Being brought into the many uses of language

When language-games change, then there is a change of concepts, and with the concepts the meanings of words change. (On Certainty, #65)

In the previous blog post, I mentioned that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was his flawed masterpiece. And I went on to write that “it is flawed only in the sense that our human language consists of a greater variety of propositions than merely descriptive sentences. We tell jokes. We ask questions. We talk about abstract things. We create rules and so on.”

I’d like to spend this post focusing on Wittgenstein’s attempt to rectify these flaws in his later work, particularly in the Philosophical Investigations. Even more specifically, I’d like to write about his language games concept, since it sheds light on the diversity of language practices learners are asked to adopt over time. 

Even before I do that, I’d like to justify my reason for pursuing this rabbit hole. Whilst Wittgenstein is not contemporary literacy research, The Literacy Bug was set up to explore ideas as much as it was set up to share evidence-based practices. Here, I’d like to continue exploring how we use oral and print language to help us render and - even - organise our experience of and interactions with the world. 

So here we go … let’s revisit the last blog post again. In it, I wrote, 

“If we take a moment to consider descriptive sentences, there is an elegant and meditative quality to the acts of writing and reading. In the acts of writing and reading, we are builders. We are builders of experiences. We are speculators on cause and effect.”

Let’s call this a language game. It is one language game amongst many in our daily lives. Let us define a language game as a particular use of language implicitly governed by certain rules and accepted (by a language community) as serving a certain function or purpose. Certain learners - such as certain children - are raised in an environment in which there is a particular value placed on particular uses of language, such as - say - describing (painting in words) a scene - real or imagined - in exacting detail for consideration. And there will be other contexts - such as in school - that this use of language will be rewarded, reinforced and extended. In this community, there is certain training and praise for this skill, but there are also repercussions if a learner becomes careless or inattentive in this language game, or form of discourse. As suggested by Garver, 

"It is ... possible to instruct people in the use of the language. Such instruction involves correction and drill that aims at some (unspecified) level of competence. It is no doubt pursued more doggedly and more dogmatically in some cultures than others." (Garver, 1996, pg 165)

A learner must become both skilled in this language game - of descriptions, in this case - but also motivated to do so in the appropriate circumstances, as suggested by Stanley Cavell, “the pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world." (Cavell, 2005, pg 115) And so, the learner is initiated into a particular use of language that the learner will turn to when the time is right. Upon initiation, a certain practice has been established. As stated in our essay Establishing Practices, the features of a practice are as follows:

  • “At the very least, a practice is something people do, not just once, but on a regular basis. But it is more than just a disposition to behave in a certain way; the identity of a practice depends on not only on what people do, but also on the significance of those actions and the surroundings in which they occur." (Stern, 2004, p. 166)
  • In a practice, what becomes necessary is the individual's "willingness to engage with such activities in a particular way, thus changing ‘mere’ activities into practices where standards of excellence do matter.” (Smeyers and Burbles, 2010 pg 196)
  • “Our deliberations seem to be entirely personal and self determined - yet they obviously derive from previous conversations with others, in which their voices and perspectives are represented in one’s own internal deliberations. Often this dynamic is what we call ‘conscience.’” — (Burbles and Smears, 2010, pg 180)
  • Therefore, “every instance of the use [or participation in a practice] … is the culmination of a process of socialisation.” (Phillips, 1979, pg 126).

That all might seem quite long-winded for a relatively simple point: children learn to describe (as one use of language) and children come to develop other uses of languages as well. As teachers, we want our learners to become skilled in many uses of  language (describing, recounting, explaining, comparing, narrating, critiquing, etc). This is true, but I think Wittgenstein refers to something more important here. He is interested in how we turn to particular uses of language to solve problems in daily lives. This requires both skill and the ability to recognise the circumstances in which to deploy a particular language game and why. James Paul Gee explains these two levels as two levels of discourse

“I will use ‘discourse’ [with a lower case "d"] for connected stretches of language that makes sense, like conversations, stories, reports, arguments, essays and so forth. So, ‘discourse’ [the spoken or written text] is part of the ‘Discourse’ – ‘Discourse’ [with a capital “D”] is always more than just language.[The] Discourses are ways of being in the world, or forms of life which integrate words [integrate little “d” discourse], acts, values, beliefs, attitudes and social identities as well as gestures, glances, body positions and relationships.” (Gee, 1996, p 127)

For instance, we’d want to encourage learners to “stop, consider, describe” when faced with a problem that requires one to outline and examine all the various factors and variables in a scenario, and we’d need to consider how language is used to navigate such a way of thinking AND a way of working with others. Teaching includes providing the scaffolding which supports the turns/sequences in the game. And like any game, we want learners to play this game many times so they are able to discover the nuances in the game and to generalise the rules from the game.

