Social Linguistics and Literacies
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Social Linguistics and Literacies

Ideology in Discourses

James Gee

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eBook - ePub

Social Linguistics and Literacies

Ideology in Discourses

James Gee

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In its first edition, Social Linguistics and Literacies was a major contribution to the emerging interdisciplinary field of sociocultural approaches to language and literacy, and was one of the founding texts of the 'New Literacy Studies'.

This book serves as a classic introduction to the study of language, learning and literacy in their social, cultural and political contexts. It shows how contemporary sociocultural approaches to language and literacy emerged and:

  • Engages with topics such as orality and literacy, the history of literacy, the nature of discourse analysis and social theories of mind and meaning


  • Explores how language functions in a society


  • Surveys the notion of 'discourse' with specific reference to cross-cultural issues in communities and schools.


This fifth edition offers an overview of the sociocultural approaches to language and literacy that coalesced into the New Literacy Studies. It also introduces readers to a particular style of analyzing language-in-use-in-society and develops a distinctive specific perspective on language and literacy centered on the notion of "Discourses". It will be of interest to researchers, lecturers and students in education, linguistics, or any field that deals with language, especially in social or cultural terms.

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Informazioni

Editore
Routledge
Anno
2015
ISBN
9781317525189
Edizione
5
Argomento
Éducation
Chapter 1
Ideology
Abstract
Chapter 1 contains a brief discussion of the history of the word ‘ideology’. It argues that a demand for evidence over ideology has been one historical basis for equality and liberation. At the same time, the chapter argues that all humans deal with the world in terms of often taken-for-granted theories. We all have a moral obligation to examine these theories consciously and critically, and confront them with argument and evidence, when they have the potential to cause harm to others. The chapter ends with a fundamental principle that I argue serves as one important basis of ethical human discourse.
Ideology
When I wrote the first edition of this book the word ‘ideology’ was a hot term in the social sciences. There were great debates about what the word ought to mean. There were debates, as well, over how people’s values, desires and interests helped determine their beliefs. Though these debates – many of them centred on different interpretations of Marx – have become less fashionable, nonetheless, it is common today, especially in media and politics, to hear it said that someone’s claims are based on ‘ideology’ and not ‘facts’.
The word ‘ideology’ has an interesting history. The term was first used just after the French Revolution by Antoine Destutt de Tracy. In his Eléments d’idéologie (written between 1801 and 1815), de Tracy proposed a new science of ideas, an idea-ology. De Tracy denied that ‘innate ideas’ (whether from God or biology) or ‘established authority’ (whether religion or the state) were the true source of human knowledge. He argued that all the ideas in our heads come from evidence about the world we have gathered through our physical senses. What we think and how we act is due to our upbringing and environment (the experiences we have had).
De Tracy’s viewpoint ran counter to established ideas of church and state that people came in different (lower and higher) ‘grades’ by birth and were inherently fit from birth for different roles in life. On the one hand, for most people these were lower roles, roles beyond which they should not aspire. On the other hand, the view that people are what their environments – their homes, local communities, schools and nations – make them leads to the belief that, by giving everyone nurturing environments, every human being is capable of thinking and acting as a responsible and intelligent citizen. In turn, this argues that equality and democracy are both morally right and possible.
But, in France, Napoleon quickly came to see matters differently and the term ‘ideology’ came to be pejorative. As Napoleon’s government became an empire supported by established religion, he faced inevitable criticism from people who wanted a democratic republic, not a despotic emperor. Napoleon attacked the Enlightenment proponents of democracy. He charged that they ‘mislead the people by elevating them to a sovereignty which they were incapable of exercising’ (McLellan 1986: 5–9; Williams 1985: 153–7). Napoleon blamed these ‘ideologues’, as he called them, for his defeat in Russia and his ignominious retreat from Moscow:
It is to ideology, this cloudy metaphysics which, by subtly searching for first causes, wishes to establish on this basis the legislation of peoples, instead of obtaining its laws from knowledge of the human heart and from the lessons of history, that we must attribute all the misfortunes of our fair France.
(Cited in McLellan 1986: 6; Williams 1985: 154)
The Enlightenment philosophers wanted to found a just system of government on a study of how human beliefs, needs and desires are shaped by various physical and social environments (Toulmin 1992). Napoleon refers to this idea as ‘cloudy metaphysics’. For him, a system of government should be founded not on social theorising, but on ‘knowledge of the human heart and from the lessons of history’. We know perfectly well what Napoleon thought ‘knowledge of the human heart’ and ‘the lessons of history’ taught: the need for elite authorities to control the mass of people who were fit only for following orders.
Napoleon did not like the Enlightenment philosophers’ social theory because it conflicted with his pursuit of power. Rather than arguing against this theory by using evidence to argue for a rival theory of his own, he castigates it as ‘abstract’, ‘impractical’ and ‘fanatical’. In its place he substitutes not another theory, but ‘knowledge of the human heart’ and ‘the lessons of history’ (practical, not theoretical knowledge). It just so happened that Napoleon was in a position (he believed) to know the knowledge of the human heart and the lessons of history better than others. And they just so happened to support his policies. Napoleon privileges his experience (and that of people like him) over the claims to knowledge coming from opponents who deduce their conclusions from a ‘mere’ theory.
