Essay #3: Arts of the Contact Zone

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Essay #3: Arts of the Contact Zone

The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition,

which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.” --Dan Stevens

We’ve talked so far this semester about creativity in conjunction with education and technology and media. This unit turns to what Mary Louise Pratt conceptualizes as contact zones, which are “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power” (34). Cultures in the contact zone are infinitely complicated and cannot easily be defined as separate from one another. Through these complex interactions, people in the contact zone create arts that might otherwise not be possible. Arts of the contact zone, therefore, often involve varied results that require creativity from both the creator and the audience(s) who interpret them.

The conclusion of “Arts of the Contact Zone” calls for the pedagogical arts of the contact zone. Pratt’s goal, as an educator, is to conduct an analysis of a contact zone in relation to her work in the classroom. Your task is to extend the theory Pratt puts forth in “Arts of the Contact Zone” into a different type of contact zone, based upon your own interests. The purpose of this assignment is to use your analysis of a specific contact zone to construct an argument or theory about your contact zone; that is, explain how it works, forms, connects with other zones, disrupts power structures, etc.

Conduct an analysis of a specific contact zone through the arts produced there. You may choose any “art” included in the class archive. Through this analysis, formulate an argument regarding the nature of contact zones more generally. Consider how your analysis adds to, complicates, or diverges from Pratt’s claims—you should not simply “agree” or “disagree” with Pratt; rather, you should engage with her text and terms to create an original claim. Be sure to clearly define the importance of your theory as it pertains to Pratt’s writing as well as the larger cultural implications of understanding an additional facet of the arts of the contact zone.

Class Archive: We will construct a class archive on Google Drive for this project across all three of our sister classes. Everyone will contribute at least one “artifact,” that is, a primary text, that has emerged from a contact zone. “Text” is broadly defined: You might consider photography, paintings, drawings, graffiti, music, film, food, digital spaces (such as websites or blogs), or short literature (no novels, please, but poetry, short essays, short stories, etc., are excellent choices). You do not have to work with the artifact you upload to the archive; in fact, I encourage you to choose an artifact that a classmate brings in that you find interesting or intriguing. I will provide you with a link to the form.
Required Texts:

  • Pratt “Arts of the Contact Zone”

  • One primary text of your choice from the class archive

  • Two or more outside, secondary sources that inform your analysis of the primary text

Length: 7-8 full pages (rough draft must be at least 6 full pages)


  • Class archive submission: Wednesday, March 25 by 10 AM

  • Rough draft: Friday, April 3 by midnight

  • Final draft: Friday, April 10 by midnight

Questions to get you thinking:

  • What are some examples of hybrid or difficult texts you have produced or encountered? What made them difficult to create or interpret?

  • Which cultures “meet, clash, and grapple” in the creation of your artifact?

  • What is the relationship between creativity and the arts of the contact zone? Is this relationship different from more traditional arts?

  • Who is the audience of your art—is there more than one? Do different audiences get different things out of the text?

  • What is the purpose of the art? How is the audience’s purpose different from the creator’s purpose?

  • How does an autoethnographic text challenge the dominant culture in a contact zone?

  • Do we need to consider new vocabulary or genres to discuss arts of the contact zone? If so, include these in your argument.

  • What are the limits or boundaries of your chosen art or “medium”? Consider how McLuhan might inform your reading of a contact zone—or alternatively, consider how contact zones might complicate or contradict McLuhan’s “medium is the message.”

Directory: wp-content -> uploads -> sites
sites -> Penn State Harrisburg American Studies/Women Studies 104: Women and the American Experience Spring 2015 Instructor: Kathryn Holmes
sites -> Penn State Harrisburg am st/wmnst 104: Women and the American Experience Spring 2015 Instructor: Kathryn Holmes
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sites -> Technology & society in american history
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sites -> Fall 2015 Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Courses wgss 1104 Feminisms and the Arts Instructor: Terri Smith Mondays 2: 35 to 5: 15 pm
sites -> Lesson Name a political or Social Hero? – A structured Academic Controversy (sac) with Joshua L. Chamberlain Authors
sites -> Period 4: Stimulus-Based Multiple-Choice Questions 1-5 refer to the following quotation

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