SOCIAL SIGNAL TRANSDUCTION

Dukes1As Director of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN), Frank Dukes, also a professor in the School of Architecture, designs dispute resolution and public participation processes. He mediates and facilitates, teaches and trains, and conducts research. He is the winner of the 2012 Sharon M. Pickett Award for Environmental Conflict Resolution presented by the Association for Conflict Resolution. He has worked as a mediator at local, state, and federal levels on projects involving environment and land use, community development, education, and health, with a particular emphasis on the Appalachian coalfields and Chesapeake Bay watershed regions, and through UCARE, university community race relations in Charlottesville. He is co-founder and core faculty of the Virginia Natural Resources Leadership Institute. As part of IEN’s “Collaborative Stewardship Initiative,” he initiated the “Community-Based Collaboratives Research Consortium” seeking to assess and understand local collaborative efforts involving natural resources and community development, and the “Best Practices Guidance Project” resulting in the publication of Collaboration: A Guide for Environmental Advocates and, in 2011, Community-Based Collaboration: Bridging Socio-Ecological Theory and Practice. He also serves as an advisor to the student group University Mediation Services. Another book, Resolving Public Conflict: Transforming Community and Governance describes how public conflict resolution procedures can assist in vitalizing democracy. With two colleagues he is co-author of Reaching for Higher Ground: Tools for Powerful Groups and Communities, which describes how diverse groups and communities can create expectations for addressing conflict with integrity, vision, and creativity. He was previously operator of a piano restoration business for over 10 years in Albemarle County.

What is bad public speech? The lecture by Dr. Frank Dukes discussed how talk shapes community action. Throughout his projects, Dukes serves as a mediator for public discourse within communities. He spoke to the transduction team about what constitutes “good” and “bad” public speech and how this influences community actions. Students then had the opportunity to discuss amongst ourselves what we believe characterizes good and bad public speech. What we found is that there is no singular definition of public speech and what distinguishes good from bad is a matter of context and interpretation. However, students arrived at a broad definition of public speech as discourse that is made available to a variety of stakeholders, as opposed to the technique of giving a speech effectively. Students were also able to discuss identifiers that consistently characterize bad public speech. Factual claims without factual basis, denigrating the character of others, excluding the participation of others, and not exploring new ideas are all elements of non-productive speech. Dukes mentioned that such ill-advised practices can lead to negative results ranging from decreasing civic participation all the way to the internment of the Japanese during WWII.

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To demonstrate how Dukes mediates and facilitates discussion between community groups, the class broke up into pairs and chose a topic of for pros versus cons discourse. One person spoke while the other listened and reflected on what was being said. After, the listener would ask questions if clarification was needed. Then the listener and speaker roles switched. This was an interesting experiment that allowed the class to experience listening and reflecting before speaking. Dukes’ goal when mediating is to establish an open forum, where both parties feel comfortable and heard so compromises can be made. The critical component of this exercise was that while students were listening to their partners, they knew that they were going to have to summarize their partner’s arguments back to them. Instead of formulating their own arguments while their partner was talking, they were forced to be active listeners. In doing so it made it much easier to consider the other side of an argument.

ucare

The benefit of creating a comfortable environment for dialogue is that it helps to develop a sense of belonging, promote reconciliation, and identify new solutions between parties. This relationship in the form of social capital is important in moving forward with significant community change. Dukes has managed to do this with organizations such as the University Community Action for Racial Equity. Through groups such as this, people can learn about and identify with emotions that are impacting race relations in the Charlottesville community. Dukes believes passionately in more effective communication through listening and open mindedness, and his presentation helped us to acquire a valuable toolset for intent listening and understanding the challenges that groups face in terms of communication.

dukes diagram

trawalter

Sophie Trawalter is an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences and of public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. She received her masters and Ph.D. from Dartmouth College and authored her dissertation on “Re-Conceptualizing Behaviors During Interracial Interactions as Coping Reactions to Stressful Encounters.”  She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Northwestern University, and worked at UNC Chapel Hill before arriving at the University of Virginia. With regard to her research, she is “interested in psychological phenomena related to diversity. She is particularly interested in how people develop competencies for life in diverse spaces.  She has studied the dynamics of intergroup contact, group-based social cognition, and group-based social ecology.  These three broad areas have allowed her to address important questions; including how can we make the lived realities of Black Americans more visible to White Americans? How can we improve the quality and outcomes of interracial interactions? And how can we increase historically stigmatized group members’ sense of place in historically discriminatory institutions?  The aim of this research is to reduce intergroup tensions and improve the life outcomes of historically stigmatized and non-stigmatized group members.”