Figure 1:   Source:  Florida Centre for Reading Research

Figure 1: Source: Florida Centre for Reading Research

Figure 1 is an example of a paper-based scaffold that makes explicit the cognitive architecture - or schema - of a particular way of analysing a text. This way of analysis would be an example of a language game. The scaffolding (or guidance) that a teacher provides can also consist of particular activities, axioms, mnemonics, reminders, hints, routines and encouragement, which are essential to ensuring successful completion of the task. Ultimately, all of this modelling and guidance teaches the learners to go on in a particular manner, which involves a whole raft of moves, turns, checkpoints and further points for deliberation.

Then, am I defining “order” and “rule” by means of “regularity”? ... I shall teach him … by means of examples and by practice. -- And when I do this I do not communicate less to him than I know myself. In the course of this teaching I shall shew him … get him to continue a … pattern when told to do so. -- And also to continue progressions. And so … I do it, he does it after me; and I influence him by expressions of agreement, rejection, expectation, encouragement. I let him go his way, or hold him back; and so on. (Philosophical Investigations, #280)

So, being initiated into such a practice - therefore - involves the internalising of - what we might call - deliberative talk. For instance, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein models this aspect by presenting the inner monologue of a character who is building something:

Every now and then there is the problem “Should I use this bit?” — The bit is rejected, another is tried. Bits are tentatively put together, then dismantled; he looks for one that fits etc, etc.. So I sometimes make him say “No, that bit is too long, perhaps another’s fit better.” — Or “What am I to do now?” — “Got it!” — Or “That’s not bad” etc. … (Wittgenstein, Zettel #100)

 

Diversity of language games

Consider all the language games which serve to mediate daily lives ... from “morning news” to planning meetings to personal reflection to prayer to meditative poetry to following instructions and much, much more. Learning these games involves the ability to focus attention, participate in the game, and demonstrate an appreciation of how such engagement is purposeful in some way.

Throughout students’ academic, social and moral careers, they must navigate and negotiate through many different and even conflicting discourses (or ways of using language) in order to participate and advance in multiple contexts, school only being but one of them. Navigating through discourses involves anything from understanding the forms and functions of significant linguistic practices, to being sensitive to the conventions of speaking in particular contexts, to critically assessing the assumptions and outcomes of language practices in society.  

Guiding students through these subtle areas of language development is complex, and involves more than the teaching of specific language features (phonology, grammars, vocabularies, and structures). It involves initiating students into a growing repertoire of ways of using language to perform different roles with language, whether in constructing knowledge, imaginative recreation, construing activity, or actively impacting the world and the people around them.  The very nature of this process of initiation becomes the concern of how literacies (ways of reading, interacting and being through language and communication) are transmitted, formed and engaged in within pedagogical relations amongst people, whether it be between mother-child, teacher-student, co-worker-co-worker, elder-youth, author-reader, institutions-individuals, etc (Bernstein, 2000).

 

One more thing …

There is something that Wittgenstein raises that often isn’t included in the educational literature: he asks us to explore what happens when a complex *language game* is adopted which is - in fact - destructive. Let’s consider either racist discourse or defeatist discourse, which are both language games that can become habitual and exert a powerful shaping force on how one navigates the world. Racist discourse doesn’t necessarily require further explanation, but defeatist discourse may. In defeatist discourse, a person may learn to self-sabotage any hopes of success by entrenched habits of doubt. Wittgenstein would tell us that philosophy seeks to free ourselves from the “bewitchment” of language by revealing the bewitching patterns of language use and proposing alternatives (e.g. showing the fly the way out of the bottle). However it is not so easy, since it requires the learner to take the brave step of trying to alter the “ruts” of language.  

If we switch to an educational example, a learner may not be asking the right questions or sequence of questions that an expert would when trying to get the most out of a topic. Consequently, the learner may be failing to make any forward momentum in an area of learning. At some point, though, the learner encounters a teacher who guides him or her in asking “the right questions” which come to “reshape the nature of the investigation” and the potential for learning. This new language game or revision of an old language game opens up the possibility for discovery.


Bringing things closer to a close

How - then - does all this relate to literacy, you may ask? Well, it relates to the central issues of comprehension and composition. Even if one has learned the “basics”, such as decoding and grammatical competence, there are many higher order linguistic issues to attend to if one is going to read and write for the diverse purposes in life.

