You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. --The Talmud
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So where was I before it started snowing last week?  Oh, right!

Elfreda Chatman's Small World theories of (dysfunctional) information seeking behaviors.  The Small World is one in which people are functionally isolated in some way.  Her primary subjects of study were minority groups, prisoners, retired women, workers such as janitors, and the like.  Within the small world, perspectives, norms, and mores are developed and defined within a narrow context of relevance, creating groupings of 'insiders' and 'outsiders'.  

As a result of the insider/outsider dichotomy, insiders develop either an enforced (in the case of prisoners) or situationally insulated world.  This insulated, or small, world very often is characterized by a mistrust of information that insiders don't have and often perceive outsiders as having.  Outsiders are not trusted or seen as understanding the insider group, however, and so even though they may have needed information, the association with the untrusted outsiders means the information itself is likewise not trusted.

This leads to an environment of information poverty.  Looking at this election cycle, it's clear there is (among other things), a disparity of perceived experience creating a group of "insiders," (who may actually perceive themselves as the outsiders). Then we have the outsider group, perceived as 'liberal/urban/elites'. Who is "in a bubble" and what is "the real world" is a matter of opinion...

Within the small world, there are four characteristics that tend to indicate and reinforce information poverty - these are deception, risk-taking, secrecy, and situational relevance.  Most of these are aimed at retaining a sense of control over one's own lived experience and sense of autonomy, protection from unwanted intrusion into personal life,  controlling how others might perceive oneself,  and so on. 

The thing that really jumps out at me is, as Chatman says "These behaviors are meant to hide our true crisis in an effort to appear normal and to exhibit acceptable coping behaviors."  What we are seeing now, as a result of this election, has been the normalization of extremely unacceptable coping behaviors within the small world insider population.  Their information poverty crisis has reached a breaking point where they have fallen prey to a swindler who doesn't even need a coherent message for the insider.  Which isn't entirely true. The only coherent messages that came through were of white supremacy & misogyny. The Republican campaign used (and are continuing to use) deception, risk-taking, secrecy, and situational relevance as methods of gaining the insider group's trust and exploiting their significant information poverty and continue to do so. Deception, risk-taking, secrecy, and situational relevance not only spring up incidentally causing and reinforcing information poverty, but can be and are now 'weaponized'.

So knowing this, and that there is much more in-depth, fruitful discussion and learning to be had from Elfreda Chatman's theories, what potential way forward can we draw from her? We must find ways of increasing trust.

...for people to benefit from information received from outsiders, there needs to be trust associated with this process. What appears to be conditional influences of information poverty is poor people’s desperation to shield the real state of need they are experiencing. I suspect that this is due to their perception that it is too costly to themselves to share and because networks of trust between themselves and others have not provided trustworthy opportunities.

Which means the hard work of having conversations across lines, presenting, as she also notes, as "a person who is honest, careful about claims, and disinclined to deceive," and to try to come to an understanding about what within the small world will be perceived as genuinely newsworthy - i.e., addressing their state of need within the context of having developed a trustworthy relationship.

Some days I despair that this is not an achievable goal, but change starts small and if we can build relationships in good faith, with those who can be reached, perhaps there is some hope.  

For your more in-depth consideration and a starting place with these theories, more from Elfreda Chatman: 

With hope that we can improve the situation, and curiosity,


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