Marx and ‘false consciousness’
Let’s turn to the fortunes of the term ‘ideology’ after Napoleon. Karl Marx agreed with de Tracy that innate ideas, biology and established authority were not and should not be the foundation of knowledge and belief. Like de Tracy, he believed that our ideas and behaviour are products of our interactions with our physical and social environments. In fact, Marx gave a particular twist to this claim. He believed that our knowledge, beliefs and behaviour reflected and were shaped most importantly by the economic relationships (relations of production and consumption) that existed in our societies.
In a society where power, wealth and status are quite unequally distributed (as was his, as is ours today), Marx claimed that the social and political ideas of those groups with the most power, status and wealth ‘are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships’ (Williams 1985: 155–6; Marx and Engels 1970; Marx 1977). What this means is that what people in power believe is simply an expression or reflection of their desire, whether conscious or not, to retain and enhance their power.
Napoleon’s belief that ‘the people’ were incapable of exercising sovereignty is a good example of Marx’s point. Napoleon’s belief is ultimately founded in his position at the top of a particular social structure and his will to retain and enhance his power in that social structure. It is not to his benefit to believe in democracy. In a democracy, people may not have voted to have an empire with him as emperor. It is to his benefit to believe that decisions about who should rule and how they should rule ought to be settled by appeal to the lessons of the human heart and history as interpreted by himself and others like him.
It is the failure of the elite and powerful in a society to realise that their view of reality follows from and supports their positions of power that, in Marx’s view, creates ideology. ‘Ideology’, for him, is an ‘upside-down’ version of reality. Things are not really the way the elite and powerful believe them to be; rather their beliefs invert reality to make it appear the way they would like it to be.
I will argue that Marx is wrong that all beliefs from the top of society need be the result of ‘false consciousness’. Nonetheless, he is right to suspect that, in many cases, elites’ non-theoretical appeals to their experience (how they see the world) as the test of truth is merely an attempt to ensure they have more of the sorts of empowering experiences they are already having and the rest of us do not.
Marx is also right about the important role production and consumption play in how people see the world, though this relationship is not as deterministic as Marx saw it. Societies have often been set up to ensure that only elites and more privileged people produce ideas and knowledge (including the products that come out of business and industry), while the masses are supposed to primarily follow, work and consume. This is why, across history and even today, reading (a form of consumption) is far more prevalent than is writing (a form of production).
However, things are changing today. Digital media like the internet, social media and many new digital tools are allowing more and more people, young and old, to produce their own media, designs, games, books, ideas, knowledge and information, even without professional credentials. This is a trend that, not surprisingly, is opposed by many credentialled ‘experts’, professionals and elites.
Experience versus theory: an example
I want to recast debates about ideology in terms of the roles experiences and theories play when we humans make claims. I want to argue that we humans always have theories and never really make claims without them. Theories are not just for academics or scientists.
So, let me make some of the key issues in the previous discussion more concrete through a specific example. Consider the following sentence, uttered by a seven-year-old African-American child in the course of telling a story during ‘sharing-time’ (‘show and tell’) at school:
1 My puppy, he always be followin’ me.
Consider one possible reaction to this sentence:
This child does not know how to speak English correctly. She speaks ‘bad English’. This is probably because she attends a poor and neglected school and comes from an impoverished home with few or no books in it, a home which gives little support for and encouragement to education.
This belief claims this little girl is less ‘correct’ than others in the society and that her home is ‘less adequate’. The person who holds such a belief, will, in all likelihood, deny they have personally ‘studied the matter’. However, they will be reinforced in their belief by much of what they have read in the popular press, seen on television and been told by reputed ‘experts’. This all contributes to the ‘obviousness’ and ‘everyone knows that’ quality of the belief.
There are two things in this little girl’s sentence that contribute to the above belief. First, is its informal quality (e.g., the juxtaposition of the subject ‘my puppy’ to the front of the sentence, followed by the pronoun ‘he’; using ‘followin’’ instead of ‘following’). However, people with the above belief are likely to be more seriously disturbed by the ‘bare’ helping verb ‘be’, rather than ‘is’. Why can’t the child say ‘My puppy is always following me’?
The problem will get worse when we add the fact that children like this one can be heard to say such things as ‘My puppy followin’ me’ (with no bare ‘be’) on other occasions (Baugh 1983; Labov 1972a). The child will now be said to be inconsistent, simply varying between different forms because she does not really know the right one, doesn’t really know the language, despite the fact that it is her language.
