Intercultural Communicator Addresses Questions of Social Interaction, Culture, and Meaning
What is the meaning of “meaning” in social interaction and how is it constructed through joint action? How are these meaning-making processes culturally and contextually embedded and variable? What are the roles of power in these processes? These are some of the questions that Benjamin Bailey, associate professor of communication, thinks about from the perspective of language and culture.
“My experiences with language and culture as an exchange student in high school set me on this path,” says Bailey who received tenure this spring. “At Brown University as an undergraduate, I pursued an independent major called ‘Intercultural Communication.’ After teaching ESL for a number of years, I pursued my PhD in linguistic anthropology at UCLA. I was fortunate to be mentored by leaders in the fields of linguistic anthropology and conversation analysis. The high standards and patience of my advisor there, more than anything else, prepared me to succeed in academia.” Bailey’s dissertation research explored the ways that children of immigrants from the Dominican Republic use language to negotiate US and Dominican notions of race and identity. His work relates details of everyday talk to larger-scale social questions such as power and race.
After a Social Science Research Council post-doctoral fellowship and a year teaching at SUNY Binghamton, Bailey arrived in Amherst in 2001. His work is a combination of teaching, research and administration. For three years he was Undergraduate Studies Director in the Communication department, responsible for administering a number of aspects of the undergraduate major. “Communication is one of the largest majors on campus—over 800,” Bailey notes. “Certainly, it is the largest major for the small number of faculty we have, about 20. Our professors take teaching seriously. Their broad perspectives and expertise—ranging from close analyses of face-to-face interaction to film theory to analysis of the effects of media violence and more—give students a lot to work with. If an academic field is exciting and relevant to students’ lives, then they will get a first-rate education. I think my work on intercultural communication reaches many undergraduates and gives them sophisticated ways of analyzing and understanding what can happen when people from different backgrounds interact. The same goes for my work on language and ethnic/racial identity. For example, as the United States becomes more Latino, I can help students think about race and the performance of identity in new ways.” Efforts such as this earned Bailey an SBS teaching award this year.
Communication at UMass Amherst is unusual in that it is an academic, not an applied, department. “Communication departments are often in stand-alone schools or in more applied broadcasting-oriented colleges. Being in an academic department in a College of Social and Behavioral Sciences fits me much better,” notes Bailey, whose PhD is in a traditional social science, anthropology.
Bailey’s book Language, Race and Negotiation of Identity: A Study of Dominican Americans. (LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2002) has been reviewed in Language in Society and the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, and he is author of numerous book chapters and journal articles. A substantial multi-year grant from the Center for the Advanced Study of Languages at the University of Maryland has allowed him to do research on summary translation among government foreign language professionals for, and a UMass Amherst faculty grant for teaching helped him incorporate audiovisual and computer technology into his fields methods class. “I’m very appreciative of the promotion of research that has coincided with Chancellor Lombardi’s hire and Dean Janet Rifkin’s leadership of Social and Behavioral Sciences,” he says. “Doing the kind of research that puts you in conversation with top people in the field makes this a really satisfying job.”
August 7, 2006