19. Introduction: Rules, guidelines, advice, and the principles that govern them

Key terms introduced in this chapter:

  • equality
  • practicability
  • shareability
  • term slippage

Key terms mentioned in this chapter that should now be familiar:

  • bounded dialogue
  • CDE report
  • instance
  • interpretive project
  • narrowly defined topic
  • ToM

The purpose of course rules, guidelines, and advice is to give specific content as to how *bounded dialogue and the *course method are to be carried out.

The difference between rules and the rest of the content of this part — the guidelines and advice — is that rules are practices all students can do if they choose to do so and, if not followed, have an unacceptably strong subversive effect on course content, or threaten to have a negative impact on the grades of other students (not oneself), or could be personally hurtful to someone. Because of this, rules, when not followed, have an immediate and serious impact on your grade, including that it is likely you will be unable to pass the class regardless of the scores you might have successfully achieved for the many evaluated events.

In order to separate rules distinctly from guidelines and other advice, all rules are collected into a single chapter.

The rules, guidelines, and advice related to *bounded dialogue and *course method are all governed by a set of principles that seek to make the results of analysis useful, credible, and insightful. If you are having difficulty remembering or understanding the various rules and guidelines described in this part of the book, recalling these basic principles might help. Similarly, the principles are dynamic components of all grading rubrics whether that is explicitly stated or not; therefore, these fundamental principles can help in submitting material that scores well, or might help you understand scores you have received.

The principles are: practicability, shareability, credibility, discovery & insight, accuracy, equality, diversity, and liveliness. Let us look at them one at a time.

19.1. Practicability

When setting out to design an *interpretive project (selecting a film, deciding the *ToM and its *instance, and fashioning the *narrowly defined topic) or in the process of your own research where you have arrived at a crossroads, or during a discussion that seems to be devolving into generalities, you should look to *practicability to be a key factor in making your decisions:

*Practicability as “doability.” Given the situation at hand, is the project as you visualize it doable in terms of size and scope? Sometimes students are not strong in developing focused projects because developing this focus requires considerable time invested in visualize lines of inquiry and trying to guess where they lead, or because of unfamiliarity with the territory to be explored. This analysis needs to conclude with a short list of *content-rich, specific, and concrete interpretations, observations, or conclusions (however tentative). Can the project as you visualize it cross that finish line?

*Practicability as *shareability. Your analysis is deemed practical when it has value to others. First of all, is it in line with the overall questions of the course or the more specific areas of culture that might be the current topic at that point in the semester? Second, will its final shape be one that can be easily conveyed to others for their information and use?

*Practicability is at the top of the list of principles because of its powerful contribution to two key aspects of this class: as a question that is very effective at limiting the scope of and focusing its goals projects it is very helpful in managing the complexity of a project. By emphasizing the usefulness of the work, it reminds individuals that they are members of a group, and reminds groups that they, too, are working units with other groups, all of whom collectively seeking answers to the same questions. The narrowness of a group’s results become less narrow when it joins the results of other groups. This structure provides a textured view of the object being analyzed.

19.2. Shareability

Analysis in this class always has this basic structure although depending on the project some stages might be omitted:

  1. The project is defined. Everyone takes up the same project.
  2. Separation of members. Analysis proceeds either as individuals belonging to groups also working independently, or the various groups of the class themselves working independently. They do not contact one another during this stage. They develop their own interpretations, observations, and tentative conclusions.
  3. Collective work. Individuals unite with their groups to hammer out group positions based on these various independent discoveries and insights.
  4. Reports. The various discoveries and insights of individual members are collected into a *CDE report.
  5. Sharing. In the abstract, results are always shared. In practice almost all results are located in a place that others have access to them. Sometimes results are more actively shared in class or via assignments that work with the results of others.

Given this basic structure, projects clearly should be of use to others. This means interpretations should be credible, intelligible, and useful. Shareability turns on questions of whether the work has followed the method in its generalities (procedures) and specifics (the *interpretive project as defined, so “staying on topic”), while keeping in mind the needs of one’s group and ultimately the class in general. Timeliness is another factor of shareability since your group members or other groups need your results by a specific time.

19.3. Credibility

Your work does not have value to your team members, or group work does not have value to the class as a whole if it is not credible. *Credibility is achieved through good critical judgment, research and listening to others, avoiding rhetorical missteps or false logic, and the investment of time. Except for the investment of time, these are all discussed later in this part of the book.

As for the investment of time, analysis is always asymmetrical: the one doing the analysis puts in considerable care, effort, and time to produce results that are useful and easily consumable by those interested. Generating analysis should involve considerable time-investment; consuming analysis should be efficient and take less time. Credibility evaporates when it seems time has not been invested. The consumer of the analysis believes that the necessary amount of time has been put into the project to think it over and resolve the problems that arise. If it seems like this is not the case, the results have little value. If you are pressed for time, narrow the scope of the project rather than rush a larger project. Due times in the course are firm so proceed without an expectation that you can go overtime. Design a project and budget your time to allow for the necessary time investment.

19.4. Discovery & Insight

This class does not practice developing strong rhetorical arguments to prove a position (as might be the case in debate). In fact, this is an unwelcome format for any report in this class.

Nor does the method lean heavily on evidence-based argument although “close reading” of a narrative and being well informed about a cultural situation is a type of evidence-based analysis that gives your interpretation substance and accuracy. However, in this scenario, the goal is in credible conclusions that are useful to others, not the actual practice building of the argument itself.

