My Motivations

So, the first reason to start such a blog is because I am going to move back to the US. My husband and I accepted positions to be university professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We loved it there and are excited about the move. This is the time for me to use a blog to deal with all the comments people are going to make about this move. I am a scientist and I want to use my own area of science to reflect on the social behaviors that bring about the creation and maintenance of cliches. I’ll use myself and my experiences to illustrate my ideas.

The move brings to the fore the extent of ideology and motivated bias in international perception and relations.   I recently read the articles on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident in four French and two American newspapers, and I felt like my head was going to explode.  The explicit message in the French papers was to turn all the anger on the US justice system.  A clear lack of understanding and distain for the US system was expressed by all but a certain group of Parisian women.  Not only people's own psychology (their biases in finding and assessing information) but also the media (and their problem of using concepts that do not even translate between countries and languages), actually undermine international relations.

Then there are all those books about one country written by someone from another.  Books like "Almost French" and "French by Heart" and "Under the Tuscan Sun" and recently "Eat, Pray, Love" are written by people who do not yet speak the language at all or fluently, who do not have to actually work and live within the system, and who have actually no insight into the culture whatsoever.  If their stories were really about their own experience, that would be one thing (I find David Sedaris outside of my criticism; his are real stories without pretence of understanding the French).  But no.  Those books are very often caricatures of these countries that cement misunderstandings, either positive ones or negative ones.  And positive ones are just as problematic as negative ones.

And I should not only emphasize the novels.  From what I have seen, diversity courses and training in businesses and industry, and sometimes even the academic literature on culture, simplify and caricature groups, peoples, and cultures as well.

Can I shoot some holes in some of these cliches? I hope so.

Posted by Paula Niedenthal at 7:42 AM JUN 1, 2011beacuse