Why We Do What We Do? Coda

I'd like to have one last contribution to the series Why We Do What We Do?, which I hope to edit and present in full in an upcoming essays section to the site. Presently, I would like to bring the series to an end by providing a quote from a journal article that I read recently. I feel it sums up what the series attempts to express, particularly if read in conjunction with an except from a related journal article presented in an earlier blog entry.


An excerpt from Gerrans, P. (2005). Tacit knowledge, rule following and Pierre Bourdieu’s philosophy of social science. Anthropological Theory, 5(1), 53-74.

On Bourdieu’s account of dispositional tacit knowledge, agents learn to agree in practice without explicitly or consciously representing concordance as a goal. Thus the hierarchy of respect in the barrio is reproduced even though each individual is not consciously thinking that the rule which governs his actions is to ‘preserve the hierarchy of respect’. The idea goes back at least to Aristotle’s contrast between learning by habituation and learning by intellectual instruction in the Nichomachean Ethics

Now some think that we are made good by nature, others by habituation, others by teaching. Nature’s part evidently does not depend on us, but as a result of some divine causes is present in those who are truly fortunate; while argument and teaching we may suspect are not powerful with all men, but the soul of the student must first have been cultivated by means of habits for noble joy and noble hatred, like earth which is to nourish the seed . . . The character, then, must somehow be there already with a kinship to virtue, loving what is noble and hating what is base. (Nichomachean Ethics 1179b-31)

Aristotle’s point is that virtue, which on his account is a form of knowledge, is originally a matter of character rather than intellect. Furthermore, that character cannot be acquired alone. One acquires a character as second nature through living in a society in which standards for virtuous behaviour are embodied in practice. Aristotle’s word for this type of socially embodied representation acquired through practical immersion in a culture is Hexis: Bourdieu captures the same concept by a term first used by Aristotle’s medieval translators: habitus.

The liberal conception of the autonomous self-interested individual is obsolete


 An excerpt from Olssen, MEH (2010) Discourse, Complexity, Life: Elaborating the Possibilities of Foucault’s Materialist Concept of Discourse In: Beyond Universal Pragmatics. Interdisciplinary Communication Studies, 4 . Peter Lang Pub Inc, Geneva, 25 - 58

As for Wittgenstein (2001), Foucault does not see language as an expression of inner states, but as an historically constituted system, which is social in its origins as well as in its uses … The rules of language were themselves seen as a bundle of interactional and public norms. Meaning is generated within the context of the frame of reference (for Wittgenstein, a game; for Foucault a discourse). Hence to understand a particular individual we must understand the patterns of their socialisation, the nature of their concepts, as well as the operative norms and conventions that constitute the context for the activity and the origin of the concepts utilised. If mind operates, not as a self-enclosed entity, as Descartes held, attaching words to thoughts, as if they were markers, but rather operated in terms of publicly structured rule-systems, then meanings are in an important sense public.

… The thesis here is that the social nature of practices defines a community context in one very important sense, a sense which is fundamentally inescapable. Such a theoretical revolution, which has largely developed in the twentieth century, has rendered the liberal conception of the autonomous self-interested individual as obsolete.

In most cases … May (1997) explains that it is multiple, or what he calls ‘overlapping practices’ that constitute a community. The central claim is that ‘a community is defined by the practices that constitute it’. This defines, he says, what it means to be in community. Practice he defines as ‘a regularity or regularities of behaviour, usually goal directed, that are socially and normatively governed’ (p. 52). While, in this sense, practices are ‘rule governed’, such rules need not be formal, or even explicit. A second feature of practices is that their normative governance is social, which is to reject the idea of a private language. This is to say that not only is the <em>governance </em>of practices social, but the <em>practices </em>are also social. Even solitary practices, like diary writing are social in this sense. In this way, says May (p. 53), ‘the concept of practice lies at the intersection of individuality and community’. Thirdly, he says, ‘practice [...] involves a regularity in behaviour. In order to be a practice, the various people engaged in it must be said to be “doing the same thing” under some reasonable description of their behaviour’ (p. 54). As a consequence of these three definitions, says May, practices must be seen as discursive, meaning that they involve the use of language. This entails:

some sort of communication between participants in order that they may either learn or coordinate the activities that the practice involves [...]. Moreover, this communication must be potentially accessible to nonparticipants, since without such accessibility the practice would cease to exist when its current participants dropped out. The communication required by a practice, then, must be linguistic. The idea of linguistic communication can be broadly constructed here, needing only a set of public signs with assignable meanings. (May, 1997: p. 55)