Let’s now juxtapose to the above belief a theory from linguistics. We will start with the most striking feature, the bare ‘be’. To understand how this ‘bare be’ form is used and to grasp its significance, we must first explicate a part of the English aspect system (Comrie 1976). One of the things many people hate about theories is that they often use technical terms. And we will do just that. ‘Aspect’ is a technical term that stands for how a language signals the viewpoint it takes on the way in which an action is situated in time. Almost all languages in the world make a primary distinction between the perfective aspect and the imperfective aspect.
The imperfective aspect is used when the action is viewed as ongoing or repeated. English uses the progressive (the verb ‘to be’ plus the ending ‘-ing’ on the following verb) to mark the imperfective, as in ‘John is working/John was working’ or ‘Mary is jumping/Mary was jumping’. In the first of these cases, John’s working is viewed as ongoing, still in progress in the present (‘is’) or the past (‘was’); in the second, Mary’s jumping is viewed as having being repeated over and over again in the present (‘is’) or past (‘was’).
The perfective is used when an action is viewed as a discrete whole, treated as if it is a point in time (whether, in reality, the act took a significant amount of time or not). English uses the simple present or past for the perfective, as in ‘Smith dives for the ball!’ (Sportscast), in the present, or ‘Smith dived for the ball’, in the past. The imperfective of these sentences would be: ‘Smith is diving for the ball’ and ‘Smith was diving for the ball’.
We will refer to the English that many but by no means all African-American speakers speak as ‘African-American Vernacular English’, ‘AAVE’ for short (Labov 1972a; Smitherman 1977; some Black Nationalist linguists and some media reports use the term ‘Ebonics’ for AAVE, see Baugh 2000). We will refer to the English that elites in the society are perceived as speaking and that many others accept and do their best to emulate as ‘Standard English’ (there are actually different varieties of Standard English, see Finegan 1980; Milroy and Milroy 1985; Milroy 1987a).
AAVE and Standard English do not differ in the perfective, though an older form of AAVE used to distinguish between a simple perfective (‘John drank the milk’) that marked an action as simply a point in time and a completive that stressed the end point of the action, marking it as complete and done with (‘John done drank the milk up’). Like all languages, AAVE has changed and is changing through time.
AAVE and Standard English do differ in the imperfective. Some African-American speakers make a distinction between ongoing or repeated (thus, imperfective) events which are of limited duration and ongoing or repeated events which are of extended duration. For limited duration events they use the absent copula as in ‘My puppy following me’, and for extended events they use the ‘bare be’ as in my ‘My puppy be following me’. Thus, the following sorts of contrast are regular in the variety of English spoken by many young African-American speakers in the United States (Bailey and Maynor 1987):
Limited Duration Events:
2a In health class, we talking about the eye.
[Standard English: In health class, we are talking about the eye]
2b He trying to scare us.
[Standard English: He is trying to scare us]
Extended Duration Events:
3a He always be fighting.
[Standard English: He is always fighting]
3b Sometimes them big boys be throwing the ball, and …
[Standard English: Sometimes those big boys are throwing the ball, and …]
In 2a, the talk about the eye in health class will go on only for a short while compared to the duration of the whole class. Thus, the speaker uses the ‘absent be’ form (‘we talking’). In 2b, ‘he’ is trying to scare us now, but this does not always happen or happen repeatedly and often, so once again the speaker uses the ‘absent be’ (‘he trying’). But, in 3a, the fighting is always taking place, is something that ‘he’ characteristically does, thus the speaker uses the ‘bare be’ form (‘he be fighting’). And in 3b, the speaker is talking about a situation that has happened often and will in all likelihood continue to happen. Thus, she uses the ‘bare be’ (‘big boys be throwing’). Standard English makes no such contrast, having to rely on the context of the utterance, or the addition of extra words, to make the meaning apparent.
This contrast in AAVE is one that is made in many other languages. It is one linguists expect to find in languages, though it is not always found, as in Standard English (Comrie 1976). That Standard English fails to overtly draw this contrast is somewhat odd, but, then, all languages fail to make some contrasts that others make.
But, one might ask, why has the non-standard dialect introduced this distinction and not also the standard dialect? One price speakers pay for standard dialects is that they change more slowly, since the fact that a standard dialect is used in writing and public media puts something of a brake on change (Gee and Hayes 2011). However, since non-standard dialects are freer to change on the basis of the human child’s linguistic and cognitive systems, non-standard dialects are, in a sense, often ‘more logical’ or ‘more elegant’ from a linguistic point of view. That is, they are ‘more logical’ or ‘more elegant’ from the viewpoint of what is typical across languages or from the viewpoint of what seems to be the basic design of the human linguistic system.
Non-standard dialects and standard ones often serve different purposes. The former signal identification with a local, often non-mainstream community and the latter identification with a wider, pluralistic and technological society and its views of who are elite and worth emulating (Chambers 1995; Milroy 1987a, b; Milroy and Milroy 1985). In fact, a change in a non-standard dialect, since it makes the non-standard dialect different from the standard, may enhance its ability to signal identification with a local community as against the wider mainstream society.
But both standard and non-standard dialects are marvels of human mastery. Neither is better or worse. Furthermore, it is an accident of history as to which dialect gets to be taken to be th...

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