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Conversation and culture in the Puerto Rican Cultural Center: An ethnographic exploration of communicating personhood

Trudy Anne Milburn, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study examined how communicative practices create a cultural "voice": who has it, how is it affirmed or disconfirmed and reified or not. Towards this end, notions of personhood as communicated within a "Cultural Center" were explored. Ethnography of communication (Carbaugh, Hymes, Philipsen) formed the basic theoretical and methodological foundation for this study. Data were collected at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Springfield, Massachusetts through participant-observation. This study is based on two cultural scenes, monthly board meetings and the 1994 Annual Dinner. The central questions addressed in this study were: how is personhood symbolized and lived at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center? What are the culture-specific meanings given to these symbols? What is the relationship between communication and personhood? The main analytic framework consisted of these terms: key symbols, person reference, norms, voice, communication event and cultural code. The principal findings from this study were that Puerto Ricans speak with the valued symbol, "community." The symbol "community" orients their world view such that talk makes sense within a symbol system that privileges voices of the community over individual voices. Communicative enactments of this perspective are many and varied. For example, person referring devices are used to locate persons in relation to others in the community by designating particular roles that people play. In addition, the way that some conversations are constructed highlight the cultural importance of community as when individual persons weave their personal threads of talk into a social fabric of collaboratively produced utterances. Persons are valorized by their participation in these cultural sequences of talk by using the significant symbols of "community" in the "proper" ways. This demonstrates how valorized members speak from the voice of the communal, rather than through an autonomous, individual voice.

Subject Area

Communication|Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Milburn, Trudy Anne, "Conversation and culture in the Puerto Rican Cultural Center: An ethnographic exploration of communicating personhood" (1998). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9841897.