A Jane’s Walk in in the nature of a conversation. What is the nature of a conversation?

A Jane’s Walk can be presented as being in the nature of a conversation.

A conversation differs from a lecture, as it more explicitly involves a two-way exchange of messages.

A lecture does have elements of a conversation, in the event there is a Q & A session at the end of it. There’s also an underlying conversation in the sense that audience members are communicating their interest in a topic by turning up for a lecture. As well, eye contact and other forms of body language linking speaker and audience during a lecture are elements of an underlying or unspoken conversation.

Secretly recorded conversations

In an earlier blog post, I’ve also written about the analysis of secretly recorded conversations of German and Italian POWs during the Second World War. In the latter study, Sönke Neitzel, a historian, and Harald Welzer, a social psychologist, speak about conversation as a particular means of communication.

They note for example (Soldaten, 2011, pp. 109-110), that:

“Researchers in the fields of narrative and memory research have determined that stories necessarily change as they are retold. Details are constantly invented, characters substituted, and settings exchanged according to the needs and wants of the storyteller. Retellers of previously heard stories rarely make these changes consciously. Modifications and embellishments simply seem to be an integral part of the storytelling process, with the content being made to fit the teller’s perspective and current situation. For that reason, stories shape and don’t just reflect events. Stories also reveal what concerns are most important to both tellers and their audience, as well as what knowledge both groups possess and what historical facts and myths are familiar to them.”

As well (p. 4), the authors note that in everyday conversation, stories tend to jump around topic to topic: “They are full of the ruptures and sidebar narratives, and they aim to establish consensus and agreement. People do not converse solely in order to exchange information but to create a relationship with one another, establishing commonalities and assuring themselves that they are experiencing one and the same world.”

Contradictions crop up frequently in conversations

The authors of Soldaten (2011) add that conversations may or may not make sense, given that sense making  is not the only or primary purpose:

“Contradictions crop up all the time in human conversations without disconcerting the participants to any great degree. Transmitting information isn’t the only reason people converse. Communication has two discrete functions: passing on information and establishing social relations between participants. To speak in the language of classical communications theory, narratives are as much about relationships as they are about content.

“The situation in which stories are told is thus often more important than whether what is narrated makes either historical or logical sense. Listeners often forgo questions and requests for explanations because they don’t want to disrupt the narrative flow or interrupt the speaker. When captivated by a narrative, they often do not even register whether details can possibly be true or not.”

History as conversation

It can be argued that history is a conversation that is told and retold, and that demonstrates the standard features of conversations. What is of particular salience is the value of the evidence on which a given historical narrative is based, and the frames of reference according to which the evidence is interpreted.

There is tremendous value in conversation including about land use, built form, and local history. My preference is to approach a Jane’s Walk as a conversation rather than a lecture. It’s a concept I came across when planning for local Jane’s Walks in Spring 2012.


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