Coversation + Social Location = Headache Station

Whenever conversation theory has come up in class, we’ve never really grounded it in anything concrete.  But what I have learned about our role as librarians to facilitate conversation is immensely challenging.  Dr. Lankes’ famous metaphor of librarians as the blender, mixing up the isolated pockets of knowledge comes to mind.

How do I as a librarian facilitate conversation between two or more parties who hardly have the same language.  And to what degree does that conversation need to be even-handed?

Specifically, in a world where every message I’m sent in advertisements, popular culture, fashion trends, literature, professional codes of conduct, historical narratives, current politics and the media coverage thereof seems to have a stubborn myopia to my experiences as someone who’s not only non-white, but non-heteronormative, non-American and vegetarian.  These avenues reflect to everyone a portrait of what it means to “count” (Rancier) as an agent in this world, and has marked implications for what doesn’t count.  The exclusion, or peripheral relegation of anyone in any of my social locations, as well as the disabled, women and non-Christians creates a unidirectional flow of information.  This has immediate effects on group-based politics:

As librarians, we are entrusted to turn that decree roll into a dialogue.  But from the perspective of an agent whose been left bereft of a voice for so long, an even exchange won’t bring about the knowledge creation that we’re looking for to improve society.  We (the collective subaltern and our allies who are aware of their own provilege), already know what they (the superaltern who are not aware of their privilege, but stubbornly assert it) have to say.  They’ve been telling us from day one, and our responses have been met with whatever preformed defense from the white/straight/male/Christian-logocentric/classist apologetics bingo they happen to land on.


I recently attempted to get beyond the apologetics when expressing my criticism of the political and hegemonic dimension of Christianity to the wrong person.  When analyzing the failure of the conversation with a lens of guilt for even attempting that frisson of mutual knowledge creation, I was told by one of my classmates “F*ck him… it’s their turn to sit down, shut up and listen!”

The diatribe that I’m trying to bring to fruition here is that conversation theory is hella complex due to the inherent inequity of people’s voices.  The librarian profession is predominantly white in this country and I don’t think we can get anywhere creating a mutual understanding of our experiences on either side of white (or any) privelege without first recognizing that it 1.  exists, 2. we may or may not benefit from it  3. some voices need to be heard and analyzed before others.



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About darrenjglenn

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2 Responses to Coversation + Social Location = Headache Station

  1. Darren, you’re so right. What can we do to make sure the long-hushed voices are really heard?

  2. darrenjglenn says:

    I think the first step is to turn the stage over to the subaltern and gradually de-Anglocize the library as a space. Part of turning the stage over is actively challenging the stereotypes that hold the library as a public institution back.

    Instead of having special nights, programs or months dedicated to historically underrepresented groups, make sure that perspective is a constant. Even having specific sections devoted to Latin American fiction, Women’s literature, etc. is problematic in terms of regulating what counts.

    Of course, de-Anglocizing the library space requires us to be aware of that nature of the library in the first place.

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