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.

Updates Galore! New pages, assessment advice and teaching strategies at The Literacy Bug

Wow! It has been far too long since the last update to The Literacy Bug's Journal. I dare not ask when the last update was. Despite the long silence - or perhaps to explain it - we have some significant updates to share with you. 

Firstly, a new section has been added to the site, and it is called Developing. In this section, you will find advice on how to help students grow in the various skills that underpin literacy development, such as oral language, phonological awareness, fluency, comprehension and more. At the moment, there is only one page in the new section, and it is called Developing Constrained Skills, which are things like print awareness, phonemic awareness, decoding and spelling. Follow this link to find out more ... 

There is also a new page in the Planning section: Using Quality Assessment Practices. Effective instruction is creative, challenging and targeted. This is why strong assessment practices before, during and at the end of teaching cycles are key to informed educational practices. We believe the new page is an essential addition to the site, and it complements the Balancing Instruction and Stages of Development pages very well. Check it out!

Regular visitors will notice that a couple pages from the Essays section have made their way into the Planning folder. They are An Initial Framework for Literacy Instruction and Literacy Development Requires Steady Guidance. Explore these old favourites when you have a chance. An old blog entry has also made its way into the folder: Key Questions to Guide Instruction. Last but not least, two related pages have been updated and we are very happy with the results: Establishing (Literacy) Practices and Why Do We Do What We Do?

All in all, there is much to explore at The Literacy Bug (and I haven't even mentioned updates to the Recommended Readings and the Recommended Links pages). We hope you enjoy all the new stuff. Please explore! 

Getting to the Rough Ground of Language and Literacy Learning Through the Language Experience Approach

Early language learners benefit from rich tasks that provide learners with ample opportunities to hear, see, use and manipulate language in contextualised, purposeful ways. The videos to the lower right provide compelling examples of the multiple learnings achieved through a humble kitchen garden project for newly arrived refugee children at a primary school in an urban Australian community. The project illustrates the potential for deep learning when the learning develops from authentic, engaging experiences.

I'd like readers/viewers to notice how the kitchen garden becomes a central device to develop language, literacy, culture and knowledge. You should notice how language is reinforced through practical activity, how language is assisted visually in the classroom, and how it is transformed into knowledge through writing.

This is an example of a teaching method known as the Language Experience Approach (LEA), which is a catch-all term for teaching that anchors literacy and language learning in shared experiences. In most cases, the “experience” is a physically, shared experience, but there is a more and more avenues to share experience virtually through video, interactive tools and online content (such as web quests). 

The Language Experience Approach emphasises language learning through carefully scaffolded and reinforced language in context and through activity. Teachers and learners diligently document the experience, so the experience can be revisited and developed through further reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and representing in the classroom.

The following are a number of questions to consider when building language and literacy through authentic, mutual practices. Even though we will elaborated on the teaching method in the future, these initial questions illustrate the significance of a number of essential practices in the LEA, such as scaffolded talk, documenting the experience, revisiting the experience in the classroom, pulling out rich vocabulary, expanding the experience through writing, and using the experience for further comprehension and [content] learning. In this system, the teacher must be adept at orchestrating, sequencing and extending a variety practices (often within a tight timetable).


Before and During the Experience

  1. What is the experience? Is this an actual or virtual experience?
  2. How is joint attention achieved and how is language being scaffolded?
  3. How is vocabulary emphasised/reinforced/introduced/recorded during the experience
  4. How is the experience being documented (digital cameras, information scaffolds, graphic organisers, scaffolded questions, etc)?
  5. How do the instructional conversations that take place throughout the experience build a common discourse and assist learning?


After the Experience

Students benefit from a variety of activities that reinforce language and literacy in the classroom: word walls, flow charts, exemplary texts and further hands-on learning.

  1. Are word walls / glossaries / semantic maps / flow charts / storyboards developed from the experience? Are they prominent, accessible and rigorous?
  2. How is the documentation used to help the class jointly and/or individually re-construct the experience? Is the sentence cycle used to generate rich, juicy sentences?
  3. How is the joint construction phase used to refresh people’s memory and knowledge of events?
  4. Can the newly constructed text(s) be used as “familiar text(s)” that can be re-read as fluency practice?
  5. Has the teacher selected a portion of words to use for further word study?

