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Issues of Representation and Misrepresentation

sara.gladwin's picture

Representation for others seems to be an inescapable thing, both in language and in life. We are represented by others politically, academically and in media. When Beyoncé sings “Run the World (Girls)”, she sings “Work my 9 to 5/ better cut my check/ this goes out to all the women getting it in” in attempt to speak to working women; however she herself does not work a typical 9 to 5 job. Representation pervades our lives in a way that seems unavoidable. We as students are constantly being spoken for- many of the articles we have been reading about education speak for us and attempt to dissect and interpret the desires of students; our desires. Even if the point of the article is to say that students should not have to be constantly redefined into a representation; there is still a certain degree to which we are not only being spoken for but assumed as a unified category. “Students” itself feels simplified; there is so much diversity that is made invisible by this generalization. This seems to be one of the main problematic side effects of representation, in addition with misrepresentation and misinterpretation.  Even as I write this, I am aware of the implications of using “we” and “our” to refer to people on a general level, and that I myself am attempting to speak for others. My reference to Beyoncé is beginning to feel like a transgression in the sense that I assume a particular interpretation of her words and that I assume she does not work a 9 to 5 job. 

However, I cannot completely dismiss representation as a practice in general because it seems to have a certain amount of usefulness, despite its problematic nature. Our government is based on a system of representation, in that we entrust others to account for our needs and represent our vote. Sometimes it seems the only way to even open discussion about marginalization is to have certain issues first represented by someone who is in a position of power to illuminate that marginalization; to bring it to the attention of others. In an attempt to avoid misrepresentation I fear that it will silence people that have no way of entering a conversation or sphere of thought without some kind representation. In addition, to simply stop trying to understand and interpret the words of others in order to avoid misrepresentation seems like it would halt discussion in some ways. I don’t think there is ever a way to resolve the gap created through representation- I feel like the closest we can come is to acknowledge that the gap exists; to speak in such a way that the language can account for it’s own limits in transferring meaning and interpreting the desires of others.

This discussion actually brought me to something very personal that I’m not entirely sure is appropriate to discuss in this setting but I still wanted to explore certain questions it raised for me, one being that I had to consider why I felt certain things are deemed inappropriate as discussion topics for a classroom setting; what gets left at the door and why it gets left there. It made me feel like the classroom setting can be depersonalized because certain personal experiences have to be left out of the conversation and undervalued. I felt like this was very relevant to our class because of the nature of the 360. I know I came into this semester with the expectation that sharing three classes with the same students would put us in a more personalized setting and I’m interested in seeing what barriers are altered because of it.