Viewing does not mean understanding. Viewing stores full of food does not give one an in-depth understanding of food insecurity. Here is a new perspective on the difference between viewing and understanding. An interesting journal article by K. Nairn critiques geography fieldtrips taken by students, and analyzes their experiences, in order to question the depth of their foreign-student experience while observing others. She explains some significant differences between viewing the experience of others and being the “other” in an experience.
Her article has made me wonder, what defines a truly in depth perspective of a situation or a people? I think that often times our media outlets give us a very targeted perspective that is lacking depth in some area or other, and that it is constantly influencing bias perceptions of the world. And in our own experiences, how often have we felt we understood a situation, and then thought back and realized their was another element we did not catch or see at the time. It feels like these targeted perspectives, followed by more in depth learning and reflective realizations happen continuously as I have tried to get a deeper understanding of social justice. This in itself provides evidence that social justice issues are never transparent.
Nairn provides examples of how the students she studied shaped their experiences; their “outsider” ability to make conclusions based on a withdrawn perspective, and their ability to distinguish differences and similarities between cultures using “face value” comparisons. They were expected to make these comparisons from outsider viewpoints using face value judgements because these were the most straightforward and effective ways for them to understand something foreign to them. However, they were not effective in creating mindful and in-depth understandings of the foreign cultures they were presented with. Many students claimed that their foreign experience changed preconceived notions they had, resulting in a greater understanding of the world around them (Nairn, 2011). However, this is not necessarily true as Nairn points out, since having a new perspective is a new awareness, not an explanation.
I think that her argument is very valid. Awareness of a situation is never convincing enough on its own, knowledge is what is key to speaking about a subject. Yet their is a current trend in our society, online especially, promoting awareness of certain causes or other subjects, as a way for people to demonstrate knowledge or belonging. It is hyped up to the point where having awareness or experience of “others” makes one eligible to speak from an authoritative perspective. Even businesses and governments do it, but this does not mean that their perspectives are valid. In a society we try our best to be understanding and relevant to everything current, however, this had made the ways that we create differences and use our prior knowledge to assume awareness quite deceiving and more difficult to pinpoint amidst the illusion or misrepresentation of good intentions.
An example of this that comes to mind and related to social justice is the GMO issue. Some people and organizations are completely pro GMO, some are completely against GMO. They each convincingly give a perspective of the impact GMO foods could have in changing global food security. However, one thing rarely discussed is the validity of BOTH arguments, and the fact that each are somewhat well-intentioned. How can the debate over GMOs be solved if we continue to speak of its affects on us (North Americans) and third world country dwellers as two separate issues which is often the case. We see GMOs as negative for us, and positive for others, or negative for our health and negative for their food sustainability.
Therefore, I find it ironic that as we become a more globalized world we still try to narrow our awareness of issues to be place specific. This allows us to easily create boundaries between us, and them, in order to make face-value comparisons and make other peoples’ experiences seem more foreign and less related. Yet, these comparisons are still legitimized because they demonstrate awareness on food security, or whatever the case may be, despite a lack of reflection demonstrating an understanding of how the issue may be different in different contexts yet still exist elsewhere and have important relevance. Such as how GMO foods provide business incentives for distant farmers, local grocery stores and organic food investors.
In conclusion, I believe that many of the boundaries that we create do not need to exist.