 

Extending the Experience

  1. Can you link new readings to the shared experience? For instance, now that we have explored the world of the garden, can we explore:
    • poetry about gardens or which use gardens as a motif;
    • procedural/information texts about gardening;
    • stories and/or picture books which takes place in a garden; and 
    • news articles about community gardens?
  2. Can the writing be extended to the inclusion of the writing of recognised genres related to the experience? (procedural texts, brochures, etc)
  3. How have non-verbal knowledge, expertise and attitudes been fostered through the activity?

 

Final Note

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) does not replace systematic, intensive instruction in word study, nor does the LEA replace the importance of regular shared and guided reading of age- and skill-appropriate texts. That said, shared and guided can be incorporated into the LEA. The LEA provides an important avenue for the exploration of guided and extended writing and language learning. Within the LEA, there are many micro-teaching moments which should take advantage of best practice language and literacy methods.

 

Further Reading

Au, K. H. (1979). Using the Experience-Text Relationship Method with Minority Children. The Reading Teacher, (March), 677–679.

Labbo, L. D., Eakle, A. J., & Montero, M. K. (2002). Digital Language Experience Approach: Using Digital Photographs and Software as a Language Experience Approach Innovation. Reading Online, 5(8), 1–19. Retrieved from http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/labbo2/

Landis, D., Umolo, J., & Mancha, S. (2010). The power of language experience for cross-cultural reading and writing. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 580–589.

Moustafa, M. (2008). Exceeding the standards: a strategic approach to linking state standards to best practices in reading and writing instruction. New York: Scholastic.

Nessel, D. D., & Dixon, C. N. (2008). Using the language experience approach with English language learners: Strategies for engaging students and developing literacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wurr, A. J. (2002). Language Experience Approach Revisited: The Use of Personal Narratives in Adult L2 Literacy Instruction. The Reading Matrix, 2(1), 1–8. Retrieved from http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/wurr/?collection=col10460/1.

Structuring the rhythms of practice: the foundations for learning

Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images News / Getty Images

Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images News / Getty Images

We are pleased to announce that a new page has been added to the Teaching Folder. The Establishing Meaningful Practices page seeks to "get to the rough ground" and emphasise the importance of establishing effective practices in home, school and community environments, which are based on quality teaching principles. We are interested in contrasting what may appear as sporadic, isolated activities with those activities that are carefully arranged and which contribute to the development of meaningful literacy skills.

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, pg 166). For some reason, people pray, brush their teeth, complete their tax, hike in National Parks, long for the next dance, etc. Each “activity” is part of - let’s says - religious practices, hygienic practices, economic practices, artistic practices, social practices and more. Each practice is much more than the sum of its parts. For instance, the combination of prayer, worship, scripture, and stewardship amounts to more than a collection of disparate activities. They amount to a form of life, and they rely upon resources, other participants, a sense of attachment, cultural artefacts, instruction (or initiation) and more. Likewise, literacy involves the orchestrations of many experiences which culminate in the fostering of the literate practitioner. Time and space must be carved out in the great hurly burly of life so that the practice can grow, flourish and evolve.

So ... how do we make certain activities part and parcel of the practices of home, school, the community, etc? What are the material and social conditions that make this happen? What role do adults and peers play in establishing the conditions of a practice? Is it realistic that all budding "apprentices" will have access to "teachers" (including parents) with sufficient expertise and wherewithal? Overall, how does something become a practice and, through practice, how does the learner's engagement with the world change?

Please click here to explore the Establishing (Literacy) Practices page in the Teaching Folder.

Two New Essays: On Literacy & On Practices

This entry comes with a sense of accomplishment. We are pleased to share two (new) essays that reflect important principles from Wittgenstein On Learning. As with many of the essays, both essays initially appeared in the Journal and have been revised and updated for the Essays Section. One essay appeared fairly recently in the Journal (3 July) and it is titled A Framework For Considering Literacy Instruction. The essay seeks to provide a framework for comprehensive and balanced literacy instruction which reflects the developmental stages of literacy and the multifaceted nature of language development.

