Sheila McNamee Fulbright

FulbrightsSheila McNamee is Professor of Communication at the University of New Hampshire. She submitted the following discussion of her Fulbright award.

In 2012 I was a Fulbright Specialist at the University of Caldas in Manizales, Colombia. The invitation arose because, during this period, I was supervising an Assistant Professor at the University of Caldas in her PhD work.  Her PhD research was on the re-integration of former child soldiers into civilian life.  The opportunity to work with her research group, CEDAT, provided a living laboratory where the constructionist ideas I write about could be put into practice.

Sheila McNamee in Colombia
Sheila McNamee (second from left in back row) with colleagues and students in Colombia.

The project consisted of training in a social constructionist stance aimed at undergraduate and graduate faculty of the University of Caldas. Focus was on exploring how a social constructionist approach could be applied to specific areas such as social work, family development, social sciences, social research, conflict resolution and mediation. I was engaged in offering seminars, workshops and consultation with research groups. While most of my work was with faculty, some activities were extended to students and professionals from the academic community. The faculty with whom I worked were expected to begin a reflective process on teaching, research and professional practices, from a social constructionist approach and apply the knowledge acquired during the training, within the undergraduate curriculum, graduate curriculum, and social extramural programs such as “Tutor Home” and the “Center for family Intervention.” I worked with several research groups to offer advice on the specific projects being carried out at the moment as well as guidance on new projects. I worked a good deal with one research group, CEDAT. They develop processes in the area of conflict, violence and coexistence within the context of the Colombian conflict.  This is one of the strategic areas of research at the University of Caldas.

My work with CEDAT focused on conflict resolution and mediation, from a constructionist perspective. These topics are central to CEDAT’s focus on reintegration into civilian life of children and young people detached from the Colombian armed conflict. I engaged dialogical workshops with specific groups of professors with a particular focus according to the programs and needs: (1) a seminar on social construction and social work aimed to professors of the department of human development; (2) a training Workshop on constructionist research addressed to professors assigned with various research groups. These activities included Master students; (3) a training workshop on dialogue, conflict resolution and mediation; (4) a training workshop on family intervention for professors assigned to the department of family studies and the Center for family intervention staff; and (5) a seminar open to the academic community on social constructionist theory.

While these are all the “formal” activities in which I engaged, my own learning was expanded tenfold thanks to this Fulbright.  It was exciting working with research groups who were focusing on the long-standing and crippling conflict in Colombia.  This was an opportunity to take my work beyond local community and organizational conflicts and see how it could be put to use in an enduring cultural struggle.  The experience transformed my work and provided countless connections to both scholars and practitioners interested in working with dialogic ways of generating new forms of understanding.

Transformative Power of Dialogue

Review of:
Stephen W. Littlejohn & Sheila McNamee (Eds.). (2014). The coordinated management of meaning: A festschrift in honor of W. Barnett Pearce. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

by Robyn Penman

In 1980, Barnett Pearce and his colleague, Vern Cronen, published Communication, Action and Meaning, a seminal work introducing scholars to the theory of the coordinated management of meaning (CMM). Over the ensuing decades, CMM theory has continued to grow, reaching a wider and wider audience as the practical and theoretical relevance of Barnett’s work became increasingly acknowledged.

In recognition of Barnett’s outstanding scholarship, a conference, entitled the Transformative Power of Dialogue, was held in his honour in January 2011. The essays in this book collection emerged from that conference. I am one of the contributors to this volume and, as such, this review is more of a commendation than any conventional critical review.

The book opens with an essay written by Barnett shortly before his death, reflecting on what it could take for personal and social revolution to be brought about. As he put it, he has “bet my professional life” on following the risky, high stake path that this evolution “could be promoted by explicit attention to what we are making together in the forms of communication in which we engage” (p. 44).

Barnett’s bet has reaped its rewards, not the least of which is the extent to which he has inspired, encouraged and collaborated with an extraordinary range of scholars and practitioners, a sample of which is contained in the current volume. The very breadth, scholarship and wide-ranging practical import captured in the 15 essays bear witness to the rich offerings to be found in CMM and its broader communication perspective.

For those interested in intercultural dialogue, the central importance placed on dialogue in Barnett’s work, and in the essays in this volume, makes the book especially pertinent. One part of this volume is specifically devoted to the theme of dialogue. The topics include the role of systemic questioning (Victoria Chen), moral conflict and managing difference (Stephen Littlejohn), framing and conflict transformation (Linda Putnam), and generative community dialogue (Stanley Deetz).

Dialogue also emerges as a powerful theme throughout the other parts in the book. For example, I (Penman) consider the core relationship between dialogue and presence and what this means for understanding participation in mediated life. John Lannamann explores the key role of dialogue and its practice in cosmopolitan communication in making better social worlds. And Kim Pearce sums up the volume by talking about the pathway to personal and social evolution in terms of the “life of dialogue…that holds in tension, and compassion, the various stories, actions and people who loves us, or don’t, who are like us. . . . , or aren’t and who may challenge us to the core to remain civil and open” (p. 328).

For anyone interested in dialogue and its role in making better social worlds, this book should be a rewarding read.

Fulbright Program

FulbrightsThe Fulbright International Exchange Program, under the auspices of the US State Department, offers grants to study, teach and conduct research for U.S. citizens to go abroad and non-U.S. citizens to come to the United States. Different programs are available for faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates (see links to all the different programs). Although most of the programs are for full years, the Fulbright Specialist Program offers stays of 2-6 weeks. Fulbrights are one of the easiest ways for US academics to connect internationally.

By 2014 Fulbright circulated the following information: “As of last year, lifetime limits on Fulbright Scholar Program grants have been lifted, as have waiting periods between grants. This means more flexibility and opportunity to partake in Fulbright experiences throughout your career; you can participate on a semester-long award and not jeopardize your ability to get back on the Roster or your other future participation.” So for those who have already had one Fulbright, consider requesting another!

A few examples of Communication scholars who have been awarded Fulbrights are listed below. If you have completed any of the varieties of Fulbright awards, and wish to have your description added, send an email with details, or post a comment below.

Mara Adelman – Ethiopia
David L. Altheide – Germany and Portugal
Richard Buttny – Malaysia and India
Kevin Barnhurst – Peru and Italy
Donal Carbaugh – Finland
Kristen Cvancara – Finland
Steven Darian – Uzbekistan
Don Ellis – Israel
Glenn Geiser-Getz (Russia & Ghana)
Phillip Glenn – Moldava
Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz – Portugal
Sheila McNamee – Colombia
Tema Milstein – New Zealand

Jon Nussbaum – Wales
Susan Opt – Czech Republic
Todd Sandel – Taiwan
James Schnell – Cambodia
Stacey K. Sowards – Indonesia
John Parrish-Sprowl – Macedonia and Belarus

Ayseli Usluata – USA (from Turkey)
Paul Voakes – Uganda
Joseph Zompetti – Sri Lanka and Brazil