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  • Writer's pictureTobias Kroll

Howdy, Guten Tag!

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Welcome to my web presence. I am an Associate Professor in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. On this website, I pursue some scholarly thoughts that want developing but are not quite ready for formal publishing yet. I also discuss research relevant to the practice of speech-language pathology, and to patient-provider interaction across disciplines.

What's with that greeting?

I was born, raised, and educated in Germany. I moved to America - Lafayette, Louisiana, to be precise - to get my PhD in Applied Language and Speech Sciences with a focus on Communication Disorders (specifically in the area of literacy). Since 2012, I have called Lubbock, Texas my home.

And you're a linguist and an SLP and a ... what?

Yes. I earned my Master's in Linguistics at the University of Münster; the PhD was a quite natural extension to that. I also hold the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology, and Communication Sciences and Disorders is my main area of work.

Given my broad, classical education in Germany, and the focus on qualitative research during my PhD days, theorizing comes quite naturally to me. And while I am primarily an empirical researcher (both experimental and qualitative, these days), sound scholarship cannot happen without an attempt to understand the human condition as a whole, particularly as regards conditions of knowing, kinds of knowing, and patterns of practice. To paraphrase Daniel Dennett, all science is based on philosophy, even as we ignore this in our day-to-day work.

Okay. So what will I find here?

Basically, my ongoing musings about three distinct but related areas of inquiry that are important to my work. The first has to do with my core expertise, namely, reading development and its disorders. While I mostly subscribe to the tenets of the "Science of Reading", I do believe there is more to know and understand about reading than their current framework can accommodate. Hence, I devote myself to what I call the study of reading - a broader and more nuanced inquiry that makes use of insights from various fields including linguistics, anthropology, and cognitive science.

At the core of my approach is a version of what has been called the Active View of Reading: the idea that reading behaviors cannot be understood without taking into account the human person doing the reading. Individual readers bring varying amounts and kinds of knowledge and skills to the task, as well as purposes and motivations (or lack thereof), and how they tackle and understand text will vary accordingly - yes, even at the beginning stages of reading. The task of the educator and interventionist, then, is not only to give the learner a structure - although structure is important - but the cognitive flexibility, empowerment and freedom to probe and transcend that very same structure.

The second flows naturally out of my qualitative orientation, my theoretical bend, and my placement in an innovative, collaborative health sciences environment. My colleagues and I study and promote health and learning. In our professional areas - ranging from counseling to speech/language/hearing to occupational and physical therapy - this includes both behaviors and the underlying meanings and intentions that promote them. However, working on one behavior or one intention at a time, we often miss the larger picture - the connection between both, the chain of events that lead from intention to behavior, the sociocultural context that shapes that chain.

My goal here is to draw up a theoretical framework that helps clinicians integrate the entirety of their patients' interactions with the world into their work, empowering both parties in the process. It centers on my reformulation of Pirsig's (sic!) concept of quality, understood as an emergent property of interaction. I am particularly interested in how measurable, structural aspects of interaction coincide with perceived quality, and what the meanings and purposes interactants bring to the task have to do with them (notice a theme here?).

When attempting to conceptualize the patient as a whole person, and clinical work as a matter of interpersonal encounter, you inevitably hit on questions outside the clinical realm proper. For example, what role does the patient-provider encounter play in the formation of meaning and identity - which, in turn, help or hinder the adoption of targeted behaviors? How does culture - understood as patterns of interaction - shape this formation, and how do illness, disability, and the encounter themselves transcend culture and require new practices of meaning and selfhood? What, in fact, is the meaning of terms like meaning or self? In other words, you stumble on something like humanist philosophy.

That's my third area of inquiry. Note that I use the term humanism in a loose and somewhat idiosyncratic sense. For me, it is anthropology (i.e. inquiry) rather than ideology; existential and pragmatic rather than rationalist; definitely not secular; and intentionally inclusive of any existing conceptions of 'humanness', not only the Western one(s) usually associated with it.

In other words, my plan is to trample through various territories that are not my own in the hope of serious cross-fertilization. Specialists in any of those may object to this somewhat irreverent approach; my hope is that it yields something useful for practitioners in the health sciences.

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