Book wins award for talking about spaces between ‘Us,’ ‘Them’

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Marcelo Diversi was born in Brazil, but has lived in the U.S. for almost three decades. He’s familiar with feeling like he exists in between two very different cultures.

Formal portrait photo of Diversi
Marcelo Diversi

“To people here in the U.S., it’s assumed I like soccer and dancing,” said Diversi, a professor in the Department of Human Development on the Washington State University Vancouver campus. “If I don’t, then I’m out of the norm. But in Brazil, I’m someone who left and is more American than Brazilian now.”

Using those personal experiences, Diversi and his friend and colleague, Claudio Moreira, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, wrote the book “Betweener Autoethnographies (Qualitative Inquiry and Social Justice)” to talk about their experiences and how they relate to the broader experiences of anyone living in between identities, cultures, and the everyday spaces between “us and them.”

The book recently won the 2019 Ethnography Division Best Book Award from the National Communication Association. They’ll receive the award at the NCA National Conference in November.

“We couldn’t have been more surprised to win, but it’s a great honor,” Diversi said. “Writing a book takes so much time and effort, and you’re never sure if it will ever have an impact. Are people reading? Does anyone else care? This award is a sign that people out there are finding the book meaningful.”

The book, which is aimed at graduate students and other scholars, is in the relatively new field of autoethnography, which embraces how a researcher or author experiences the world. It eliminates the role of the objective observer.

“It’s not writing just about myself, or ourselves, but about how personal experiences connect with the political realms, about connecting the biographical with the historical and vice-versa,” Diversi said.

Many people fear ‘the other’ and may be looking to pull back and stay only in groups just like them, he said.

“We want people to see the common humanity in the spaces and experiences between ‘us’ and ‘them’,” Diversi said. “For instance, a straight Anglo-Saxon Protestant male in the U.S. may have a lot of unearned privileges, but he is likely to be treated as ‘the other’ if he is from a lower income bracket or from a rural area.  We work to show that everyone shares the experience of being ‘the other’ at some point in their lives, and that we all share this common human experience.”

This is the second time Diversi and Moreira have won this award, something Diversi said he’s never heard of in the ethnography field. Their first book, called “Betweener Talk,” was released in 2009.

“It’s rare, and surprising, to win the same award twice,” Diversi said. “Hopefully it speaks to the meaning of the work we’re doing.”