Linda Flower – Intercultural Inquiry and the Transformation of Service

  • Flower notes that “guerilla service” in community engagement work (the hopping in and out of soup kitchens, nursing homes, neighborhood/community organizations) without sustained engagement or reflection can be even more violent than not engaging at all.
  • F. notes that often students “find their academic agendas for service and action leave them standing isolated from the alternative expertise of the community and from its own resilient cultural agendas” (182).
  • F. argument is this: the conflicts and contradictions of community outreach call for an intercultural inquiry that not only seeks more diverse rival readings, but constructs multivoiced negotiated meanings in practice” (182).
  • F. asks “Why indeed are we engaged in community outreach?”  Some critics charge folks who do this work with creating personal stories out of public issues.
  • The problem of this sort of work is the same problem of composition pedagogy on a broader scale: do we teach the tools/skills necessary to participate successfully in the ever-developing information economy or do we teach writing as a means to self-liberation (while ignoring the possibility to develop the skills necessary to be economically relevant).
  • Academics are conflicted (via Cushman) and often unable to do this sort of work because our drive toward disciplinary specialization has prevented us from engaging in the role of public intellectual – instead we merely practice critique.
  • The central concern of the academic of “Am I being a charitable participant imparting knowledge or am I helping to develop critical awareness?” is really secondary to the community member asking “Why are you here and who are we in this relationship?” (185).
  • Dealing with contradictions in activity systems is absolutely integral – according to flower – in the construction of negotiated meaning (or meaning that is agreed upon and not unidirectional) (186).
  • “transformative understanding” is an activity wherein the problems in the world transform both our representations of them and our representations/understanding of ourselves so that some sort of action can be formed/pursued.  This is even moreso the case in situations that involve intercultural subjectivities.
  • Intercultural inquiry “is a literate action defined by the open-eyed, against-the-odds, self-conscious attempt to engage in collaborative acts of meaning making that are mutually transformative.  Intercultural inquiry is unline an act of self-discovery or service, or cultural critique or social action alone, as critically necessary as these are. . . . the partners in an intercultural inquiry attempt to use the differences of race, class, culture, or discourse that are available to them to understand shared questions” (187).
  • Ultimately Flower hopes that students/scholars can “go beyond the contact zone into confronting contradictions, inviting rivals, and constructing and negotiating meaning through the eyes of difference” (187).
  • Intercultural inquiry isn’t a study of others, but a collaborative inquiry with others into shared, mutually significant questions.”  (189)
  • Situated representations : contextualizing an issue such as family support, work ethic, or racism, in diverse local, social, cultural, and material settings (197).
  • Deep faith in her work to produce incremental change (Dewey) toward social change (West).


  • Flower’s method leaves the interlocutors of the dialogue in a state of conversation . . . without any real plan for where else to go or action in any form more than dialogue with folks on the other side.
  • There seems to be a lot of benefit for the university-side of folks in this method; however, what about the folks that are in the communities being worked with?
  • This process is unidirectional – the university is addressing a community issue; a better system might be a mutual interest (community and university) in a community issue.

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