Trawalter’s interest in how people develop competencies for life in diverse spaces was exemplified in her search for a house upon her arrival to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She was near closing on a nice house when she learned that its affordable price was due to the previous owner passing away inside the house. She felt that there was a relationship between the loss of life and the space where it had occurred that was inextricable. This induced her to rescind her offer on the house. Later in her career in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trawalter was again closing on a home that she felt met her needs. Late in the process she learned that the basement of the house contained old makeshift showers that slaves bathed in to keep them away from the rest of the members of the home. Even though this happened decades before, Trawalter still felt pangs of guilt for being associated with a structure that housed injustice in its space. This belief that humans do not merely inhabit space, but instead interact with it and permanently stamp it would later propel her research surrounding the use of public and private space and how it relates to both power and inequality.

How public is public space?  Trawalter’s talk about physical spaces and social identity grappled with this question and challenged transduction to think about how people from different social groups occupy varied spaces. She started her presentation by framing the issue along gender lines, describing the discrepancies between how men and women take up personal space. Men are more likely to spread out and take up lots of space, projecting power and comfort with themselves and their surroundings. Women, on the other hand, tend to be more tentative about taking up space and asserting themselves. Trawalter then magnified the scale of her talk to put it in the context of public space, referencing women’s increased propensity to be afraid in urban areas. Although gender dictates some variations in use of space, it is by no means the only factor that impacts interaction with public space, which led Trawalter to explore other aspects of social identity and their influence on comfort in space.

While Trawalter’s initial hypothesis was that inequities in use of space would be dependent upon race, her research on undergraduates at UVa revealed that class defines level of comfort at the university and in its public areas. She used surveys to ascertain basic facts about the undergraduates that she was studying, most notably their position on the socioeconomic scale, separating the students into groups whose families enjoyed an income of over $250,000 and those who did not earn quite as much. Some students in the latter group she referred to as low socioeconomic status, or low SES, though most would be considered middle class by normal standards. Trawalter also wanted to capture undergraduates as they were using public space without tracking them all down and asking them to participate in her study. Luckily for her, research shows that people are incredibly accurate at making quick judgments about strangers to discern such things as age, sex, and socioeconomic status. This allowed her to employ the help of student research assistants to observe fellow undergraduates as they were using public space. Trawalter consistently found that students who were assumed to be wealthy were more comfortable spreading out, napping in public, and utilizing large spaces, such as the lawn or the amphitheater. She also conducted studies in the storied rotunda, perhaps the most well-known and evocative public space on grounds.

feet up
Trawalter invited students from all across the socioeconomic spectrum to participate in a study in the dome room of the rotunda to see if strutting would increase students’ comfort. To avoid bias in the experiment (and any awkwardness that might ensue if asked to strut), she told the subjects that they had to standardize their walking and were therefore expected to take long strides and put their hands on their hips. The control group was instructed to walk around as they normally would. At the end of the experiment, Trawalter found that the students who strutted felt more at ease in the rotunda but that even with the boost in comfort level low SES students were only roughly even with wealthy students who had simply walked, and not strutted, around the dome room. Her surveys also returned similar results. Though wealthy and low SES students started at the same point upon entering the university, wealthy students had a significant gain in sense of ease and home at UVa while low SES students tended to stay roughly the same or experience marginal gains or decreases in comfort. Wealthy students were more likely to be familiar with grounds and say that their favorite spot at the university was somewhere large and open, such as the lawn, rather than a small cubicle at the library or their dorm room, which were typical responses from low SES students. Perhaps most shocking were barriers to entry that low SES students thought existed in public space. Upon showing up to the rotunda for the study, some were previously unaware that entrance to the rotunda is free; others thought that spaces like the gardens were public space, but that some sort of invitation or permission was still needed to enjoy them, whereas wealthy students rarely thought that any part of grounds was restricted to them. These differences are striking and troubling and have prompted Trawalter to ask how public spaces can be altered so that students from all classes and backgrounds will feel comfortable using and appreciating them.

trawalter diagram

Response

Both of the speakers are involved in fields that are dynamic. Trawalter’s research is directly related to undergraduate culture and behavior. During our class discussion of her topic, fellow students mentioned that they felt themselves being more aware of how much space they are using and what perceptions they may be unknowingly projecting. Public spaces serve as the mediums through which behavior is exhibited, with students’ personal sense of place and status at UVA acting as the signals. Trawalter’s lecture provided the class with a new awareness in looking at public spaces around grounds and why particular spaces are significant to us. Her research connects well with some community issues that Dukes meditates. An important example he gave from his talk concerned land rights and people’s connection to a particular place or piece of land.

Similar to Wilma Subra, Dukes work as a mediator between two parties acts as the transducer within the community. Although he is not directly “translating” the information for better understanding, he does serve as a medium facilitating dialogue using various strategies that suit whomever he is working with. He is responsible for choosing which mediums work best depending on the people and relationships that they have. His ability to create an open forum for discussion and develop social capital benefits both parties and acts as the “material” for transduction. Even though it is not a physical, tangible material, relationships serve as the basis and connections within social signal transduction.

Report by Laura Reynolds, Jessica Rojsuontikul, Joseph Woodlief.