It is more productive and accurate to think of the course as providing a structured and disciplined way of interpreting narratives for the purposes of “discovery and insight” about cultural features of *East Asia by leveraging one’s perception through questions built around the *status of *traditional *worldviews and *values. That is, the basic intention of this course is to be a forum in which students share when they expand their understandings of a culture, or refine those understandings, or as a way to notice and correct misunderstandings that they or others might have. This means, essentially, that students try to discover what they do not know (limits of understanding and misunderstandings) and take action to obtain that knowledge through reading and discussion and benefiting from the review by others of their work.

They take actions that lead to discovery and insight rather than argue points. This “action” comes in the shape of:

  • research initiated on your own as appropriate to your need to expand your understanding,
  • listening to others,
  • thinking through interpretive problems (surpassing the *First-Thoughts Standard),
  • delivering those opinions, observations, and conclusions to others for them to check, and
  • trying to notice your own blind spots or when you have jumped to somewhat incorrect conclusions (the danger of *attractors).

19.5. Accuracy

Accuracy should be the part of all work for this class because it is one of the bulwarks that holds back uninformed, misinformed, or prejudiced conclusions about cultural terrain. There are many situations where the desire for accuracy requires certain approaches or actions. For example, investing time in analysis clearly helps with accuracy. While accuracy should be on your mind for most of the work done for this course, many  inaccuracies result from the undisciplined use of language: drifting from the course definitions of our lexicon of specific terms, falling into “term slippage” expressive patterns, and observations that are not *content-rich. Each of these is discussed in this part.

19.6. Rich-analysis through “equality”

*Equality points to a series of important practices in this course.

First, from project-to-project or within a project when it is comparative in nature, subject matter—whatever it may be—is approached with an equal level of curiosity and energy devoted to understanding it. If the interpretation involved the comparison of two films, for example, each is treated with equal care and interest.

Second, within a project details receive an equal degree of scrutiny. This does not mean that everything needs to be discussed with the same amount of depth or detail. That would be both impossible and distracting. Instead, what I am suggesting is that many aspects of an *instance should be considered. (“Interpretation begins with curiosity”—wanting to know what something means and looking actively for clues in many places.) This is a way of enhancing the possibilities of discovery and insight. For example, imagine that you have come to a conclusion about an instance based on the spoken dialogue. Before finalizing your report you should ask questions such as, “But what about the soundtrack? Does that suggest something else?” Or, “But what about the facial expressions that accompanied the script. Does that support or contradict the script’s content?” In other words, there should be a certain amount of care in considering a wide range of aspects of the *instance since it is my belief that those areas that you overlook are probably areas you regularly overlook and they might have new information in your particular case. Or that some cultural attractor has already decided an issue for you so you do not see any need to consider that type of detail. *Equality here means: “a thorough consideration of a wide range of aspects of the instance with an open-mind that there might be something to discover, and carried out with the same amount of energy as other lines of thought were carried out.” Clearly *equality as visualized in this way can have a frictional relationship with “practicability. Use good judgment in finding the balance.

Third, in *bounded discourse and report construction a variety of ideas should have been weighed against one another to help with the best possible interpretation in terms of identifying cultural terrain or the *status of *traditional *worldviews and *values. To achieve this, each idea put forth and each team member putting forward ideas, has an equal place at the table. (The *CDE schema is designed to support this concept of equality.) This *equality should not be achieved only through the efforts of the speaker or author of the idea. It is incumbent on team members to monitor the treatment of ideas and each team members and take actions that help create a level field of ideas and member participation. This might mean asking a member who has been silent for a time period what she or he is thinking. It might mean temporarily defending or holding on to an idea that seems to be under rapid dismissal until it can be confirmed that there really is nothing there of substantive value. So, everyone is expected to contribute in a genuine way, all ideas should receive scrutiny, and actions should be taken to insure that this happens. Members should look for ways to contribute or take action to draw out the contributions of others when they are not forth-coming. This idea of equality is echoed in the principle of lively discussion and liveliness of discussion and debate is always a strong grade positive. Thus, there is a reward system in place to encourage teammates to value the ideas of each team member as well as encourage team members to bring ideas to the discussion.

19.7. Rich-analysis through “diversity”

I feel I have succeeded in the formation of a group when it is diverse not just in its cultural knowledge but in its basic intellectual approach to understanding things and even work styles. It may be that such membership will be personally challenging and frustrating at times. However, all of these differences help put the work of analysis in a different perspective which enhances the chances of discovering something that might otherwise go unnoticed. Thus, in its crudest form, it is a design meant to counter the possibilities of group-think. But it is better thought of as leveraging the unique talents of each group member. Time should be spent understanding and appreciating what each person knows of culture and how each member is approaching the *interpretive project. If the group becomes goal-oriented (product-focused) rather than willing to spend time exploring and considering various possibilities (process-focused) two things result: 1) errors in interpretive conclusions that should have been corrected were rushed passed and then found their way all the way to the end product, and 2) as a grader I conclude that the discussion was not lively.

Learn to love the diversity of your group, even though as a unit engaging in a process towards an end-product it is not efficient. However, it is invaluable as a team that can carry out a process open to discovery and insight as well as the cross-checking of those discoveries and insights.

19.8. Rich-analysis through “liveliness”

Liveliness is the rich exchange of ideas during a discussion or *bounded discussion. The two element are, obviously, a diversity in the content of the ideas and a back-and-forth quality to the discussion. It is not unusual for “lively” discussions to also have a degree of friction to them. However, fiction or disagreement itself does not mean the discussion was lively. A wide variety of interpretations around an instance, or a wide variety of ideas, or anything along these lines, when engaged in with keen critical thought, even if all members were doing little more than whispering, would be called, under this definition, “lively”. Liveliness is a common feature of grade rubrics.


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Interpreting Love Narratives in East Asian Literature and Film Copyright © 2019 by John R Wallace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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