What is the summary for "Arts of the Contact Zone" by Mary Louise Pratt?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In my opinion, it is best to begin a summary with what Pratt describes as the “contact zone,” which is simply where cultures meet each other (and often clash with each other). Further, Pratt explains about “safe houses,” such as places of education where trust emerges as people learn about cultures in an intellectual environment. These safe houses, these “schools,” are important according to Pratt because that is where we can suspend any oppression that exists between cultures in a community where respect is honored.

Pratt goes extensively into the idea of language and how important it is as part of this contact zone:

Languages were seen as living in ‘speech communities’, and these tended to be theorized as discrete, self-defined, coherent entities, held together by a homogeneous competence or grammar shared identically and equally among all the members.

One can see where languages collide, then, can be considered a very significant contact zone. Further, Pratt talks about how members of the human community, at some point, imagine the communion of all of the people in the world that they will never meet.

It is the sharing of the writings and language (produced by these imaginings) that is the instrument of communion in these times. This is especially true among young people involved in their education, says Pratt. This has to be done within the “game”’ of the contact zone, however, because “whatever students do other than what the teacher specifies is invisible or anomalous to the analysis.”

In conclusion, these educational “safe houses" are very important within Pratt’s idea of the “contact zone,” because it is only there (and only in certain instances in the safest of the safe houses) that a person can learn safely about the taboos and the contexts of other cultures.