Arts of the contact zone

For this discussion, you will read “Arts of the Contact Zone” by Mary Louise Pratt, which can be found in Week 11 Readings. Although the text was originally a speech (or keynote address), the ideas presented in it have become hugely influential to our understanding of cultural and linguistic difference. The keynote was given in 1990 and some of these ideas have evolved in the last 30 years. However, they are still very useful for examining (or re-examining) issues we’ve been discussing (regarding space, positionality, identity, geographical location, and power). 

Part 1: Mulling it Over (at least 200 words)

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1. Contact Zones are places where “cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths…” Pratt goes on to describe two phenomena that occur in the contact zone: autoethnography and transculturation. Pick one of these terms and explain what the term means, why it happens in contact zones, and how it can help us to understand contact zones better. How does this concept push back against or complicate Benedict Anderson’s concept of an “imagined community”? 

2. Why is it important for groups to have both contact zones and “safe houses”? 

3. How do Contact Zones challenge, change, or push back against the idea of “inside/outside” when discussing colonialism, tourism, and native? 

Part 2: Making Connections (at least 300 words)

4. Apply one quote or idea from Pratt to A Small Place. How can you understand what Jamaica Kincaid is doing better after reading “Arts of the Contact Zone”?

5. Pick one quote below from Nedra Reynolds and apply it or connect it to the reading. 

  • “If we could discover more about how people learn about boundaries and borders, when they may cross them without penalty; or how they can slip in without being detected; or what the safe times of day are, then we could apply these findings to a richer understanding of how people learn to read, write, and interact with texts. Imagining acts of writing as material—carving out time and space, in particular circumstances that differ for each writer—opens up new spaces in which to study and understand literacy and the construction of meaning.”
  • “My purpose here is … to explore how spaces and places are socially produced through discourse and how these constructed spaces can then deny their connections to material reality or mask material conditions. Cultural geography invites us to question the relationships between material conditions and imagined territories, a relationship I identify here as the politics of space, and [cultural geography also] asks us to attend to the negotiations of power that take place across and within a number of spaces: regional or topographical, domestic or institutional, architectural or electronic, real or imagined.”

6. We’ve actually read a lot of texts that could be interpreted with Pratt’s “contact zones” in mind. Look back to any reading or concept before A Small Place (from the nature unit, the city, or digital spaces) and explore how we can examine or reexamine that idea in light of Pratt’s argument. 


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