Discursive Positionings in Narratives? Part #2

In my post yesterday, I wrote about the confusion I had regarding the concept of 'narratives'.  I'm glad I got confused because it motivated me to read more on the subject.

I returned to Laboskey and Lyons (2002) and read through the first five chapters, again.  I first read this book earlier this year and I must say, I missed a lot of details then!  While reading, I reflected back on what I wrote previously.  This process helped me realize that what I have been concerned with (yesterday) is the 'form' of which a narrative should be in.  This is a concern to me because there are many who still perceive narratives in the form of a story, where you have sections which set the context of the story, sections which introduce the development of the plot, sections which introduce the characters, etc.  We are so accustomed to looking at 'narratives' in the story-type genre, which typically appear in one smooth, uninterrupted, cohesive form (unlike a conversation which is punctuated by different speakers' contributions).  Not to say that the SUC (smooth-uninterrupted-cohesive) form does not work, but this form may not be necessary in applied linguistics, or teacher education.  The SUC form may have become a 'norm' since narrative studies in literature has been around for so long, which in turn created a metanarrative for narratives (see my post on this on June 6).

However, for narrative-type researches in teacher education, what is of concern is not the form of which a narrative appears in.  What is important is that a narrative contains a constructive meaning-making process.  Hence, it could assume any forms, as long as the content reflects a teacher's understanding of what he or she does in a classroom.  Furthermore, in narrating, or storying an experience, archetypal elements found in a literary-type narrative may appear.

Since a narrative in teacher education is concerned in what is contained in the narrative process, Laboskey and Lyons (2002) suggest the following elements:  intentionality, relevance to the context (narratives are made together with other stakeholders of the same field), engagement (active interrogating of personal teaching pedagogy), implicating identity (narrators are 'forced' to question their identity throughout the meaning-making process), and constructing/reaffirming (new) knowledge about teaching

Finally, I like the new acronym I made today.  SUC.

Discursive Positionings in Narratives? Part #1

One crucial aspect that I need to address in my PhD study is justifying why my data is called 'narrative'.  My PhD study aims to analyze native-type English speaking teachers' discursive positioning of Self and Others as teachers of culture.  I plan to engage these participants in a conversation about their view of themselves as teachers of culture in their language teaching profession.  But would these conversations I have with these teachers be considered 'narratives'?  

The scholars who formally introduced positioning theory in the world of discourse analysis were L. van Langenhove and R. Harre (1999).  They suggested that positions can be extracted from any types of discourse events, may it be a conversation, a monologue, an autobiographical text, or even emails.  Now, here comes the problem.  The terms that these scholars have used (you must have noticed by now that I am not using their surnames, forgive me but their names are just so foreign and hard to type), are hierarchical in the way they are presented.  They begin with an overall term, "discourse event", before illustrating what a discoure event is by providing examples, such as conversations, autobiographies, etc.     When explaining the positions in each of these examples, these scholars then introduce the term 'narrative'.  For example, in a conversation provided on page 19, it is referred to as a 'narrative' and contains 'narrative elements'.  This is a quandary, for me at least.  Would a conversation be considered a narrative if it possesses narrative-like elements?  For example, would a girl be considered a 'boy' if she sports a crew-cut hairstyle?  

The reason for my concern is I do not want to contribute to the already burgeoning list of misnomers present in the field of applied linguistics (I will soon have a post on this where I discuss the differences between identity, role, position, and personhood).  I am unsure as to whether or not I can directly say that a 'conversation' equals a 'narrative' since no direct statement was made between the two in van Langenhove and Harre's (1999) book on positioning theory.

Of course, I should not rely solely on van Langenhove and Harre's (1999) book.  I went on to look at books written on teacher narratives.  In examining two books on narrative studies (Webster and Mertova, 2007; Laboskey & Lyons, 2002), they were not clear with what narratives really are, though Laboskey and Lyons (2002) mention that it could be in the form of conversations.  

