Reflections on the Peking University paper ….

Some reflections on our experience of the following recently given paper:

Zhou, X. and Fay, R. (April, 2011). Using a Small-Culture Narrative Approach to Explore Intercultural Communication: A Departmental Approach and a Chinese-focused Case study. Paper presented at the “Linguistics Salon” at Peking University, Beijing, China, April 25th 2011.

Richard: For me, one thing about this seminar paper was that, despite a small-ish audience, the occasion had a good feel to it and the Qs etc were very engaged and the interaction throughout were welcome. We had an ambitious coverage – to both present the departmental context (and its small culture orientation in various courses, and the development of this over time, with a reflexive note from me also on my development of this orientation) and then Viv’s research story (beginning at PKU and ending in her small culture narrative doctorate at Manchester). This coverage was too ambitious probably (even though we have generous time allowance) and I am not sure we needed to both, either would have been interesting by itself, but there was something about this dual story (in effect our researcher stories coming to blossom at Manchester in this small culture approach) which was pleasig (to us anyway!). I look forward to seeing Viv’s additions to my initial thoughts. Viv?

Viv: On a sunny afternoon in September 2005, I met Richard for the first time in his office, with a copy of my Master’s dissertation accomplished a few months ago at Peking University. Feeling proud of this piece of work, which reported my first attempt of Intercultural Communication research, I gave this copy to Richard as a gift and also an indicator about where I was in my academic journey. Alongside the pride was my curiosity about where I would go in the future with Richard in my UK-based exploration of the fascinating field of Intercultural Communication. I was excited at the thought that one day, I should introduce my supervisors at the two stages of my academic pursuit and have academic exchanges with them together. During the next few years, I often mentioned their names to each other, e.g. in my discussions with Richard about Chinese scholars’ contributions to this academic field and in a conference on Intercultural Communication in Beijing where I met my former professor, Professor Gao.

This April, my dream came true. Invited by Professor Gao, Richard and I made a joint presentation at a postgraduate seminar in the English Department of Peking University. All was very exciting. Back in my alma mater, I had so many first-time experiences! For instance, the first time I introduced my supervisors from two “generations” to meet face-to-face, the first time during the past six years I presented myself to my former professor and alumni academically, the first time I talked about my doctoral research in my first “academic home”… How would they respond?

There was a small audience in our presentation. Good enough for interaction. Richard and I took turns to present the key aspects of our individual and shared academic exploration especially during recent years, covering a wide range of topics such as intercultural communication, small cultures approach, narrative inquiry and reflexivity. Richard addressed these topics with more theoretical weight and more on a macro-level, such as how those topics were approached in our department. Then I illustrated how our thinking influenced our practical work by using my doctoral research as a case study on the micro-level.

I had a “mischievous” idea when planning this presentation: listening to another person’s presentation of his/her study can be boring sometimes – I have to admit that this is part of my own conference experience … I did not want to lose my audience’s attention, so I decided to give them a quiz after presenting my study in order to test if they were listening to me closely. Well… yes, actually, to check if my presentation made sense to them. I announced this “quiz” design to the audience at the beginning of my presentation. It later turned out to work very well and it was fun! I navigated the audience through each step in my research process, giving them an idea about my theoretical positionings, methodological preferences, research questions, research design, participants’ background information and the data I generated.

Then followed the “quiz”: I raised a number of questions related to my research focus and invited the audience to make their interpretations based on what I had introduced so far. After a series of interesting guesses and discussion from the audience, I “revealed” to them my findings as the “correct” answers. Some of them appeared satisfied. Others looked surprised. It was not my real intention to “teach” them a “correct” answer. As I explained afterwards, by comparing their guesses with my own research findings, I engaged the audience to have an immediate and personalised experience of the dynamics of interpretive inquiry and also of my conceptual and methodological positionings, which I had introduced to them only minutes ago.

Through interaction with the audience, I felt that they welcomed our ideas, especially the small-culture and narrative-inquiry parts. Several points raised by Professor Gao regarding my implementation of the small-culture approach was very thought-provoking. Reflexivity seemed to have attracted less response. Maybe we tried to cover too much in this brief presentation, and the audience’s concern about issues such as “validity” did resonate with many similar discussions and debates we have here in Manchester…

To summarise this experience: very fulfilling.

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