Gee’s Discourse

Hello all.  I hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. I certainly did (I actually just returned late last night from visiting fellow SUNY Buffalo alum who have since moved to Falls Church, VA… so I apologize for my late post).

So, to begin…

James Paul Gee’s introduction to Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics and his article, What is Literacy?, approach literacy studies from psychological and sociological  viewpoints. He states that the focus of literacy is social practices (ie. “it’s not just how you say it, but what you are and do when you say it).

Early in the writing, Gee defines Discourse as a combination of acts: saying, writing, doing, being, valuing, etc. He views Discourse as a social construct not dissimilar from Culture. In fact, in order to master a Discourse, one must go through an intensive process of enculturation or apprenticeship where there is a focus on social practices and supported interaction with people who have already mastered a Discourse.

The first Discourse we learn, which is usually focused on the home and our families, is our Primary Discourse. Gee states that the Primary Discourse is “attained through being a part of something.” It is a foundation and they vary from person to person (they also foundations for racism and classism). Secondary Discourses are learned through social institutions (ie. school, church, work, etc.).  There are two types of Secondary Discourses: Dominant Discourses allow for the acquisition of social goods and status points, Non-Dominant Discourses do not. However, Non-Dominant Discourses do allow for an individual to become ‘solid’ with a given social network, there is just no increase in social status.

As always, conflict arises. Different Discourses have different demands and often vie for the attention of the individual with no regard to whatever other Discourses he or she might be a member of. In the reading, Gee uses good example of this, but I think I have a better one. In Arnold Schwarzenegger’s magnum opus , True Lies, his character’s Non-Dominant Discourse, which he shares with his wife, Jamie Lee Curtis, and his daughter, Eliza Dushku (spelling?), comes into conflict with his Dominant Discourse, in which he is a top spy/mercenary/fighter pilot working for the U.S. government. As Arny’s job for the government demands more of him–he must pass through countless gates which test his solidarity–Jamie Lee Curtis begins to question whether or not he is staying loyal to their seemingly solid Discourse. Hilarity ensues.

Gee continues by defining Literacy within the parameters of Discourse. Literacy becomes the mastery of a given Secondary Discourse. So, as hard as it may be to believe, Arnold Schwarzenegger is literate in the Secondary Discourse of his job as a spy.

As the article continues, Gee discusses the idea Liberation through Literacy and comes to question superficial features of language that lend nothing to meaning. He states that classrooms must become active apprenticeships for full fluency occur. Once full fluency occurs and individuals become truly Literate, they will be able to Liberate themselves by discussing, comparing and questioning different Discourses instead of being mindless followers of certain Secondary Discourses.

To me, Gee’s articles seems a bit conservative in that it views Primary Discourses as limited. I often find my Primary Discourse to be very liberating, but in the article he declares that this is an impossibility. Also, I find his view of Dominant and Non-Dominant Discourses to be troublesome because it assumes that Non-Dominant Discourses offer no status. It seems as though solidarity within a given network would yield some sort of result even if it doesn’t raise your status points. He states early on in the reading that Discourse is not static.  Isn’t there the possibility of a Non-Dominant Discourse becoming a Dominant Discourse?

I’d like to see what everyone thinks, hopefully I didn’t post this too late.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Gee’s Discourse

  1. traverse02

    By the way, I forgot to say that it was me, Raph, who posted this information. Godspeed.

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