The other essay is a more expansive attempt to cover its topic. It first appeared as a five-part series starting in January and it now exists as a unified essay that comes in at over 7,000 words (which - in hindsight - is not very much). It focuses on our practices and it is entitled Why Do We Do What We Do?.  Taken together both essays reflect upon two principles that underpin the themes on this site: how we come to see (read) in particular ways and how we come to act (practice) with others within a community. Please explore and enjoy!

A Comprehensive Literacy Pedagogy Would Account For ...

"In becoming literate, one must acquire skills that are only remotely related to print as well as those that are directly related." (Snow, et al, 1991, p. 5)

McKenna, M. C., & Stahl, K. A. D. (2012). Assessment for reading instruction. 2nd Edition. Guilford Press.

Catherine Snow's observation is particularly relevant to managing balanced literacy instruction. In addition to attending to comprehension skills, compositional skills and print-based skills (e.g. phonemic awareness, spelling skills, fluency, etc), such instruction must take into account the learning of the language itself; the situations in which we speak, listen, read and write; what we are actually trying to learn (e.g. cooking, gardening, football, etc); and the desires, needs, preferences, relationships, experiences and knowledge that we bring to the learning. The diagram to the right represents this parallel development of word recognition skills, strategic reading skills, and language and knowledge

A comprehensive literacy pedagogy would be one where developed a mastering of "the code" along with ample and diverse experiences of using language and literacy in everyday practices and in learning. Such a balanced literacy pedagogy  would include a focus on:

  • creating environments and experiences that foster learning, language & literacy;
  • scaffolding reading;
  • scaffolding writing;
  • developing word recognition skills;
  • expanding vocabulary and depth of word meanings;
  • encouraging the representation & retention of knowledge; and 
  • keeping a pulse on a learner's development, interests and motivation.

Such a pedagogy would recognise that:

  1. Human language is a practice and it involves practice.
  2. That practice involves attending to and mastering salient aspects of language.
  3. Whilst spoken language is arguable developed by all, literacy is the acquisition of a code that many take for granted.
  4. This development is incremental and moves through stages. Adults must be ever vigilant and sensitive to this development.
  5. At every stage it is important to emphasise and model that language and literacy should be meaningful, purposeful and about discovery.
  6. The teacher’s role is to help the child by arranging tasks and activities in such a way that they are more easily accessible. The teacher must also ensure that adequate time and space is made available (especially in the great hurly burly of contemporary life). It is important that learners achieves closure.
  7. This requires an introduction to the routines, habits and ways of using language and literacy as mediating tools.
  8. It is vital that the learner has adequate time and space for this engagement (a) to be modelled for them, (b) to participate in guided practice, and (c) to try out new strategies and skills on their own.
  9. We should not underestimate the important role that emotional commitment and attachment plays in the intake, uptake and embodiment of learning.
  10. We must acknowledge that all learning is conducted with others in context and is dependent on access to tools and resources.
  11. It is important to recognise that there are multiple ways of reading/writing and it is vital to create contexts where a range of literacies can be developed.
  12. An individual's reading and writing practices become more specialised as he or she grows into social, community and economic spheres.
  13. Teaching practitioners must be aware of the material and social factors that impinge upon an individual's successful development of a range of language, literacy and learning practices.
We must remember, in the words of Moyal-Sharrock (2010), how "acquiring language is like learning to walk: the child is stepped into language by an initiator and, after much hesitation and repeated faltering, with time and multifarious practice and exposure, it disengages itself from the teacher's hold and is able, as it were, to run with the language." (2010, pg 6)

 

Reference

Cavell, S. (1969). Must We Mean What We Say?. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Moyal-Sharrock, D. (2010). Coming to Language: Wittgenstein’s Social “Theory” of Language Acquisition. In SOL Conference 6-8 May 2010. Bucharest.

Snow, C., Barnes, W. S., Chandler, J., Goodman, I. F., & Hemphill, L. (1991). Unfulfilled expectations: home and school influences on literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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.

