I have been concerned with how to address ever increasing power imbalances by changing people’s ways of engaging in mundane discursive practices. While everyday conversations are said to be constitutive of processes of organizing communities, firms and even the entire society, the increased discursive spaces chiefly by the Internet and related technologies appear to have little contributed to bringing about positive changes with respect to fairer society and social cohesion.
Through my research on conversations on an Internet message board which was participated by employees of a bankrupted company, I have noticed difficulties in the participants’ downwardly imagining social stratifications. Put in another way, it appears much easier for them to criticize management of their company than to imagine the existence of much more vulnerable others than themselves. The participants managed on one hand to establish their positive identities that were built upon such characteristic attributes of dominant managerial discourses as hard work, competencies, commitment to the job and loyalty to the company. On the other hand, their positive identities contributed to both excluding others and allowing the dominant managerial discourses to remain prevalent; thus, their participation in the online conversations did not influence in any significant way management of the company. In sum, dominant discourses penetrate even into rather narrowly confined informal spaces, and people talk their realities into such relatively narrow communities whose participants look like one another.
In my PhD and subsequent research, I have designed strategies to strengthen the downward vertical imagination in order to moderate extant power relations by means of discursive practices. They draw upon the critical turn of appreciative inquiry which values positive, democratic and participatory interventions with special attention to power relations. The strategies see communication as radically relational exchange of information, which is inherently asymmetrical due to power imbalances. Participants in communication are encouraged to seek for generative moments that necessarily punctuate successions of utterances or messages. To do so, they need to learn how to suspend their familiar assumptions in front of realities presented by their interlocutors. More specifically, the familiar assumption that exchanges of information in communicative practices should be equitable by virtue of balancing different values will be replaced by that which sees exchange to be always initiated by those who become aware of differences in their own and others’ endowments.
Nonetheless, the equitable assumption about exchanges is irremediable because we are involuntarily orientated towards readiness for being exchanged or simply mimicking others. No one can voluntarily stop signaling that one is human being, and this simple fact is going to be exploited by the more powerful who define which values are meaningful or meaningless for wider society. In short, individual actors will be understood in such a radically processual manner that redefines them as beings emergent from tensions between differences vs. similarities or the power of initiating exchanges vs. subjection to automated exchanges. Based upon these radical strategies, communication is expected to offer as many people as possible capacities and opportunities to make generative inquiry, which refers to utterances that induces others to find their own meaningfulness based upon the spirit of appreciative inquiry that respects the existential positivity behind realities denoted in words.
The point is how to utilize differences rather than dealing with them as if to be eliminable or non-existent. The New Social Research should seek for means to democratize knowledge that is being accumulated through social research. Making use of values that are originated in researchers’ awareness of differences for strengthening their role of gatekeepers of authorized knowledge squarely opposes to nurturing democratic conditions under which the autonomy over knowledge should be guaranteed to everyone. Due to the radical re-interpretation of communication, the strategies I developed require intensive teaching, which I plan is about processes of social constitution. Through the lecture and assessment, innovative research is expected to be enhanced typically to account for realities of those who are less endowed with the power of initiating exchanges, thus, inevitably subject to automated exchanges, for instance, labor for means of subsistence, i.e., money.