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Dutch Articulation: The National Dilemma

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    Mapping discourses is not only a critical activity. It is also a way of conceiving of the relationship between language and culture at a generic level, rather than the one language, one culture relationship which has influenced much of national focused language teaching. Cultuurtekst forms this bridge between language and culture; it is the space where different meanings can be created and recreated. It reflects as well as constructs culture, the latter through discourses. These discourses reflect transnational concerns and ideas, and so do not limit looking at cultural environment as a national process. Yet, due to historical processes and structures in society, which are formed along national lines, these discourses, I contended in Chapter 2, may take on a national articulation. As I explained, I do not mean that a national articulation relates to essentialist practices, behaviours, or ways of conceptualizing our world around us, but rather that certain accentuations may be more prominent, or more acceptable in public discourse in certain social and cultural environments, including national ones. These articulations are not stable in themselves, but can also be rearticulated in different contexts and over time. This Dutch articulation is not a feature of all texts, but it seemed prominent in the text I used for this study, in its very traditional gendered perspective on women and the implication that their natural roles are to be mothers and wives.

    As Chapter 5 showed, students did not recognize the Dutch articulation that I had identified in the article, as they felt this text could have been written in the same way in an English publication. They saw the text not in a national, but in a global perspective. Students recognized instead the global intertextual references of British and American soaps and films. Marijke, one of the Dutch exchange students, was the only student who had been prepared to consider the notion of a Dutch articulation, although she phrased this very carefully. The text, she said, was not incongruous with other things published in the Netherlands in certain social environments. However, none of the other students pursued this notion of a Dutch articulation.

    In class the notion of Dutch articulation did not lead to any significant insights, except confirming stereotypes. The notion ‘backfired’ as it were. In the interviews, students were more prepared to consider the notion, although Claire and Sarah saw this in different ways. Claire tried to understand texts from the context in which they are produced, whereas Sarah saw Dutch articulation as related to the content of the text: a text about Dutch culture.

    Claire: And that is always going to be problematic and I suppose in a way I’m much more aware of Dutch texts and the cultuurtekst behind them because I actually have to research and I have to read it with my eyes very very open and see all the different things and I think to myself, well, I don’t understand that, is that because that’s a cultural thing, is that a cultural difference or is it just because I don’t get the grammar or whatever, whereas in French and English I don’t tend to think about that.

    Claire is aware of her position as a culturally located reader. Being an intercultural reader, i.e. not being the intended audience, actually helps in understanding the cultural articulations of a text, Claire suggests, as it forces her ‘to read with her eyes very very open’. As a bilingual speaker of English and French, she does not have to think in the same way when reading a text in those languages as when she is reading a Dutch text. Being a foreign language reader then makes you stop and think and be more reflective about the text. It helps you to stand ‘outside’ the text and consider the particular cultural meanings.

    Claire: But I do think that it’s a, it’s an interesting way of looking at a piece, especially if for instance, I mean it’s always interesting to look at other cultures, but to look at your own culture, to look at an English text written by an English person for an English audience, and to look at the analysis, you know, look at the way it’s written, em, I do, I tend to do that a lot more than I look at the actual culture and the discourses behind it and the, it’s affected by other things, em, I don’t tend to look at the culture because it just seems natural to me.

    G: Yes.

    Claire: And I suppose one of the things that I’ve learnt in the last year is that to look at it from someone else’s point of view, in a way, and so when I write I try and think about other people, but also when I read I try and think about well gosh, how are people going to interpret that or how are they going to understand it.

    Claire explains that when reading English texts she does not look at ‘the culture’ or discourses because they seem natural to her, whereas, she seems to suggest, she does do that with Dutch texts: ‘it is interesting to look at other cultures’. She then explains that what she learnt from the course is writing from a reader’s perspective. By linking these statements, Claire seems to be saying that her awareness of discourses and culture is helpful in addressing people from different cultural groups. So Claire sees her responsibility towards her own readers then also in intercultural terms in the sense that when she writes, or even when she reads, she almost tries to ‘step into the shoes of the other’, by imagining how they will interpret the text. Claire is seeing being intercultural in an ethnographic way: a sympathetic imagination of the possible reader.

    Sarah on the other hand interpreted Dutch articulation as the content of text about a culture, which was only significant and valuable when treated in a comparative way:

    Sarah: Well, I think em because we sort of mentioned that before, haven’t we, and that what I said em em was that you can only talk about em a sort of certain way of doing things in one place or another if you compare two, so where you’ve got a text say for example the nostalgia text or the text [about London], for example, that’s where you’ve got a Dutch person in an English context, so when you’re comparing two, then it might be more obvious, where as if you are just looking at the text, so if it’s like a Dutch text about, just in a Dutch, in Dutch society, say like the what was it, the text, the Men’s Health or other lifestyle magazine or whatever, it’s not comparing Holland particularly with any other country.

    G: No.

    Sarah: So I don’t really, I think it depends on the content of the thing, not in terms of what it’s saying but em whether it’s Holland as opposed to something else, if there’s, if it’s like comparing or there are two contexts, but it did say, didn’t it in the [London text] it was saying that this is different in Holland or something.

    Sarah interpreted my question about recognizing a particular Dutch articulation in the text as asking whether we can learn anything about Dutch culture, i.e. ‘Dutch ways’ of doing things. She feels that any specific Dutch aspect will come through only if the text is about a Dutch person in an English context or vice versa. So Sarah assumes that any understanding or insight into Dutch society from a text relates to the content of the text, rather than the way the content is written, reflecting underpinning cultural values, ideologies and discourses.

    It is in retrospect not that surprising that students did not engage with the idea of a Dutch articulation in the way I had intended, i.e. as a discursive articulation in a particular historical national context. The concept of ‘discourses’ is complex enough for students to consider in its own right, and Sarah had not engaged with this notion. The idea of a ‘flavour’ or articulation of a discourse is indeed very subtle, and for students to recognize this would require them to be enculturalized in a range of discourses in various areas of social and cultural life current in both, and possibly other, countries.

    Intertwining a cultuurtekst approach focusing on discursive mapping in global perspectives, with an approach that highlights cultural particularities in the form of looking at Dutch articulations, is one of the tensions that underpin this study. This study showed that dealing with this ‘national dilemma’, as Risager phrases it, is not easy in the classroom.

    Finally, in terms of comparing the two students whose interview data I discussed in this chapter, it may be tempting to conclude that Claire was more successful as a student engaging with this pedagogy than Sarah, as Claire’s engagement was more in line with my intention. However, Sarah’s discomfort had led her to go through the greatest transformation as a learner. In turn, it led me to realise that discomfort is perhaps a necessary process in education. Being intercultural, and trying to engage with other ideas, will mean stepping outside the familiar. It is about exploring the possibilities of who we can be, and how we can relate to one another. It is not only about being intercultural, it is also about being human.

    This page titled Dutch Articulation: The National Dilemma is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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