Such a theory of practice, says May (p. 55) ‘is akin to Wittgenstein’s idea that language games are central components of forms of life’. The central theoretical point concerning practices is that they embody actions organized according to rules which are both linguistic and cultural. As Theodore R. Schatzki (2001a: p. 48) points out, ‘practices are organized nexuses of activity’, and constitute ‘a set of actions [...] constituted by doings and sayings’. In this sense, he says, (p. 45) ‘the social order is instituted within practices’. Schatzki defines the social order as ‘arrangements of people, and the organisms, artefacts, and things through which they coexist’ (p. 43). They coexist within what Schatzki (2001b: p. 2) calls ‘a field of practices’ which constitutes ‘the total nexus of interconnected human practices’. Such practices are ‘embodied, materially mediated arrays of human activity centrally organized around shared practical understanding’. Referring to Foucault, Schatzki (p. 2) notes how ‘bodies and activities are “constituted’ within practices”’. It can be said, further, echoing Foucault in The Archaeology of Knowledge, that the practices that make up the social order comprise both ‘discursive’ and ‘extra-discursive’ elements. In this way, the idea of practices highlights ‘how bundled activities interweave with ordered constellations of nonhuman entities’ (p. 3).


Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge, Sheridan, A. (tr.), London: Tavistock.

May, T., (1997) Reconsidering Difference: Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, and Deleuze, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania University Press.

Schatzki, T.R. (2001a) ‘Practice Mind-ed Orders’ in: Schatzki, T.R., Knorr Cetina, K. and von Savigny, E. (eds), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, London and New York: Routledge, pp.42-55.

Schatzki, T.R. (2001b) ‘Introduction: Practice theory’ in: Schatzki, T.R., Knorr Cetina, K. and von Savigny, E. (eds), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, London and New York: Routledge: pp. 1-14.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd Edition. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Literacy is a complex and multifaceted skill which changes enormously as it is acquired

The following is a paragraph from a chapter written by Catherine Snow that I am keen to share. Why? The paragraph (and the chapter) engages with the changing nature of literacy as the child (or individual) develop, which requires teachers to be vigilant in providing the right instruction, opportunities and extension at the right time. Please enjoy ... and also seek out the chapter.

From Snow, C. (2004) What counts as literacy in early childhood? In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Handbook of early child development. Oxford: Blackwell.

"Everyone agrees that literacy is a complex and multifaceted skill which changes enormously as it is acquired ... [For instance], the typical three-year-old can recognize some books by their covers, knows how to hold books upright and turn pages, listens when read to, expects to be able to understand pictures in books, may distinguish pictures from print, may recognize some letters, and produces purposeful-looking scribbles.

"The typical four year old has learned to recite the alphabet and to recognize several letters, connects events in stories to ‘real life,’ understands that stories are different from notes or lists, may produce rhymes or alliterations, and may scribble, pretend-write, or draw with a communicative purpose.

"The typical kindergartner knows about titles and authors of books, may track the print when being read to from familiar simple books, can name all and write most of the letters, can recognize and spell some simple words, spontaneously questions events in stories and information books, and uses mostly invented spelling in writing.

"The typical first grader is starting to get a serious handle on the system of writing, is able to read accurately and fluently texts that include previously taught spelling patterns, uses letter-sound correspondence to sound out new words, spells with a combination of conventional and invented spelling, monitors her own writing and reading for correctness, and understands the differences among a wide variety of texts (informal notes, informative texts, stories, poems, slogans, lists, and so forth).

"In 2nd and 3rd grade, the typically developing child becomes increasingly accurate and fluent with an ever wider variety of spelling patterns, becomes able to tackle more complex texts independently, knows how to seek help from a dictionary or an adult with difficult words or ideas, writes a wide array of text-types increasingly conventionally and with ever greater capacity to revise independently, and infers the meanings of unfamiliar words encountered in otherwise comprehensible text.

"Of course, literacy growth continues after grade 3—the capacity to read with different purposes, to learn from reading, to critique the text, to compare and contrast points of view when reading, and in other ways to produce and process complex tests may continue to develop through adulthood. But the skills acquired by 3rd grade (acquired only, of course, if children enjoy home, preschool, and primary grade environments that support these learnings) constitute the firm foundation on which those more complex skills depend."

Quote on the 'Social Theory' of Language Acquisition

From Dr Daniele Moyal-Sharrock's paper entitled "Coming to Language: Wittgenstein's 'Social Theory' of Language Acquisition" presented Solutions Focused Learning Conference in Budapest (6 - 8 May 2010)

The initiate must be "a biologically and socially adept human being ... susceptible to training ... [with] fundamental trust [in] the authority of the teacher ... [engaged in] socio-linguistic interaction ... transmissible ... through enculturation" and which transforms one's capacity to see, practice and conceptualise language in fluent and meaningful ways. 

Learning as Puzzle Solving

"A thinker is very much like a draughtsman whose aim it is to represent all the interrelations between things." (Wittgenstein, Culture & Value)

Learning is often completed collaboratively with others, and features a sense of mutual accomplishment as the learners embark on a journey of discovery, consolidation and confidence. The seven principles of "learning as puzzle solving" are taken from the following reference:

  • Geekie, P., Cambourne, B., & Fitzsimmons, P. (2004). Learning as puzzle solving. In Grainger, T (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer reader in language and literacy (pp 107 – 118). London: RoutledgeFalmer

Please continue to read to explore the seven principles and how they apply to effective teaching.

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