattern before, and it looked too tight. I said it looked like they finished the brim and then stopped. I gave the loom to her. She said that she would need a hook, so we walked back to the main service area and she grabbed one and proceeded to use it on the yarn. After a second or two she stopped and looked at the loom more closely, and turned it around in her hands to get a better view of all of the loops. She talked a little bit as she looked at it, making small sounds like, "hmm," "huh," and "oh," and saying short phrases like "that's weird," or "interesting." After a few seconds of looking at it, she tried another way to fix it, but after a short while she stopped. She told me that it looked like it had been loomed incorrectly, and I responded that I thought it was too tight, and that it was odd to make flexible looms (like the one we were holding) because it encourage people to loom too tight. She agreed, but also pointed out that the number and direction of loops were also rather messed up. During our conversation, we stood next to each other in front of the service counter and leaned on the same chair, which meant we were about one foot away from each other. During most of the conversation, she looked at the loom, and when she didn't, she was making eye contact with me. She was a few inches shorter than me, with brown eyes, and wearing a sweater and nice dress pants. She seemed relaxed and smiled a lot, but didn't laugh at all, even when I did. After a while she said that the unfinished hat would just have to be unraveled. She helped me find another loom to work on, and went back and sat at her desk.

7. Participate in a conversation of five minutes or more with two or more people
I was walking around the bookstore and looking at an employee who had just come out from his office to the help desk. I looked at the books for a few seconds, and he asked if needed help finding something. He was wearing a light plaid short sleeve shirt and khakis, with a BYU Bookstore lanyard around his neck. He had short blonde hair, and looked a few years older than the rest of the employees. I said I needed some advice in buying books for family and friends. I told him about a certain type of book that I was looking for for my mother, and he kept eye contact with me the entire time I was explaining it, which was at least 10-15 seconds. He didn't quite understand the type of book I was looking for, so I explained it again. He mentioned a few genres, and then a female employee walked up to the desk. She listened to our conversation for a while as she did something with some of the books behind the desk, and then the male employee asked her for her advice. She was also confused about the type of book I was looking for (probably because she had only heard the last thirty seconds of the discussion), and mentioned a specific book which was not the type of book I was looking for. I explained the type of book again, and she came out from behind the counter and began to talk with me. She had short black hair and was also wearing an employee lanyard. The male employee was still listening to our discussion, and pointed out a bookshelf which looked like it might have the type of book I was looking for. The female employee kept eye contact with me at first, but then focused on looking at books from this bookshelf. She made small comments to herself, and would sometimes point out a book to me but then would say something like, "no, that's not what you're looking for," or "I'm not really familiar with this book." After looking at ten or fifteen books, she apologized that she couldn't find anything and asked me if there was any other type of book I was looking for. During the conversation, she stayed about 2 1/2 feet away from me, and while she was looking at the books, she was very close to the bookshelf, and sometimes crouched down to view a book better. I stayed behind her, farther away from the bookshelf. After she asked if there was any other type of book I was looking for, I gave some ideas of other books I could look at. She pointed out another shelf which had this type of book, and also pointed out a specific book. She said her friend was reading it and liked it, and explained the plot to me. I asked a few more questions about the plot and the type of book it was, and after a lull in the conversation, thanked her and left. She went back to the desk and began talking to the male employee again.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Learning Journal 24: What to Do when Things Go Wrong

