As I continue finding old research notes I should really just get out there, I found this one - the best writeup I have (from 2016 or so) on “role fluidity as a theory of cultural change.” This is something I’m still working on, but… first stabs at articulating. I do believe these are true, they’re just - incredibly half-baked, and… I… don’t know how to develop them on my own right now…

  • Role fluidity is how curricular/culture change is enacted.
    • Culture is embodied and enacted by people in a community; to change the culture, or “the way things work around here,” is to change the behavior of the people in that community (along with the environmental factors that enable and/or support that behavior).
    • People cannot comfortably embody a role while carrying out behaviors that do not fit within their conception of that role; behaviors must be legitimized as part of roles in order for them to exist in the culture within which that role is portrayed.
    • Not only must behaviors be legitimized, they must be legible – first they must be understandable, then they must be valued as good, and the cost-benefit ratio of doing them or changing the situation to make them possible must be congruent with values within the (sub)culture or (sub)space where the work is occurring.
  • Role fluidity is something everyone can do at all times and works from the bottom up.
    • Role negotiation/renegotiation is valid and valuable work that must be done by the people inhabiting those roles. (Writerly vs readerly / Barthes)
    • Role negotiation is collaborative and co-evolutionary; not only does it allow others to change their own roles, it encompasses the willingness to change one’s role in order to allow a related role to shift in certain ways.
    • All roles can be negotiated at all times, but may be temporarily stabilized in order to achieve some other purpose. (Situated paradigm)
  • People working top-down facilitate rather than dictate role fluidity from the bottom-up.
    • Role fluidity cannot be dictated top-down, but can be shaped by environmental factors. (It’s likely that some psychology literature on path of least resistance ties in here.)
    • Authority and power should be used to recognize, validate, and resource role fluidity and thereby encourage it. (For this bit, I want to borrow from Tierney’s writings on critical postmodernism and using a power structure to subvert itself, which is an interesting thing to put up against Lorde’s notion on whether the master’s tools can dismantle the master’s house.)
    • When multiple instances of role fluidity are using a common set of resources, it is of value to have oversight and mediation of that commons so as to not create the tragedy of the commons. (Is this the tragedy of the commons? Maybe check out Ostrom and so forth.)
  • Curricular culture change happens when role fluidity is collaborative, visible, and persistent.

Other notes around this topic, which may or may not make sense to other people:

  • Tess Edmonds and I talked forest ecosystems as an analogy to this.
  • I also find partner dancing (non-choreographed) as a really useful analogy, personally.
  • Ian Smith made an analogy here about gatekeepers and travelers; we assume the gatekeeper is more competent at screening than the travelers would be at self-screening, but this is not necessarily true!
  • The difference between legibility (can be understood) vs legitimation (is correct/valid/valued)
  • The difference between “I am a student, students don’t do that, therefore I can’t do that” and “I am a student; I am going to do that, therefore it will be a thing that students do because I am a student.”
  • This relates to some other stuff Tess and I were working on with respect to some theories around what we called “discernment” – namely, commons mediators “make thinking visible” between groups.)
  • Similarly, this relates to some things Tess and I talked about around the notion of divergent ways of enacting a particular role being allowed in a particular culture (in other words, ex: “there are many ways to be a woman in tech.”) Namely, role fluidity includes language fluidity for communicating these ways of being, and is the embodiment of that linguistic fluidity – moving from “what is a student?” to “I am a student; what can I be?”)

So many notes. So much thinking. So much I want to turn into richness to play with, instead of overwhelm to drown in. Getting these out is a step towards that, for me.