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Critical conversations: Social transformation through language Jessica R. Dreistadt utopia@fruitioncoalition.

com “We start from negation, from dissonance. The dissonance can take many shapes. An inarticulate mumble of discontent, tears of frustration, a scream of rage, a confident roar. An unease, a confusion, a longing, a critical vibration.” – John Halloway

Everyday social justice leadership discourse has implicit meaning and expressions of power. The words used in conversation and mass communications have specific political, social, philosophical, and cultural connotations that profoundly influence how the message is received, interpreted, and internalized. The process of social change leadership involves interactions with diverse individuals and organizations including people who are impacted by injustice, volunteers, donors, community partners, government, and business. Each interaction is an opportunity to create shared understanding, strengthen relationships, galvanize engagement, and generate commitment to the cause. The quality of those interactions influence the development and sustainability of social change outcomes. Analytical Lenses

Some Examples of Social Justice Communication
(not necessarily representative of all organizations)

“we seek to strengthen the struggle for social justice.” “creating communities that are free of oppression” “we believe in and fight for social change.” “we demand peace” “Occupy___________”

“Actors are behaving rationally so long as they use predicates..in such a way that other members of their life-worlds can recognize in these descriptions their own reactions to similar situations” (Habermas, 1985a, p. 18-19). “counterinstitutions are intended to dedifferentiate some parts of the formally organized domains of action, remove them from the clutches of the steering media, and return these “liberated areas” to the action-coordinating mechanism of reaching understanding” (Habermas, 1985b, p. 398). “According to what rules has a particular statement been made, and consequently according to what rules could other similar statements be made?...How is it that one particular statement appeared rather than another?” (Foucalt, 2010, p. 27). Dreistadt, J. (2012, October). Critical conversations: Social transformation through language. Interactive Roundtable Session presented at the 14th annual conference of the International Leadership Association, Leadership Across the Great Divides: Bridging Cultures, Contexts, and Complexities, Denver, CO, USA.

“If it is through communication that we have created differences, then it is through communication that we can best resolve them” (Gergen, 2009, p. 4). “A constructionist invites us to feel liberated, not needing to fight over what is ultimately “right,” “real,” or “absolute;” creatively explore the taken for granted; be curious about multiple views, positions, and values; search for new ways of talking that lead to alternative possibilities” (Gergen, 2009, p. 38).

Discussion Questions 1. What is the purpose of the language used in social justice organizations? Is it to detach, to reframe, or to create ideas and shared understanding? Are there multiple purposes? 2. How does your organization, or organizations with which you are involved, use language? 3. How do you respond to the language used by social justice organizations? 4. What unspoken rules are hidden within the language we use? 5. How do we justify using the language that we use? 6. How can we intentionally use language to create a better world?

References Foucalt, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge. New York: Vintage. Gergen, K. (2009). Constructing worlds together: Interpersonal Communication as Relational Process. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Habermas, J. (1985a). The theory of communicative action, volume 1: Reason and the rationalization of society. Boston: Beacon Press. Habermas, J. (1985b). The theory of communicative action, volume 2: Lifeworld and System: A critique of functionalist reason. Boston: Beacon Press. Holloway, J. (1982) Change the world without taking power: The meaning of revolution today. London: Pluto Press.

Dreistadt, J. (2012, October). Critical conversations: Social transformation through language. Interactive Roundtable Session presented at the 14th annual conference of the International Leadership Association, Leadership Across the Great Divides: Bridging Cultures, Contexts, and Complexities, Denver, CO, USA.