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What is Mary Louise Pratt's "Art of the Contact Zone" and Why is it Important?

Updated on October 6, 2016
Understanding Pratt's idea of "contact zone" can help bring about inside you a peace with everyone. You can become more accepting of people, once you learn more about their beliefs, instead of simply rejecting them.
Understanding Pratt's idea of "contact zone" can help bring about inside you a peace with everyone. You can become more accepting of people, once you learn more about their beliefs, instead of simply rejecting them.

What is a "Contact Zone"? The definition

“Contact zone”, a term coined by Mary Louise Pratt, is the gap in which transculturation takes place- where two different cultures meet and inform each other, in uneven ways. A contact zone allows for interaction between cultures, so cultural boundaries can be broken.

Who is Mary Louise Pratt?

Pratt works at a university, where the university developed a new course that focused on cultural histories, which attracted a diverse group of students- this established a contact zone. The students

“…hearing their culture discussed and objected in ways that horrified them; all the students saw their roots traced back to legacies of both glory and shame”


Pratt discusses transculturation in her piece titled, "Arts of the Contact Zone".

Why are "Contact Zones" important?:

When a contact zone is established, people are able to gain a new perspective because they are able to interact with people of a foreign culture. This demonstrates the clashes between what we think we know, as opposed to how much that is out there that we don’t know- what we’re led to believe. Our knowledge is misguided because we are missing essential parts of our heritage, and therefore other cultures too, so we don’t fully understand – we’re given a few bits and pieces.

Being able to recognize the actual stakes at hand, is when we’re in that “contact zone”, instead of only recognizing the accepted versions.


Perception and Reality:

The accepted version, since missing vital pieces, contains misconceptions, parts completely concealed and possibly some disbelief. Also, some parts may be disregarded altogether as a defense mechanism- protecting us from ourselves/ from ideas and history that may make us ashamed and humiliated, pretending like it doesn’t exist and in result, ignoring reality and knowledge, giving us a wrong sense of perception. (Perception of our own culture, others, how all the cultures interact, etc).Working together and cooperating to understand our own cultures will allow us to understand others, even if that means criticism from what’s at stake

Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress by Lawrence Harrison

Every religion/belief system/ culture has its ups and downs; if you’re always surrounded by the same people of the same culture, you become use to hearing all the good things about your culture. The universe is a huge network of systems and just as our sensations are filtered by our perception, the information we receive about our culture and others’ cultures is filtered by the media.

Americans learn a lot about other religions/societies mainly from the media, and are only ever shown the very low points and never the achievements. In fact, statista, The Statistic's Portal, findings indicate that TV is still the #1 source for news in America. The media is very selective and subjective in regards to the information it shares.


"Contact Zones" and Human Perception:

We can see a continuous scene because the human mind fills in the gap and is able to do this because of past experiences. A view depends on the eye of the beholder- everybody sees a different way because of their diverse points of views, backgrounds and culture. Each person’s perception is relative to their individual knowledge.

A large part of seeing depends on habit, assumption as well as others’ views. Keeping this in mind, understanding why people don’t have faith in the same belief systems is obvious. Humans have a hard time relating to someone from a different culture with a dissimilar belief system because the filters that sensations go through for each individual are so diverse.

Even when taking two individuals from the same society with the same religious beliefs, the two perspectives will never be the same. Religion can even act as a sensation filter.

In Conclusion:

Understanding more about contact zones can really alter our perception and sensation filters. It shines a new light on people with different backgrounds. If we bring attention to Mary Louise Pratt's "Arts of the Contact Zone", we can deepen human understanding and compassion and limit the amount or prejudice and hate that exists. We can limit our feeling of superiority- which acts as a great mental barrier to many things.


Submit a Comment
  • mariexotoni profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago

    So glad to hear!

  • Username Amanda profile image

    Username Amanda 

    7 years ago from Florida

    Working on an essay tonight with the theme of contact zones. Thanks for the useful essay! So hard to learn about something so intangible even if it is true, and important.

  • Lipnancy profile image

    Nancy Yager 

    7 years ago from Hamburg, New York

    Unfortunately, many of us do not even have the opportunity to experience contact zones.


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