As James Paul Gee more simply reminds us, “We have to worry about what texts students have read and how they have read them, not just about how much they have read and how many books they do or do not own (though, of course, these are important matters).” (Gee, 2003, pg 30-31) 

Because, 

“After all, we never just read "in general", rather, we always read or write something in some way. We don't read or write newspapers, legal tracts, essays in literary criticism, poetry, or rap songs, and so on and so forth through a nearly endless list, in the same way. Each of these domains has its own rules and requirements.” (Gee, 2003, pg 28)

As Wittgenstein would also,

PI 156: The use of this word [to read] in the ordinary circumstances of our life is of course extremely familiar to us. But the part the word plays in our life, and therewith the language-game in which we employ it, would be difficult to describe even in rough outline. A person, let us say an Englishman, has received at school or at home one of the kinds of education usual among us, and in the course of it has learned to read [basically] his native language. Later he reads books, letters, newspapers and other things. 

 

In closing

On that note, I’d like to end. This essay has been written in the spirit of the original definition of the French "essai" - coined by Michel de Montaigne - which means to try/attempt/trial ... to seek new ways to explore and/or articulate relevant issues. I hope this digression is of some benefit/use. On behalf of *The Literacy Bug* and until next time, please enjoy and explore!


References

Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: theory, research, critique. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Burbles, N., & Smears, P. (2010). The practice of ethics and moral education. In M. Peters, N. Burbles, & P. Smears (Eds.), Showing and doing: Wittgenstein as a pedagogical philosopher (pp. 169 – 182). London: Paradigm Publishers.

Cavell, S. (2005). Philosophy the day after tomorrow. In Philosophy the day after tomorrow (pp. 111 – 131). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Garver, N. (1996). Philosophy as grammar. In H. Sluga, H. and D. Stern (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Wittgenstein. (pp. 139 - 170) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gee, J (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: theory and method. London: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (2003). Opportunity to learn: a language-based perspective on assessment. In Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, Vol 10, No. 1, pp 27 - 46.

Phillips, D. (1977) Wittgenstein and scientific knowledge.  London: MacMillan Press.

Smeyers, P., & Burbles, N. (2010). Education as initiation into practices. In M. Peters, N. Burbles, & P. Smeyers (Eds.), Showing and doing: Wittgenstein as a pedagogical philosopher (pp. 183 – 198). London: Paradigm Publishers.

Stern, D. (2004). Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001a). Tractates Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness. London: Routledge.

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

Wittgenstein, L. (1967). Zettel. (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright, Eds.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Translated by D. Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

The Machinery of Language and Literacy

In light of the most recent blog entry - Encoding, Decoding and Understanding (Print) Language - I've gone back to the archives to revisit an unpublished piece from the past. Whilst there are some rough edges, it is posted here as part of the ongoing conversation.

 

Introduction 

The layout of the diagram to the lower right might seem odd when it starts with “the world” as the notion at the top and "form of life" at the bottom, but this is to suggests that language and literacy are learned in a particular context. And the context determines the language(s) one speaks and it determines what one is likely to speak about.

In the words of Wittgenstein and Tomasello we find:

“When a child learns language it learns at the same time what is to be investigated and what not.” (Wittgenstein, On Certainty #472)
“‘Nothing could seem less remarkable than a one-year-old child requesting ‘More juice’ or commenting ‘Doggie gone’ … From an ethological perspective, perhaps the most astounding fact is that something on the order of 80 percent of all Homo sapiens cannot understand these utterances at all.” (Tomasello, 2003, pg 1)

Let’s say English is a language that is spoken in this environment. And - let’s say - that the word “Madagascar” exists in this world, and I hear the word “Madagascar” uttered in this place of the world. It also refers to a film (that I haven’t seen, but am aware of) and it is a type of vanilla (Madagascar vanilla), which I don’t know much about, either. There is a history to the word, and this history is its meaning. One points to a map to show me where the country is. One offers to watch a film with me. And one shows me a picture of Madagascar vanilla, and - perhaps - I have a chance to taste it. As long as I know that places, films and plants have names, then it is possible that I can know what is being referred to.

 

Phonological Awareness & Phonemic Awareness

I ask someone to say the word slowly, so I can have a go at writing the word, because if one is going to recognise the printed word, one must first be phonologically and phonemically aware of the word.

