Uncertain communication: managing intersubjectivity between children with intellectual disabilities and their caregivers
Laura Sterponi (University of California, Berkeley)
Alessandra Fasulo (University of Portsmouth)
Paper short abstract:
Through the lens of fine-grained analysis of interaction between children with intellectual disabilities and their family members, this paper offers a reflection on the psychological and epistemological underpinnings of human communication. We unearth the inherent precariousness and unpredictability of communication, and discuss its ethical dimension.
Paper long abstract:
Through the lens of fine-grained analysis of spontaneous verbal interaction between children with intellectual disabilities (specifically autism and Down syndrome) and their family members, this paper offers a reflection on the psychological and epistemological underpinnings of human communication. Much research on human communication has grounded itself on a model of information processing in which the minimization or eradication of uncertainty are desirable pursuits and attainable interactional goals. The effectiveness and success of communicative acts are warranted by a set of felicity conditions, notably verbal explicitness, a clear-cut context, and a transparency of intention. Within such framework, ellipsis, overlap and turn fragmentation are seen as communication defects that threaten mutual understanding. Drawing on Derrida's perspective on communication and ethnometodological insights on mutual understanding, we unearth the inherent precariousness and unpredictability of communication. No actual act of communication takes place in the security that it will work. This intrinsic risk of breakdown in intersubjectivity cannot, however, be conceived of as an anomaly, as a threat to successful communication. The uncertainty of the other is precisely what mobilizes communication (Derrida, 1998; Levinas 1991). The possibility of a lapse in mutual understanding is thus an essential component of communication as encounter with the other. As such, communication emerges as not solely grounded on epistemic bases but also on ethical premises. The study of communication with individuals with intellectual disabilities is particularly conducive to exploring the ethical dimension of encounters with the other, and of intersubjectivity as exceeding epistemological calculations.
Towards an anthropology of misunderstanding (EN)