Equating a conversation as being a narrative could be misleading.  In a very recent book on teachers' narratives (Harbon & Maloney, 2013), narratives are in the form of self-reflection or observation which are then presented in the form of story-telling.  This is different from studies published in journals of applied linguistics and behavioural sciences.  I did a small preliminary review of the methodological sections of positioning studies which gathered data from 'narratives', and found that the type of narratives were conversation-like (Duff, 2002; Raddon, 2002; Frosh, et al., 2003), with the interviewer/researcher interjecting throughout the conversation at times when the interviewee/participant appeared to be digressing.  

Okay, I get that we can extract positions from narratives by looking at linguistic features.  But would the semi-structured interview I conduct with my participants be considered a 'narrative'?  Perhaps one way of addressing this issue is to go with the broad meaning of a narrative.  One common thread that binds the different studies that I have mentioned in this post is narrative is basically story-telling.  Perhaps this is the reason why explanations and examples of narratives have been varied.  Could it be that a discourse which contains elements of story-telling can be considered a narrative, even though its form may suggest otherwise?  

I have the urge to write more, but I am more confused now compared to when I started this post.  

Positioning Theory #1 Revisited #1

I began my discussion on Positioning Theory on June 3 by mentioning the liberation of different facets of society.  What does this liberation mean?  What does it entail?  How and why does it happen?

I am revisiting this matter because of the encouragement of a close friend.  Perhaps a second reason for this revisitation is because of my morning musings watching Anderson Cooper deliver breaking news.

In his whole career, Mr. Cooper, bless his soul, has given the world ample coverage of international conflicts.  In the past weeks, the focus has been on Syria and Turkey.  Thankfully, CNN is not only interested in violent conflicts.  This morning, the international community's attention was diverted to yet another social issue, that is, a controversial gay healing center and its subsequent closure.  At a quick glance, these conflicts may be incomparable.  However, upon closer scrutiny, one unifying link that one may find is not necessarily within the cause of the conflict, but from the result of these conflicts.  Due to perceived oppression by those involved in these issues, there have been voicing out of opinions, to make certain groups of people be heard.  This means of communicating, whether it be by disgruntled citizens or human rights groups, is the core of the postmodern era view of communication, in that there is a right for one to speak his or her mind.  To many, this postmodern mode of communicating indicates a democratic philosophy, to others, this indicates a necessary means for a harmonious relationship.

To help us understand better, we can localize the definition of postmodern communication within the linguistic framework.  We can narrow this further by looking at it from a sociolinguistic perspective, since both language and society are at stake.  An example which provides a detailed elaboration of postmodern communication is Piller's (2002) ethnographic case studies of English-German spouses/partners.  One finding from her study is the high value placed on communication between spouses or partners.  Gone are the days when spouses or partners are automatically 'given' their domestic roles.  Instead of assuming traditional roles of the conservative society, participants in Piller's (ibid.) study were found to have negotiated their familial roles with their fellow spouse or partner.  To illustrate, instead of husbands taking up the long-held role as breadwinners, wives or female partners had equal chance to contribute financially as well.

From this study, postmodern communication can be seen as a catalyst in the disintegration of 'given' social roles.  This process would not be carried out without the use of language.  Hence, in a postmodern society, the power of communication, or language has been elevated.   It is the use of language that the postmodern community believes would bring change, as is what is happening among the Syrians or Turkish protestors, or the human rights activists condemning the recently-closed gay healing center.

Hence, the liberation of society involves the possible reshaping of structure in a society.  A new emerging form may not be permanent, though.  For instance, if the voices of the Syrian or Turkish protestors are genuinely heard, and a reform ensues, they would probably cease their riots.  In this turn of event, the protestors will lose their initial role as protestors and become supporters.  The liberation of a society from a fixed or deterministic role then entails a plethora of possible assumable roles.  People, or discourse participants, who strive to make their voices heard would have the opportunity to reshape or introduce possible social roles.

