January 22, 2008 Feature

Considering Conceptual Frameworks in Communication Sciences and Disorders

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Critical social theory is a conceptual framework that focuses on understanding the total existence of groups of people and on explaining cultural, economic, and political contexts. This framework would allow CSD professionals to acquire a global perspective with which to address communication development and disorders on a social—rather than individual—level.

Some of the earlier protagonists of this approach include (in birth order): Antonio Gramsci, Lev Vygotsky, and Mikhail Bakhtin. In this list of scholars, Vygotsky's work is probably the most familiar to CSD professionals, as his social cultural theory led to dynamic assessment. The following are some of the premises of critical social theory and their implications for CSD research, teaching, and service.

Historical and Collective Experiences

One premise of critical social theory is that the social goes beyond the immediate actors and context, and includes the historical and collective experiences that shape current relationships.

CSD professionals may view social interactions as taking place between a child and a peer, parent, or teacher, and the interactive context as occurring within a particular localized environment such as the classroom. Every person, however, has a history of past experiences or previous socialized practices that contribute to the way he or she interprets current interactions. Consequently, CSD research and clinical processes could benefit from a broader conceptualization of "social" in order to achieve a more holistic understanding of the sociohistorical processes that may affect the lives of children and families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Group Knowledge

Critical social theory holds that knowledge is not value-free; it is constructed by groups of people who might not be aware of the conditions that inform their shared interests. Critical thinking is important for revealing the underlying premises guiding behaviors and practices. Examining dialectical perspectives allows synthesis of competing or opposing ideas, practices, and world views. Praxis methodologies support groups of people working together to identify shared problems, engage in collective action to address those problems, and take a reflective stance to determine how to revise and improve the selected actions.

In following this theory, CSD professionals should continuously be aware of and question the underlying premises embedded in clinical practices. Even "best practices" come from the culture of our respective professions, and could include premises that may not be a good match for some cultural groups. An example of the mismatch between "best practice" and familial cultural practices, adapted from Kalyanpur and Harry (1994), is illustrated by IDEA (Individuals with Disability Education Act). Although considered a valuable law, IDEA includes such concepts as individualism, choice, and equity. The underlying assumption of individualism, for example, is that a meaningful goal for children with disabilities is ultimately to become independent and productive citizens. This principle of individualism may be in direct conflict with the ideals of some cultural groups that do not value independence from family or community.

Questioning underlying assumptions will foster dialectical thinking and will support CSD professionals in synthesizing practices dictated by our theoretical frameworks with the cultural practices of our clientele.

Social Institutions

According to critical social theory, social institutions affect the daily lives of groups of people. These social institutions make up the totality of existence and include economic (access to resources and services), political (unequal power relations), and cultural (media, school, family) institutions that cannot be understood in isolation.

CSD professionals tend to focus research and curriculum content on the cultural practices of clients in isolation from other structural institutions that affect them. Focusing on the totality of existence (access to resources and services, unequal relations of power, and daily practices) is a more complete way to understand the complexities of factors that affect communication of children and families from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

We can begin to examine how political processes, for example, affect the daily lives of our clients by determining families' relationship with local institutions (e.g., schools) and their ability to make decisions in their own self-interest. Generally, current tools do not lend themselves to assessing the impact of macrocontexts on client development and behavior. Hyter (2007) and others outline some questions that might be considered in developing such a measure, including examining the family's community engagement, self-perception, connections with local and global networks, belief systems, and demographic information.

Critical social theory considers truth as multidimensional. CSD professionals must participate in transdisciplinary research, assessment, and intervention practices as well as cross-disciplinary teaching activities because reality is too complex to be understood within a single discipline.

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Yvette D Hyter, is an associate professor in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology at Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo). She also serves as co-director of the Cultural Connections Curriculum Development Project. Contact her at yvette.hyter@wmich.edu.

cite as: Hyter, Y. D. (2008, January 22). Considering Conceptual Frameworks in Communication Sciences and Disorders. The ASHA Leader.


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