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Constructions of Critical Incidents

In listening for critical incidents, we are attempting to hear where the private, localized knowledge of an individual or group might be reflective of or indicative of a more public issue of shared concern. Part of the test of a critical incident is its ability to elicit resonance with a listener, to evoke meaningful response, stir a relevant memory, or connect to another's prior knowledge, experience, or understanding in some way. Thus, when we are listening for critical incidents, we are listening for the places where someone else's story gets traction or raises tensions with our own.

Our listening and interpretation of what we are hearing are always constructions, always highly contextual, and always highly dependent on our own particular lives, histories, experiences, and knowledge. What resonates with one person or group may not resonate at all or in the same way with someone else. Further, our understandings are always provisional. It is not necessary, therefore, for teacher- or student-rhetors engaged in this kind of listening to be (or to become) experts or insiders in a given D/discourse. Listening for and listening to and interrogating critical incidents is not about gaining mastery or accruing status (Young). Rather, listener-rhetors assume "[a] respectful stance of wonder toward other people [that] is one of openness across, awaiting new insight about their needs, interests, perceptions, or values" (Young 56). Respectful listening is thus grounded in "attentive and interested questioning" where answers are always regarded with wonder as gifts and where listeners recognize that the other person may choose, for reasons of his/her own, to remain silent or offer only part of a story (Young 56).

As listening and understanding and seeing newly is the goal, neither teachers nor students necessarily need to be experts to spark conversations that invite others to attempt to recognize or construct critical incidents and interpret/understand them. However, as Higgins, Long, and Flower note in their work in community literacy with problem narratives, some background knowledge may be helpful, even necessary, serving not only to inform our own expertise but also to call it into question by juxtaposing it with the expertise of others (23). The more nodes we have to inform our tentative schemas, the more we can appreciate the nuances within a critical incident.

Because tapping into localized knowledge can reveal the ways institutional policies play out in people's lives and offer insight into problems that we hadn't previously recognized or understood or seen in the same way, we argue that conversations that attempt to elicit this situated knowledge are worth having. Further, as critical incidents may be tied to issues of social justice and related to the material world and to people's dignity, the more conversations, the better, and rhetoric and writing classes are one place where these might also have disciplinary value within universities.

Designing inquiry around public issues is a well-documented practice in the field of rhetoric and composition (e.g., Flower "Partners"; Flower, Long, and Higgins; Kells, Balester, and Villanueva; McComiskey and Ryan). In this chapter we encourage classroom rhetoric and writing teachers to mine the DALN for literacy narratives to support intercultural inquiry and to structure classroom practices that foster sustained engagement with the insights offered within and among contributors' narratives. In our thinking about this, we have considered a first-year composition class, a junior rhetoric and composition class, and an interdisciplinary capstone class in the humanities, all of which are supported by our own institution. In such classes, a teacher might provide background reading or design paper assignments where students make claims about what they are learning through the DALN literacy narratives. Toward the end of this chapter, we come back to this idea and offer a heuristic as well as possible assignments that interested teachers might consider. Primarily, though, we envision students spending time culling and remixing from what they hear in the literacy narratives, in this case within those of the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Contributors, to support one another's learning in the classroom and to circulate their own insights and the insights of familiar and unfamiliar others in various forms in the local community, in the university, or in other forums.

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