A third issue which I raised is why and how liberation happens.  This issue needs to be approached by including language in the equation.  We now know that language is a means for making a social role known.  Why and how, then, does liberation through language happen.  Scholars such as Fairclough, Blommaert, and van Dijk have written extensively on this.  Though their emphases may differ, these scholars state a close-knit relationship between language and society.  This relationship between language and society does not only revolve around the idea that language is a code used only to communicate, or to identify a certain type of community (e.g. Malay is spoken by Malaysians, thus Malay is an identity marker of a Malaysian.), but it is also a tool which mediates an ideology held by its speakers.  An ideology, or simply put - a common belief or attitude, is carried through in language.  This is observable in the field of linguistics itself, wherein it is insufficient to look at linguistic through an objective lens (e.g. grammar analysis, linguistic features devoid or isolated from its context of use).  Instead, language occurrence needs to be analysed through pragmatics and semantics as well.  This is because true understanding of 'language' only comes when it is considered in its structure and context.

So, why and how does this happen?  Why does liberation happen in the postmodern society and how is language involved in this process?  One reason which one could attribute to liberation in the postmodern society is globalization.  One imprint of globalization on world societies is the blurring of boundaries, may it be physical boundaries or perceived boundaries.  In other words, the whole concept of globalization is not just an economics one anymore.  The blurring of boundaries have given rise to an awareness that reformation could happen.  From this, emancipation from any perceived oppression is possible.  This perspective is not novel and can be traced back to Paulo Freire, in the 1960s, who encouraged the use and learning of language to 'liberate' slum dwellers from their dire economic state.

TESOL at Forty

It's been a few years since TESOL hit the forty mark.  The issues, though, is still very relevant to the present situation. 

There are at least two main takeaways for me from Canagajarah's (2006) article.  First, the notion on metanarratives and descriptivism.  Second, the critical aspect of language teaching and learning. 


Since starting my PhD, I have been fortunate to have at least one classmate whom I have academic disputes with.  Several weeks back, he brought up the subject of prescriptivism and descriptivism, as they were related to his PhD thesis.  What I learned from him was that, in spite of our efforts to be descriptive in our approaches to teaching a language, we end up prescribing the description.  Canagarajah (2006) echoes this concern in his discussion on TESOL's metanarratives.  Throughout the history of language teaching, language educators have been documenting processes and decisions involved in their pedagogic practice.  Whether the processes or decisions were appropriate is another issue.  But the mere documentation, or description, would render it prescriptive.  This may lead to the formation of more rules for language learners and teachers.  This seems like an inescapable cycle (of death?), instead of a linear progression.  I thought the perspectives of the world, at least in the field of TESOL, have become increasingly in favor of constructivism, moving away from positivism.  This is still a persisting dilemma, with the rationale that total freedom of meaning-making would create chaos.  Regardless, the doubt cast over prescriptivism, or rules, have liberated teachers and students to not set their eyes on the objectives of a certain prescription, but to develop more wholly - parallel to the encompassing nature of language in a real context. 

I first heard of a critical approach to teaching language when I studied my first TESOL class many years back.  It was linked with Freire's approach, called the Participatory Approach.  This approach sees learning as a liberating process, wherein learners are given the chance to improve their livelihood through the learning of a language.  It was many years after that course did I hear about Critical Language Teaching again.  I must say I am still skeptical to the efficacy of this approach, as a language teacher has many expectations to meet in the language classroom, and time constraints may not permit a critical discussion of issues.  However, I do believe that Critical Language Teaching is valuable for those who believe in learners becoming autonomous and sensitive.  Basically, Critical Language Teaching takes world issues seriously.  Issues pertaining to people, the environment, politics, economics, and so forth are discussed in a critical manner.  This approach may bear the semblance of critical thinking such as analyzing, differentiating, opinionating, and so forth.  But, it goes beyond the analytical aspect by bringing in real, social issues which are relevant to the current living context. 

