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Arts of the Contact Zone

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Pratt defines a contact zone by saying it is “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today” (319). What this means to me, is that there is classrooms in which there are many differences, which creates a difficult learning atmosphere, but also a very interesting learning atmosphere, because you have to work through differences and arguments. There are many principles that are affiliated with a contact zone, and many ways to implement these principles into an assignment for students. One of these principles is called parody, which is a “humorously exaggerated imitation of a writer” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parody). When I look at parody I think about someone listening to what you have written and instead of critiquing you they just poke fun at you by imitating you in a playful way. This could be by imitating what you said in a funny voice, or switching some words around that you have written in order to make the statement funny, they could do this if what you have written does not make sense.

The reason they would probably do this, is that way you would not be offended by another person’s critique, and they can keep the mood happy by just poking a little fun. In order to teach my students about some of the principles of the contact zone, I would physically use one of the principles in an assignment, in which they would have to use that principle. In this assignment we will be looking at using parody. First, I would ask each student what they think parody is, after teaching them the definition, I would assign them a partner. The student and his partner would then each write a one page story as fast as they can, about anything they want. Once the student does this, I would have him present his story to his or her partner and see how they respond. Most  students who are comfortable with their classmates would probably poke fun on a few things that happened in their partner’s story, just because they are friends. This would be an example of parody that they are showing towards their partner.

After that is done, I would then have a one page story that I had written, and present that to the class. After I finish reading my story I would then ask if there was anything wrong with it. In most cases, most students would not imitate me in any way with writing, because I would be more intimidating to them. Also, they probably would not feel comfortable showing a parody towards my work, because I would be older, more experienced, and they would not know me as well as they know their friends. The intended purpose of this assignment for the students is to teach them a principle of the contact zone. Instead of just defining what parody is, I would actually allow them to experience it, without them even knowing they experienced it. Of course, I would explain to them how they, were using parody when It came to their friends work. But, when it came to their Peer’s work they were not as eager to poke fun at my work. This would allow them to get a complete grasp, and almost a hands on feel of what parody actually is.

Each student’s work would be evaluated by me seeing if they have all written a story that is at least one page, and if they listened and paid attention to their partner’s story. The assignment would basically be a completion grade, because I would just be trying to get them to understand what parody is a little more. Some student’s may not actually use parody after hearing their partner’s story, some might use a different principle. Some may even say it was simply a good story, but for those who did use parody to talk about their partner’s story, I would explain to them that they did. I would also explain to the class as a whole that they used parody, and show the class as a whole after the assignment what parody actually is.

This assignment would prepare students for an upcoming assignment that is taking place later on in the year. The assignment that is going to be presented later on in the year will be listening to a  bunch of assignment reviews online, and determining if there was any parody involved or not. For instance a student will listen to another person’s review on a writer, and if there was parody they will explain where the parody was in the review. They will do this with ten people’s reviews. The reason this is so important is they are learning about the contact zone, and realizing how differences in culture and differences in one another beliefs, and why that creates conflict. However, to better help the students understand the contact zone, they will learn some of the principles that make up a contact zone. These principles are what makes a contact zone become difficult to work in, because of the differences in culture.

In this assignment students’ would gain information on what makes up a contact zone, and also what these principles mean. The student’s may also learn how to overcome some of these obstacles if they are ever taught in a contact zone, by knowing more about the principles. This would also benefit student’s later in life. For example, some day a person might experience a contact zone in the job they are working, this could be difficult to work in and around for this person. They might remember some of the things they learned about contact zones, and the principles of the contact zone. This could help them work around their issues in that particular contact zone, if that does not help at least this person would understand what things are bothering him or her in this particular contact zone.

Also, like Pratt I am a fan of the contact zone because it causes people to learn to operate with other people, even if there are many differences between them. The reason this is a good thing, is you are not always going to agree with someone, or be in a comfortable environment in everything you do in life. Therefore by understanding these principles you may overcome being so uncomfortable in certain situations, and actually benefit from learning or working in a contact zone. This assignment I would present to my students would show them how they themselves used parody, and also give them a little contact zone situation as well. Like I said I would have them listen to my story as well, and some students would definitely not use parody, when reviewing my story.

The reason they would not use parody, is they would be uncomfortable at poking fun towards me due to the fact that I would be their teacher, I am older, and they would think I would know how to write. This would actually be a form of a contact zone, because some student’s would not know if it is acceptable to use parody on their teacher’s work. Also, some student’s would not be comfortable enough to us parody, they would probably be shy, and embarrassed to state their points in a funny statement and imitation. So therefore this assignment no only goes over what parody is, and allows the student to understand and physically grasp the concept of parody but it allows them to experience working in a contact zone, because they are putting themselves in an uncomfortable environment, where maybe not all beliefs are the same, and they are required to review that person’s work. This assignment forces student’s to interact with different cultures, because like I stated above they would review my story.

However, while they are reviewing it, if they actually do use parody, or any other type of principle, I would try to make things very uncomfortable for them, by simply asking more questions and having my point of view more different than their point of view. This would allow the student to practice working in a contact zone, and experience what it is like to overcome some of the obstacles he or she could be seeing in the future. This would give great experience to the student’s and would benefit them greatly for later in life events that take place. This would allow the students to be ready for anything that is presented in a contact zone as well. If a person who has a different viewpoint, or a different personality, or even is from a different culture has an argument about something you believe in, this assignment would help you better understand that you can listen to their viewpoint, possibly get some good advice about that viewpoint, and learn to cope with other people’s ideas.

I think If Pratt were teaching this class, she would use this exercise because it hits almost everything to do with a contact zone. It allows students’ to experience working in a contact zone, and also using one of the principles of a contact zone. Also, it gives students the ability to ask questions, and present ideas, about what they have learned in the contact zone. As I said before, this assignment would  lead into another assignment later on, which is pointing out after hearing other people’s stories if parody was used or not. This gives each student the ability to get more practice on this particular principle of the contact zone. It also, would allow them to experience how the other students deal with them being in a contact zone.

Pratt said parody, along with some of the other principles “all live among us today in the trans nationalized metropolis of the United States and are becoming more widely visible, more pressing, and, like Guaman Poma’s text, more decipherable to those who once would have ignored them in defense of a stable, centered sense of knowledge and reality” (324-325). To my understanding this means that no matter where we go, or what we are doing, each and every principle to the contact zone is always among us. There is always some sort of difference in culture, or personality that we have to deal with, and it is only growing. Also, the second half of the quote means that back in the day, when we did not understand some of these principles, or the contact zone at all, we would just simply ignore them. However, in this day and age we are aware of what some of these principles are, and we can learn to work with other people, and view their points as well as ours. One thing that could happen is when there is a difference in culture, or a difference on a viewpoint, instead of arguing about it each person could listen to each other’s ideas and possibly find a way to combine both ideas, or at least understand where the other person is coming from.

In conclusion, Students would do an assignment using parody, which is a principle of the contact zone. This would allow the students to get to know what a contact zone is, and how it works in a more in depth state. The assignment would also let student’s experience working in a contact zone, and using one of the principles that makes up the contact zone. Also, students would gain benefits from doing this assignment for future events that could take place later on in their lives. It would allow students to learn how to work with or around some of the differences they may experience, and it would also allow  students to possibly overcome obstacles that they experience later on in life. This assignment would only prepare the students for the future or working in a contact zone.


Pratt, Mary. “Arts of the Contact Zone.” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. Ed. David Bartholomae, Anthony Pertrosky, and Stacey Waite. Boston:
Bedford/Martin’s, 2014. 317-330. Print.

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