Today in class we discussed how to deal with our field study plans if they didn't work out as planned. Of course, considering the countless different problems which can occur when someone visits a new country for the first time, odds are that the problems and failures will by far outnumber the successes. And even though I've worked on my project for more than a year doesn't mean that traveling to London and living there for three months will be any easier. I expect to get lost, to have appointments canceled on me, to not be able to find sources I need, and the list goes on. But as we discussed in class, the key to staying sane on a field study when all your plans fail is to be flexible. Currently, I feel very confident in my abilities to be flexible. I feel like I am a rather easygoing person, comfortable with change and experienced in making informed decisions even when I am in unfamiliar or uncomfortable circumstances. And since most of my project will take place in museums and libraries which are open to public access, I won't have to spend the first month or so of my studies gaining access. Furthermore, since I'm not planning on doing too many interviews, I will not have to wait on the timetables of others (too much) to determine what I can or can't accomplish in my project.
However, in thinking about my project and my level of flexibility within it, I realized that from another aspect, it is much more rigid than most other projects in the class. During one of our discussions, Ashley made the point that even if our projects turn out to be complete failures, at least we can learn something from it, and our final projects can be analyses of why we may have failed. Instead trying to reassemble a hopeless project, we can present our projects as an example of what not to do and why not to do it; in this way, we show that we are still learning something.
But I don't have this option, because this project is my thesis as well as my IAS project. While it'd be totally appropriate to present a paper on the difficulties and failures of researching Tudor Queens in England, such a paper just wouldn't cut it for an honors thesis. Even if my conclusion is that there are no clear conclusions to be found, this thesis still has to work well enough that it can be considered an academically acceptable English paper.
Fortunately, I've worked and reworked my project enough over the past year or so to make it rather watertight. I've also had a few professors give their input on it, and their advice has helped me revise it multiple times. I hope that with all of this planning on my part (as well as advice from more experienced writers), any problems that I do foresee in my project will be no bigger than the ones I've already dealt with. And if everything goes as planned (which I know is a joke, but it's at least nice to hope), my project will go smoothly, and all other problems will be in the other aspects of the field study. Honestly, as long as I get a polished thesis and a good experience out of this field study, I don't care if I get lost or lose my wallet or am tricked into paying too much for a taxi. Those are just the little things, and I hope I will be flexible and easygoing enough to not worry about the small things and keep my eye on the larger goals of having a good academic, social, and personal experience in London.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Learning Journal 23: How labeling and categorizing affects our thoughts

Today for a portion of class we discussed how placing certain labels on things/people/ideas or otherwise categorizing them can change the way we think about them. One of the examples used to show this idea was the difference in rhetoric between people who are very anti-illegal immigration versus people who want to help illegal immigrants gain citizenship and join American society. When those who wanted to help illegal immigrants referred to these people, they called them "immigrants," "humans," and "people." These are words which emphasize the humanity of illegal immigrants, as well as the common aspects which they share with legal citizens. On the other hand, when the anti-illegal immigration supporters referred to illegal immigrants, they called them such things as "aliens" or "illegals." These words not only have a negative connotation, but they also are dehumanizing, and serve to distance the immigrants from legal citizens, making immigrants seem strange and/or bad. An example which I shared was from a few years ago, when the "Bailout Bill," as it was nicknamed, was voted down. After it failed to pass, an expert in politics was asked his opinion on why he thought it failed, and he said he believed it was because of the negative connotations associated with the word "bailout." He suggested it should be called something more positive, like the "Rescue Bill" (I think those were his words, but I'm not sure. I know it was something positive like "rescue."). A few seconds later, all references to the "Bailout Bill" on this news channel were changed to "Rescue Bill." The name "Rescue Bill" was popularized, and after working out the original "Bailout Bill" under the new "Rescue Bill" name, the bill was passed.
These examples show what linguists have proved time and time again: the way we speak affects the way we think, and the way we think creates reality. This class discussion particularly sparked my interest because my field studies project is all about language creating reality. Most of the literature I look at for my project focuses on Mary I and Elizabeth I and how they used words (both spoken and print) to make a strong relationship with their people. For example, these monarchs addressed their citizens as loving subjects and not just as subjects or citizens. By using this intimate adjective to describe their subjects, these monarchs enforced the idea of a monarchy run like a family, with the monarch as the father and the subjects as the children. Use of the "royal we" helped underscore the monarch's representation of the country. When a monarch said something like, "We do not find it pleasing for your actions to continue," the listener was sure that the monarch thought the actions (whatever they may be) was a danger to the country as well as to the monarch himself.
I could go on and on with examples, but it suffices to say that monarchs were very particular in the words they chose to print and speak, because these words would represent them. Since the average Englishman or woman would not see the monarch often (or at all), the people most likely imagined the monarch through printed books and pamphlets which included royal writings or speeches. By labeling the monarch in certain ways, the monarch and his/her advisors could control much of the popular opinion about the monarch. If the monarch failed to control popular opinion, his subjects may complain and turn against him, and revolution would be very possible.