From:  Canagarajah, A. S, TESOL at Forty: Where are the Issues?  TESOL, 2006. 

Positioning Theory #2

Positioning Theory aims at providing an analytical framework to study the ontology of sociology in terms of identity and individuation.  Instead of looking at social relations through space and time, Positioning Theory proposes an alternate reference - by considering persons and conversations.  Persons, or discourse participants, construct stories about themselves by discourse which have social acts comprehensible to other discourse participants.  These stories contain positions, which tell of the discourse participant's moral or personal attributes.  Positions in discourse may not come naturally.  At times, a discourse participant who may impose dominance may compel other discourse participants to challenge this imposition.  Types of positioning include first- and second-order positioning, performative and accountive positioning, moral and personal positioning, self and other positioning, and finally, tacit and intentional positioning.

First- and Second-Order Positioning
This type of positioning occurs when there are discourse participants interacting with each other.  First-order positioning happens when a discourse participant subjects him/herself to a position.  Second-order positioning occurs when another discourse participant negates a position which was subjected to a discourse participant. 

Performative and Accountive Positioning 
Performative positioning is related to first-order positioning, whereby a discourse participant actively subjects him/herself to a certain type of position in his/her discourse.  Accountive positioning is that of second-order positioning.  In particular, accountive positioning occurs when a position is rejected within an ongoing discourse, or when a position is rejected in a subsequent related discourse.  Though seemingly similar to first- and second-order positioning, performative and accountive positioning focus on the immediacy of the perlocutionary effect.  Hence, the plot in which the position is subjected is taken into account. 

Moral and Personal Positioning
Moral and personal positioning basically looks at the types of position subjected to interlocutors based on their 'roles' in society.  For example, it would be typical for a incapacitated patient to request from help from a nurse, and it would be the nurse's responsibility to attend to this request.  However, it would by atypical, or rather, amoral, for the roles to be reversed, in that the nurse makes a request beyond the means of the incapacitated patient.

Self and Other Positioning
This relates to performative positioning, whereby when one positions him/herself, he/she would subject 'others' to being deviants to what constitutes the self.  In other words, whatever characteristics used to define a self position, would define what positions do not constitute the 'self'.

Tacit and Intentional Positioning
Most first-order positioning may occur in a tacit manner, in that the interlocutors are not aware of their own positionings.  Intentional positionings are common as well, especially in discourse events where the interlocutors' self perceived positions are challenged by others. 

From:  L. van Langenhove and R. Harre, Introducing Positioning Theory, Positioning Theory: Moral Contexts of Intentional Action, 1999.  

Positioning Theory #1

The postmodern era celebrates the liberation of different facets of society.  Conservative modes of social classifications, such as essentialism, is deconstructed and abandoned for social constructivist world views, where the attributes of a singular persondhood is no longer deterministic.  Interest in the 'personhood', and how it constructs meaning in the social realm gave rise to several theoretical understandings, such as Neoliberalism, Positioning Theory, and so forth. 

Positioning Theory acknowledges the fluidity of the 'personhood'.  As in identity studies, positioning theory recognizes that a person may assume different positions in a social (semiotic) act.  Specifically, Positioning Theory is interested in uncovering subject positions held by a person in a discursive act.  This discursive act, or interaction, involves discourse participants who affirms or refutes "personal attributes [...] such rights, duties, and obligations" (p. 2).  As a methodology, Positioning Theory identifies a subject position by determining the (i) indices for position, (ii) act/action , and (iii) storyline.  The second and third factors would further provide the moral positions of subjects and their rights to make certain claims, and the effects of their actual sayings in shaping the social environment around them.  Subject positions could be formed in at least three ways: first, individual or collective positions formed by other individuals or collectives; second, a position formed by one's self, or a self-reflexive position; third, the manner in which different individuals position themselves for a similar position.

From: R. Harre and L. van Langenhov, The Dynamics of Social Episode, Positioning Theory: Moral Contexts of Intentional Action, 1999.