When I listen closely, I notice that Madagascar has four syllables:

 

Ma / da / ga / scar

 

One must also distinguish each of the sounds within the word:

 

[/m/+/short a/] + [/d/+/schwa/] + [/g/+/short a/] + [/s/+/k/+/ar/]

 

Alphabetic Principle, Phonics & Spelling

Then I attempt to spell the word based on my knowledge of English graphemes

 

M = /m/

a = /short a/

d = /d/

a = /schwa/

g = /g/

a = /short a/

s = /s/

c = /k/

ar = /controlled vowel - ar/

 

I’m pretty confident the opening letter is M to represent the /m/ sound, since I intuitively know that the letter “m” represents the /m/ sound most of the time (94% of the time to be accurate, if you see the chart to the right/above). Similarly, I know the /short a/ sound when I hear it. Whilst the letter “a” represents the /short a/ 96% of the time, I only appreciate this from experience. To make a long story short, I know the word “scar” and intuit that the word ends with the same spelling. I could be wrong, but this is when one’s word knowledge helps one problem-solve new words. That said, I might have spelled it incorrectly, and I might need to consult someone or something (e.g. a dictionary) to see if I am on the right track.

In the end, I heard a word, and I used my phonemic awareness skills to isolate the sounds. I used my knowledge of sounds-letters and my knowledge of words to spell it. If I didn’t have any of these attributes then I could be overwhelmed by the length of the word, etc. But I wasn't. Phew!

 

Morphology

For the time being, let’s say I recognise the word and I know that there is nothing quite morphological about the proper noun Madagascar. There are no meaningful prefixes, roots or suffixes which would assist me.

 

In a Sentence

Do we ever really encounter words only in isolation, though? As noted by Wittgenstein,

“If I know an object (word) I also know all its possible occurrences in states of affairs. (Every one of these possibilities must be part of the nature of the object/word.)” (Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, #2.0123)

 

In this case, I read the following state of affairs:

 

Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean.

 

I am lucky. I know English grammar, and I am familiar with all the words - when spoken - but I struggle with the written form of the printed word “island”. I am familiar with the spoken word, which is pronounced

 

[/long i/] + [/l/+/short a/+/n/+/d/]

 

But I don’t know about this

 

[/short i/+/s/+/l/] + [/short a/+/n/+/d/]

 

But a helpful person informs me that the letter “s” is indeed silent, and the opening letter “i” is a /long i/ syllable. In fact, the printed word “island” is familiar in the end. What a relief?

 

Sentences in Context

I know the sentence is a descriptive sentence, and I know that it is meant to convey information. I use my background knowledge to place the sentence in context. This sentence comes next:

The population of Madagascar is over 22 million people, and it spreads over 500,000 square kilometres.

I recognise that the emerging paragraph is a geography paragraph and I anticipate that I’ll find out about the capital city of Madagascar, primary industries, natural sites and cultural practices. I know this because I am familiar with this genre of discourse, and I expect and value this knowledge. I intuitively am comparing this with a similar text I read/heard/wrote earlier. The earlier one was about the island of Taiwan, and I am interested to know the differences between the two island contexts. If I didn’t have this previous experience or background knowledge, then I might not be able to read/hear/write the new text as deeply or critically.

 

Another Attempt

Let us look at another set of words. Let’s imagine that a friend shows me a photo of a red wheelbarrow sitting in the rain and provides with the following poem:

 

“so much depends

upon

 

”a red wheel

barrow

 

“glazed with rain

water

 

“beside the white

chickens.”

 

“It’s beautiful,” she says. “It’s by a fellow named William Carlos William.”

 

I’m not really fussed by the poem, to be honest. And I don’t know why it starts with the phrase “so much depends / upon”. But my friend insists that the poem is meaningful. Even though I know all the words, and I can understand/imagine the scene, I am missing something. So my friend asks me to bring in a photo of something that is significant to me. When we meet again, we both come armed with a photo. My photo is of my late grandmother, and her photo is of a pier jutting out into a river at dusk. She reads out her poem.

 

“so much depends

upon ...

 

"the smell of

the river

 

"of bait, of fish

and blueberries

 

"on hot summer

days."

 

And she helps me write mine:

 

“so much depends

upon

 

"my grandmother's

photo

 

"on the mantle

piece

 

"watching over

me."

 

We do it again next week, and the week after, and I start to get the point. I find it peaceful just stating something meaningful. My friend and I might talk about the “meaningfulness” of the object in the photo, but these "meanings” or even descriptions are left unsaid in our poems. At some stage, she introduces me to haikus, and I find that I have a new way to relax. Every so often I stop and write or think or say “so much depends upon …” I didn’t understand the point at the start but I do now, and I have started to branch out into other forms/purposes of poetry. I’m really quite surprised. In fact, it takes on a form of meditation or secular prayer. Whilst I still need to draft reports and memos at work, I have another written outlet that extends what I achieve in print. I have learned a new "language game" - so to speak.