Article I read and annotated:
Betten, Francis S. "The Tudor Queens: A Comparison." The Catholic Historical Review 17.2 (July 1931), 187-193.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning Journal 22: Inquiry Conference Art Show Response

On Friday I went to my second hour of the Inquiry Conference. I went from 12:00pm to 1:00pm, which was during the art show. By coincidence, my art-major friend was also there to look at some paintings by a friend of hers. We looked at most of the pieces together, and my friend explained some of the finer points of color, composition, tone, and many other aspects of good painting. We also looked at the photographs, and we again talked about the compositional aspects of good photography. We talked about the viewpoint from which a photographer takes their pictures. I realized that I did not like a few of the photographs because I felt they were too biased. I think a lot of times we assume that photography is truth, because it records exactly what we see. However, in talking to my friend, I realized that there are so many ways to "stage" a photo to get it to represent what you want it to represent. Smiles, stances, and emotions can all easily be faked in photography (remember the vacation you hated, but you still smiled for all the pictures anyway?). The lighting, color, and even the title can also get the viewer to think a certain way.
I think what irked me about the few photographs which I thought were biased was that they seemed generally posed and relied a lot on the title to give the message (like titling a picture of a man playing with his child "Hope for the Future," rather than "Man with Child" or "Family" or something neutral like that). Rather than providing windows into the life of a BYU student in a foreign land, they seemed to be intent on guilt-tripping me until I gave all my money to the nearest African/South-Asian charity at once. And I'm not saying that it's bad when photography appeals to one's pathos, but I also believe that photographing a culture with the intent to make it seem poor and needy can be an insult to the culture. I'm not saying that charities are bad or that people living in poverty do not need our help. But I do believe that representing a culture as helpless and treating them as poor children who cannot provide for themselves can harm their confidence in themselves. This is what has happen to the vast majority of African cultures: when most Americans see an African living in African, they probably point out the person's poverty and tragic life and even "empty eyes," rather than their rich culture heritage and celebrated traditions. Imagine if anthropologists came to study you and your lifestyle, and kept treating you as if you were poor, your life was not worth living, and you needed the help of foreign aid to stay healthy and alive. It would be dehumanizing, wouldn't it? You'd begin to see yourself as worthless because you couldn't provide for yourself.
Is this what we're doing to other countries when we constantly intervene in their affairs? Yes, we, the "richer countries" of the world, are doing so much good with the billions of dollars of food, clothing, medical supplies, and other aid which we pour into the "poorer countries." But are we serving, or just trying to fix them? Are we rejuvenating the common bonds of humanity and discovering the beautiful cultures we encounter, or are we just trying to solve world hunger so we can put that on our list of accomplishments?
After going to the art show and viewing the photography, paintings, and other forms of art, I really did get the feeling that most students went to different cultures and served rather than fixed. I believe that most students discovered new cultures and treated the native peoples as humans rather than as undeveloped curiosities. But I'm afraid we are so used to seeing images of African children and Asian babies portrayed as advertisements for poverty, that we can't help but portray them in the same way. In cross-cultural studies, thoughtless art can create a false image which may haunt the culture for a very long time. We cannot be too careful in representing other cultures.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Learning Journal 21: Inquiry Conference

