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Rogers, A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy Practices: Power in and Out
Rogers, Rebecca. A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy Practices: Power in and Out of Print. Routledge, 2003. Print.
Quick sum: Gee’s forward offers some valuable insights into the purpose of Roger’s work, mainly, that the disciplinary discursive trend had been to treat division between types of language seriously: between oral and literate, oral that is literate and not, etc. However, such divisions and bifurcations of speakers like the Af Am children cited in his example led Gee to ask, “How could well-intentioned and intelligent people (like teachers) and well-intentioned institutions (like schools) come to define obvious gifts as deficits, clear sense of senselessness, manifest history and culture as non-existent, and clearly normal children as abnormal?” (x). New Literacy Studies began by “acknowledge[ing] that it takes research in linguistics, anthropology, social, political, and critical theory, and education–not as disparate and isolated disciplines, but integrated together–to tackle the sorts of practical-theoretical problems my colleague’s data brought so forcefully to my attention [regarding oral literate children as having narrative deficit]” (xi).
Rogers, according to Gee, merely mimics the central question/problem in this book: “how does the ‘sticky web of institutional discourse’ hold certain sorts of people, often people with the least power and opportunities in our society, ‘in place despite ample commitment, persistence, and cultural capital’ on their part” (xi).
Gee views discourse analysis as an astute approach to answering these problematic questions, a method he describes as, “the analysis of how people actually use and respond to language in context” (x-xi), which he then clarifies as being critical discourse analysis, or “the analysis of how people get helped or harmed by how people actually use and respond to language in context” (xi).
Indeed, we find in Roger’s study of June and Vicky Treader’s literacy practice and perceived abilities alarming contradiction, mislabeling, and anxiety about having and using literacy. Thus, Rogers find that, “the Treaders resisted the cultural narratives that framed them as ‘deficit’ or ‘low-literate.’ This fundamental tension between June’s and Vicky’s literate lives, what they do on a daily basis, and how institutions represent them as ‘at-risk’ ‘low-literate’ and ‘disabled’ is the central theme in this book. June and Vicky have learned to see themselves through the eyes of the institution. They have learned not to recognize and value the successes they encounter on a daily basis with language, literacy, and identity resources. One promise of this book, then, is an illustration of the ways in which people learn to see themselves through the eyes of an institution” (4). Such vision, however, may be worse on self-perceptions than better in the end. This is why she relies on Althusser’s reproduction theory, in which society and capital are reproduced through schools. In addition cultural reproduction theorists like Bourdieu and Foucault focus on class structures, which plays an integral role in literacy production within schools. Thus, Rogers argues that, “Central in understanding the distinction between the two sets of theories [reproduction and cultural reproduction] is how language, as a cultural tool, mediates the relationship between the individual and the social world. In this model, individual agency and power structures are dialectically produced, transformed, and reproduced” (6).
This is also why Gee’s conception of discourse is crucial for her study as well: “Gee’s conception of discourse (with a lower case d) more closely resembled the micro sociolinguistic aspect of language use. Thus discourse more closely resembles a literacy event rather than a literacy practice. (d)iscourse is the ‘language bits’ of Discourses. Gee (1990) defines discourse (little d) as ‘any stretch of language (spoken, written, signed) which ‘hangs together’ to make sense to some community of people who use that language…Making sense is always social and variable matter: what makes sense to one community of people may not make sense to another’…Gee (1992) reminds us of some major tenets of D/discourse systems that are shown in practice throughout this book. First, discourses are inherently ideological. That is, power is embedded in discourse. Second, discourses are resistant to internal criticism. Therefore, members of discourse form preconscious relations with Discourse and consequently are highly unlikely to critique the systems in which they are a part. Third, what counts as ‘discourse’ is defined by relationships with other discourses. In other words, it is impossible to understand the properties, relationships, and values of one community of practice by holding it up to another…Fourth, certain values and viewpoints are valued over others…Finally, Discourses are related to the distribution of social power. That is, membership within Discourse communities may result in the transformation of cultural capital into social profit or social good” (qtd 9).
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