 

Conclusion

Let’s return to the opening diagram, and we find the following:

  • We live in a world;
  • And in that world there are “things”, “concepts”, “phrases”, “relationships”, etc;
  • These “things” have words, whether they are physical, like “a rock”, or conceptual, like "kindness”;
  • Some of these words are functional and appear in phrases or as single words, like “How are you?” and “therefore”;
  • The words are strung together in sentences to express some sense/meaning, and those sentences are strung together as part of a discourse of some kind;
  • And we communicate about something in some way to others.

To end, let me present the following scenarios:

  • an experienced electrician is wiring up a new electrical system. The electrician knows what everything is called and what everything does, but quivers when someone hands him an installation manual full of words and abstract schematics. “Mate, I can’t makes heads or tales of that thing” as he points to the manual. “I know what I’m doing.” Is it the technical nature of the manual that catches him off guard?
  • a philosopher is asked to wire up a new electrical system. The philosopher has no clue about electronics and quivers at the sight of the wires. Someone hands him an installation manual full of words and abstract schematics. After much effort, the philosopher eventually says, “Mate, I can’t makes heads or tales of that thing” as he points to both the manual and the box of wires.
  • an average person who is familiar with electronics, but is in no way an expert or practiced, is asked to wire up a new electrical system. She has a strong grasp of literacy and she is able to process information accurately. She knows what NOT to do in relation to voltage and amperage. She is eventually able to get the job done with the help of the manual, a few YouTube videos, and a couple calculated phone calls.

How would you go about explaining what is occurring in each of these scenarios? You may use the following diagram to help.

 

References

Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: a usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Tractates Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness. London: Routledge.

_____________. (1969). On Certainty. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Translated by D. Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Language Games and Language Learning

When one mentions the concept of language game in relation to Wittgenstein, there are four related concepts that come to mind: context, intention, other people and purpose. That is, as one develops into a language, one comes to use language in a range of contexts with learned intentions amongst a community of people for diverse purposes. To be proficient in one language game is only a partial proficiency as it is the amalgamation of language practices that will make up that which will be referred to as proficiency.

There will be certain practices that we assume all members of a community of practice will share. We will call this extensive knowledge (Gee 2008). There will be other, specialised practices that some members of the community will have deep knowledge/experience of and which will be called upon by the general community. We will call this intensive knowledge (Gee, 2008). We encourage individuals to specialise and build up intensive knowledge, so that it can be supplied to others (usually for a price). How else would a comedian make a living?

Therefore, we would like all members of a community to be able to report information, reflect and record, speculate, joke, contemplate, etc. We would like all members of a community to be appreciative of the language practices that help one make decisions, rationalise, etc. However, this does not mean that we want everyone to be Shakespeare, a person who attained an intensive, poetical knowledge for his generation and who was called upon by his community to present for public education, entertainment, etc. Does this mean that we leave poetic practice to Shakespeare? No, extensive practices are expected across the population even if certain individuals attain intensive practice. Across the community, there is a need for extensive practice in the contemplative, speculative, political and aesthetic function of poetry.

As noted by Ken Hyland, “the last decade or so has seen increasing attention given to the notion of genre and its application in language teaching and learning. This is largely a response to changing views of discourse and of learning to write which incorporate better understandings of how language is structured to achieve social purposes in particular contexts of use” (Hyland, 2007, pg. 148).

 

Reference

Gee, J. P. (2008) A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn. In P. Moss, D. Pullin, J.P. Gee, E. Haertel, and L. Young (Eds). Assessment, equity, and opportunity to learn (pp. 76-108). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, K. (2007). Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction. Journal of Second Language Writing, 16(3), 148–164. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2007.07.005

 

 

Dr Michael A. Peters on Wittgenstein & Education

Dr Michael A. Peters is one of the authors of the Book Pick: Showing and Doing: Wittgenstein as a Pedagogical Philosopher. In the following video, Dr Peters speaks about the problems of rationality. In particular, he posits that there is a change in the way that rationality is described from the before and after the turn of the 20th century. He attributes to Wittgenstein a role in this change. Specifically, prior to the 20th century, there was talk of a single rationality (a Western scientific mode); however, in the 20th century and into the 21st century, we must speak of many rationalities, since any mode of reasoning is a byproduct of concepts that are quite familiar to the reader of Wittgenstein. Modes of reasoning are the byproduct of communities of practice, disciplines, discourses, language games, forms of life, etc, which does allow on to reflect on the cultural practices and politics around different ways of reasoning. Please enjoy the video. Dr Peters explains this much better than I.