I attended the 1:00pm session of the Inquiry Conference today, which focused mainly on culture shock, valuable lessons from the field, how to best prepare for the field, and how to best experience the culture. I liked a lot of the advice that was given, and I'm glad that I went to this session because it's very relevant to my current circumstances in planning for London.
Abigail Fisher's presentation on culture shock was very eye-opening. I had learned about it before, but Fisher went into great detail and depth on the day-by-day effects of culture shock. Even though I hope that I won't experience many of the specific ways of coping which she presented in her powerpoint (buying lots of carrots, going to more Americanized areas), it's good to know a few examples of culture shock so I can learn how to deal with it myself. Obviously I don't have to worry too much about electricity, internet, cleanliness, or disease problems. But I will have to deal with higher prices, more crowding, and perhaps a generally less friendly atmosphere. While I understand that I will experience some elements of culture shock, I'm glad that now I know what to look for so I don't let culture shock totally ruin my chance to experience London and England.
The discussion part of the hour was also very helpful. I was reassured by the fact that although the girls in the panel all felt uncomfortable and awkward in the culture they visited, they still want to go back and experience the culture again. Since I've learned about culture shock, I've always had this horrible thought in the back of my head that I may go to London and totally hate it, and never want to go back. It was comforting to know that most people came to love their host culture and enjoyed their time in the field. Another bit of advice about field studies which I appreciated was to plan for your plan to basically fall apart, but to relax and enjoy your time in the field. I've been working on my thesis/field project for at least a year now, and I never seem to have the time I want to work on it. I'm so excited for the summer, because I'll have no other distractions to worry about, and I can focus on my thesis and enjoy writing and researching (rather than getting stressed out because I have no time to work on it). And while I hope my plan doesn't fall apart--I've gone over it again and again with different professors, and it seems rather simple and easy to carry out--I know that there will be aspects which will change and affect my thesis outcome. I'm okay with this, in fact, one of the reasons I wanted to go to London in the first place was to experience the serendipity of going in the flesh to do research rather than just typing in key-word searches on databases for hours on end. I hope that other things distract me and that I have challenges in doing research, because it will give me opportunities for critical thinking and will make my thesis stronger.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Article

Grant, Teresa. "Drama Queen: Staging Elizabeth in If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody." The Myth of Elizabeth. Ed. Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. 120-142. Print. PR 438 .E56 M98 2003

Monday, March 7, 2011

Learning Journal 20: Signs/Symbols and Serving/Fixing

Today our class discussion focused around two main points: the dynamics of signs/symbols across cultures, and a continuation of Remen's article "Helping, Fixing, or Serving?" We discussed Remen's article at the beginning of class, and I was somewhat surprised to see that a few students didn't like the article and disagreed with Remen (not because it's weird to see BYU students disagree, but because the article didn't seem to me to present any controversial viewpoints). But they did have valid points. The main argument against Remen was that it's completely impossible to serve all the time, and sometimes its okay to help and fix. After all, if everyone on the earth was so concerned with how others felt and spent all their time trying to fulfill others' needs, people would leave their jobs and society would fall apart. I do think there is a case for occasional helping and fixing instead of serving. However, convincing people to continue helping and fixing so our society doesn't fall into service-oriented chaos is about as backwards as convincing people to get diseases in case we all become healthy and hospitals go bankrupt. There's a rather slim chance of people over-serving each other, and I think all cultures of the world could use a little more sincerity, humanity, and love-motivated service.
That said, there is definitely a time for helping and fixing. For instance, if I'm getting a ticket checked as I rush into a packed stadium, I don't need a pat on the back and a long, heartfelt conversation from the ticket-taker. In that instance, it's totally okay to help. And sometimes all we are able to do is help and fix. When I pay my tithing, I can't send a personalized note to everyone who receives my donation or go and visit them. All they receive is my money, or whatever equivalent my money buys in aid.
But again, on the other hand, would it be so hard to try to serve all the time instead of helping and fixing? I think when we think of too much service, we think of solving ALL the problems we come across. But solving problems is more of a fixing/helping action than a serving action. Service doesn't go in and fix the problem itself, rather, it heals the person and ensures them of their humanity so that they can fix their own problems. In essence, the difference between serving and helping/fixing is humanity. If a robot can check out and bag my groceries, all the better. But if the cashier and the bagger smile sincerely, ask me how my day has been, and genuinely look happy to be serving me, then I'll take the humans over the robot any day. We can serve all day, every day, if we are not afraid to be in touch with our own weaknesses, strengths, vulnerabilites; if we are not afraid to be human.

