Reading to Think Lesson R9: Applications for Thinking Critically


  • Lesson R4: Case Study—Alice Walker and the Art(s) of Expression
  • Lesson R5Case Study—Amy Tan and Communication Challenges
  • Lesson R6: Case Study—Mary Louise Pratt and Arts of the Contact Zone
  • Lesson R7Case Study—Iris M. Young and Five Faces of Oppression 
  • Lesson R8 Case Study—Michel Foucault on Panopticism 


  • Each of these case studies (listed above) offer a particular way to think critically.  They are philosophies about society and how we communicate (or miscommunicate) attitudes of belief, feelings, and thought.
    • Alice Walker asks us to think about how we define art and expression of ourselves.  Art, here, seems to be defined very broadly—both in terms of medium (poetry, gardens, drawings,…) and permanence.
    • Amy Tan asks us to think about how we define successful communication and the consequences of both failure to express, as well as failure to understand.  Is the responsibility for successful communication placed upon the sender (speaker, writer, etc.) or upon the receiver (listener, reader, etc.)? Or both? Or neither?
    • Mary Louise Pratt asks us to consider how culture affects our ability to understand those beyond our community.  Understanding requires skills at empathy, to step outside one’s self, one’s community, and (ultimately) one’s cultural boundaries.
    • Iris M. Young asks us to consider how modes of oppression affect empathy.  Ultimately, each face of oppression is a concept rooted in assumptions about what is “right” and what is “wrong”, about what is “acceptable” and what is “unacceptable” in both behavior and other forms of expressive acts.
    • Michel Foucault asks us to consider how we strive to control behavior—from criminal acts to the spreading of diseases.  Ultimately, panopticism is the act of controlling how expressions of behavior are received.


  • Consider how behavior is a form of expression: for example, how is the act of a kiss a form of expression, and what is it expressing?  Context is crucial to understanding the meaning and intentions of that kiss.  Is it the kiss of a lover or of a rapist, or someone else?
  • Consider how oppression is viewed and contained (panopticism): is it ever protected?
  • Consider how a cultural community might be oppressive, but also consider how these expressions (faces) of oppression are manipulated.  Are they ever manipulated for good?  (Can oppression ever be a good thing?)
  • Consider how language changes, constantly, particularly in a contact zone between two very different languages (such as Montreal or Miami), and how the cultures represented by these languages struggle for dominance (to oppress the other) over codes of behavior and other forms of expression.
  • Consider how forms of expression are used to subvert oppression.