Uploaded by educationatillinois on 2014-03-05.

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).

References

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.

Book Tip: Wittgenstein and the Possibility of Discourse

by Rush Rhees

I have made mention of this book before. The book played a central role in the journal entry, "To Understand You Need to Be Part of The Conversation".  In short, Rush Rhees emphasises that the learning of language is much more than the mastering of techniques. Instead, becoming a language speaker involves a commitment to the discourses (e.g. the concerns, the topics, the discussions) that occupy communities of speakers.

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Understanding the Relationship Between the Form, Meaning and Use of Language

In a recent entry, I reviewed a book that drew a distinction between a formal (or structural) analysis of language and an analysis that sought to take into account meaning-in-context. I would like to extend that discussion by presenting an integration of the two analytical perspectives into a single (metaphorical) model. The model seeks to account for the apparent structural unity of language with the vast diversity (and - at times - contradictory) meanings expressed through language. Earlier, I pictured this relationship as a many-headed hydra - the beast with one body and many devious heads. Each head of the beast represented a separate semiotic domain. That metaphorical representation soon fell by the wayside and, presently, I have settled on a flower, a more organic figuration (shown in the journal entry).

To recap the earlier entry, I mentioned how,

"Formal theories of meaning seek to explain how a proposition expresses a sense through an understanding of the proposition's logical structure. One must have access to the phonetic, syntactic and lexical knowledge to be able to decode the sentence and to decipher the picture expressed within the sentence. This process is quite a static exchange. In a purely formal account of meaning, the individual would only be required to calculate the exact, unambiguous meaning of a proposition as long as the proposition was logically expressed and all terms were accounted for clearly and directly. 

"Meaning-in-context, on the other hand, is less static and more elusive. The meaning of an utterance requires an understanding of its context, a familiarity with the way the utterance is being exchanged, the intention of the utterance, and the position of the utterance within a 'language game' or 'conversation'. Such a theory of meaning must take into account that the subject is a creative, imaginative agent who extends (or projects) new language practices from prior encounters, and that such meaning is framed by the individual's social and discourse practices."

This draws me to propose a distinction between core components of language, which all instances of language may utilise and the interplay of language that occurs within semiotic domains. The relationship between the two perspectives is represented in the journey entry. Continue to read more ...

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Why Wittgenstein? Why not simply a site about literacy and learning?

Why did I create a website about Wittgenstein and learning? Wouldn't it have been smarter to create a direct site about language, literacy, numeracy and learning? And refer to curriculum outcomes rather than a philosopher's axioms? Clearly, a more general site would allow for more flexibility. I must admit that Wittgenstein's philosophy can appear obscure at the best of times. That said, I don't feel it will take too much time to explain myself, and I will do so in reference to three of the major texts.

As a result, we gain insights into three dimensions of language: language as structure and form; language as diverse practices; language used to convey knowledge. In each of these perspectives, both communities and individuals must use their imaginative and cognitive capacities to use, deploy and think through language in the great hurly burly of life.

"Doesn’t understanding start with a proposition, with a whole proposition? Can you understand half a proposition?" (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Grammar)

The above applies to all three dimensions. Understanding comes from a full command of the forms, uses and knowledge inherent in our utterances.

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Negotiations Through Language: Selling a View

From "Why Economic Inequality is Not Good for the Economy" by Rob Urie in Counterpunch.

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Note: Derek Phillips once wrote, "Wittgenstein now argues that human language in a sense creates reality." (Phillips, 1977, p. 30). In this sense, we can influence our actions and our judgements by how we describe events. As they say, there is always more than one way to tell a story.

"The general perception post-modernism is from the political ‘left,’ following from later (Ludwig) Wittgenstein and ‘transactional analysis’ in psychology, post-modern philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard developed his concept of ‘language games,’ the social practice of localized negotiations through language, just as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan began selling corporatist imperialism as atomized individualism to an unsuspecting world. Setting aside the Marxian conceit that who has voice in society is a function of political-economic relations, Mr. Lyotard places social ‘negotiations’ in silos where local truths replace the grand ‘Truths’ of earlier centuries. The various disciplines of ‘economics’ constitute such silos."