We spent most of class talking about serving, but we also had a really good conversation about signs/symbols across culture. I remember learning about the difference between signs and symbols somewhere in my past, but I'm glad we reviewed it today. From what I understood in class, signs are groups of symbols, usually with language, that explicitly convey the meaning of the sign. Symbols, however, have little relation to their meaning, and are something that is taught by a culture. For instance, a stop sign is both a symbol and sign: the "stop" part is a sign, the red octagon (which has no meaning in and of itself) is a symbol. Signs and symbols are definitely something I'm worried about in London. In many aspects, England and America are quite alike because they are so steeped in Western culture. However, symbols vary greatly even around the same country or even city. And with physical symbols, as was discussed in Hall and Hall's "Sounds of Silence," I know I'm going to make a lot of mistakes before I get things right. I'm glad we're doing the worksheets on nonverbal communication, because I need to learn at least a few rules of London body language etiquette before I offend the city.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Learning Journal 19: Reciprocity and Appropriate Roles and Relationships

For the last two classes, we've been discussing how to properly enter the community in which we will be studying, how to properly engage in relationships with the people living there, and how to understand and give reciprocity in a way that is acceptable in the culture. Although I feel like most of the things that we've learned in class are easily applicable to my study (as different as it is from most projects), I think that this area is much easier, but in some ways much more difficult, to apply to my project as it is to apply to most other projects in the class.
The good news about reciprocity, entering a community, and engaging in relationships in regard to my project and my site (London) is that my site is basically built to be easily entered. Sure, London is definitely a culture in and of itself, and it will take a great deal of practice and experience to become well-versed in the finer points of the city, but unlike other field study sites, London has a huge amount of diversity and is used to hosting millions of people from other countries, especially Americans. And while reciprocity in other countries tends to be difficult for Americans to understand, from what I found out from Brits and American visitors, England tends to use to same reciprocity as Americans. I also discussed finding housing with Dave Shuler yesterday, and he said my best bet would be to look for housing with other young women in the YSA ward in London. While I would rather live with a host family, living in a flat with flatmates may be my only logical option. And this would probably make establishing relationships much easier. Instead of living with a family who has their own traditions in a culture vastly different than my own, I will most likely be living with other students who are also going to college and in relatively the same stage of life as I am. While some people may same that this will diminish my cultural experience of London, I believe that shared experience with the other young men and women may help me make the transition to London culture much less painfully.
But although reciprocity and appropriate relationships and roles will be easy for me in many ways, I can also see it being much harder in some ways. For instance, in the hustle and bustle of London, with hundreds of thousands of tourists looking to see as much of the city in as short of a time as possible, is it really feasible for me to expect professors, museum employees, librarians, etc. to put aside time for a one-on-one discussion with me about the Tudor queens? How can I convince them that I'm truly interested in the topic, and not just trying to cram my brain with as much knowledge as possible so I can feel like I've gotten the London "experience"? And with regards to reciprocation, how do I reciprocate to these scholars I will meet if reciprocation usually isn't necessary? It's not like you're supposed to offer a gift or buy dinner for a museum employee after they've spent an hour explaining a historical event to you. After all, it's their job. But can you reciprocate in a way that's not over-the-top, but that they're still glad to talk to you next time if you need more help? I feel as if I could easily drive them crazy with all my questions, and they'd avoid me. In a culture in which tourism and temporariness are so prevalent, can I effectively communicate my respect for their society and willingness to slow down and enjoy the subtler aspects of London?