Experience of living and working in Zambia led the author to reflect on the differences in understanding and communication. This wide-ranging account looks at concepts such as "time" as expressed in Swahili and English, and how a "magic" world view affects the concept of causal relations. Concerned particularly with pictures as "the link between written and oral lifestyles", the author goes on to analyse his Zambian friends' perspective. Though he draws on studies of visual literacy, such as George McBean's, and lists the visual "cues" (eg perspective, superimposition) which people lack, his starting point is less ethnocentric. When a woman states that there is more Fanta in a high glass than a short glass (though it has been shown to be the same quantity), he questions "why should we consider it 'less logical' to attribute 'moreness' to something visually dominant like width or height than to attribute 'sameness' to something invisible like weight?" In oral societies people appear to be more used to verbalising "what they do not what they see" and they expect pictures to "contain what they know about objects, not just what they see". "Memory pictures" which, for example, show all four wheels of a car through twisting the picture in space, are one way of meeting peoples' visual expectations. There are many observations in this book besides those on visual literacy (eg on "greetings" in different cultures and ways of learning) which would interest PRA practitioners.
This readable and practical investigation into differences in communication and perception between North and South will be of interest to PRA trainers and fieldworkers, as well as researchers.
Dag Hammarskjold Foundation