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.

Glossary Updated

A range of new terms have been added to the glossaries of Wittgenstein On Learning, particularly in the general, aspect seeing, practices and language glossaries.

As a summary you will be the following newly added terms in the respective glossaries:

  • GENERAL GLOSSARY: bootstrapping, components of a message, discourse, elements of language, expertise, heteroglossia, ill-structured tasks, inclination, language learning, language/literacy as social practice, joint attention and intention, meaning blindness, practical holism and theoretical holism;
  • ASPECT SEEING GLOSSARY - bootstrapping, inclination, and meaning-blindness;
  • LANGUAGE GLOSSARY - bootstrapping, components of a message, discourse, elements of language, heteroglossia, ill-structured tasks, language learning, language/literacy as social practice, joint attention and intention, and meaning blindness;
  • PRACTICES GLOSSARY - bootstrapping, expertise, ill-structured tasks and inclination.

Please explore!

Why We Do What We Do? Part Five: Conclusion

“Practical holism ... is the view that [any theory of language] can only be meaningful in specific contexts and against a background of shared practices’. ... Background practices, equipment, locations, and broader horizons ... are part and parcel of our ability to engage in conversation and find our way about.” (Stern, 2004, pg 163 - 164)

To sum up, Hans Sluga once wrote that “human language games are not based on knowledge but on practice.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 107) I have applied this observation to the broad notion of existence or practice. It is not what we know that gives shape to our existence. It is what we do. Our knowledge comes to serve and - in fact - justify why we do what we do and the standards of excellence that we expect from these endeavours. If I am to conclude, then I would say that a practice is something that we do not just once but on a regular basis. Unlike an activity, the participant in a practice attaches a certain level of significance or commitment  to the action. In the practice, one comes to acquire certain rules that give shape to the practice. The participant comes to act in accordance with the rules, some which are explicitly stated and others which are acquired through experience and understood as conventions of the practice. 

To be fully immersed in a practice requires an understanding of the standards and expectations, the intention behind the activities, and the motivation and significance that underpins the practice. One becomes adept in the practice through experience, and this is assisted through instruction (or guidance) by those who are more experienced. These “masters” set the stage for engagement and they scaffold subsequent engagement and development. This is done in the hope that the practice will be internalised and the participant will “go on” in accordance with the rule. By “going on”, the learner is committed to the practice by adhering to the practice, contributing to the practice and being part of the practice’s evolution. Collectively, one’s practices give shape to one’s form of life within the stream of living. One’s practices provide one with a habitus (or culture), and one’s habitus (or culture) gives rise from one’s practices. 

At the same time, we should never forget any single practice or set of practices is open to disintegration or entropy. Entropy is formally defined as "the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder." Any system must have energy placed into it so that the system is maintained or preserved. If the practices of a cultural system are not reinforced, then the system and the form of life to which that system is attached will suffer and decay. According to the concept of entropy, the natural state of any system is decay unless efforts are made to maintain it.

Reference

Sluga, H. (2011). Wittgenstein. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

Why We Do What We Do? Part Four

In Part Three of “Why We Do What We Do?”, I attempted to provide the contextual conditions which sustain a practice. In other words, I discussed the material and social factors that foster, maintain and extend ways of acting and knowing. At the end of that entry, I indicate that access to practices and the freedom to practice are not equally distributed. 

“The problem requires specification of the sociological processes which control the way the developing child relates himself to his environment. It requires an understanding of how certain areas of experience are differentiated, made specific and stabilized, so that which is relevant to the functioning of the social structure becomes relevant for the child … What seems to be needed is the development of a theory of social learning which would indicate what in the environment is available for learning, the conditions of learning, the constraints on subsequent learning, and the major reinforcing process.” (Bernstein, 1964, pg. 55)

It is on this note that we launch into Part Four of the series.

It is important that any activity system is open to challenge, “it is, I would argue, an important part of the health at least of large, modern societies, that they have within them members who are not truly at home there, who see with the eyes of the ‘outsider within,’ and that such members are in positions to be listened to and to be intelligible.” (Scheman, 1997, pg. 403 - 404)

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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.