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"Safe Houses In The Contact Zone: Coping Strategies Of African-American Students In The Academy Author(s

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Canagarajah, “Safe Houses in the Contact Zone: Coping Strategies of African-American Students in the Academy Author(s)”, 1997.

- Minorias sociais;

- Resistência, “arte ‘literária’ da area de contato” (Mary Louise Pratt);

- “Extraordinária força intercultural” do século 17, do Quechua;

- Pratt celebra os modos criativos de construção de texto alocados em situações de contato cultural tanto dentro qto fora da academia;


- Safe houses; Coping Strategies of African-American Students in theAcademyAuthor(s), 1997),

, Language in Society, Written Communication, World Englishes, and Multilingua.

Minority communities possess traditions of cultural appropriation and resistance which have enabled them to engage in what Mary Louise Pratt calls the "literate arts of the contact zone." Inspiredb y the "extraordinaryi nterculturalt our de force" of a 17th century autoethnographic text from the non-literate Quechua community which expresses opposition against Spanish imperialism (34), Pratt celebrates the creative modes of text construction taking place in situations of cultural contact both inside and outside the academy. But, while acknowledging such fascinating examples of linguistic/literary resistance, we must remember that minority communities also inherit traditions of accommodation deriving from legacies of domination. Henry Giroux reminds us that "subordinate cultures are situated and recreated within relations of domination and resistance, and they bear the marks of both" (Theorya nd Resistance 229). How subordinate communities negotiate the conflicting impulses in their culture to engage in creative literacy practices needs careful exploration. Apart from this inner cultural struggle within the community, subordinate groups also need to cope with the power of the dominant codes and discourses out there in the contact zone where different communities interact. Although the inequalities of power stratifying the contact zone are acknowledged by contact zones theorists (see Pratt 34; Bizzell 166; R. Miller; Lu), we need more systematic and detailed observation of the complex ways in which subordinate groups negotiate power in intercultural communication. Minority students can experience similar sources of conflict as they develop literacy in the academic contact zone. It is important therefore to become sensitive to the conflicting tendencies in their culture, which can motivate them to engage variously with the stratification of power in the classroom, and critically interrogate their classroom discourses and learning strategies. Pratt points out that the threatening atmosphere in the contact zone makes everyone (especially marginalized groups) appreciate the importance of safe houses - which she defines in passing as "social and intellectual spaces where groups can constitute themselves as horizontal, homogeneous, sovereign communities with high degrees of trust, shared understandings, and temporary protection from legacies of oppression" (40). In a special writing course for predominantly African-American students, I discovered the complex ways in which they constructed and used safe houses to resolve the conflicts they faced. While the challenges in dealing with institutional and discursive power in the academy made them hunger for safe houses, some of the communally mandated and historically developed cultural practices further encouraged this coping strategy. Although safe houses posed certain problems in developing academic literacy among minority students, critical reflection after the course convinced me that they also held immense pedagogical possibilities. In order to tap the hidden resources of this academic underground for the practice of contact zone literacy, we need more information on life in the safe houses than Pratt is able to provide in the single paragraph she has devoted to this subject. At least the following issues need to be clarified: What are the literate arts of safe houses? How do they relate to and compare with those of the contact zone? What is the location of safe houses in relation to the contact zone? Are they outside or inside, linked to or separated from the contact zone? What are the pedagogical and political implications of safe houses for the practice of contact zone literacy? Do they stifle/encourage, stymie/enhance such literate practices?

The Background: The writing course which I explore below was part of what is called the Pre-view Program at the University of Texas at Austin. This program is held each summer for first year ethnic minority students entering college the following Fall.


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