Main Text  I  References  I  Comments


The notes below come from the following journal article:

  • Bracewell, R. and Witte, S. (2008). Implications of practice, activity, and semiotic theory for cognitive constructs of writing. In J. Albright and A. Luke (Eds)., Pierre Bourdieu and literacy education. (pp. 299 - 315). London: Routledge.


Main text

“We treat the relationship between practice, activity and semiotic theory on one hand, and cognitive theories of writing on the other hand.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“That writing in [serving] communicative functions, is both social and material. The social aspect is perhaps seen most obviously in the writer’s concern for the reader - a concern that in a distorted fashion occupies even the bored middle-school student penning an arid exercise to be graded by the teacher.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“The social nature of writing can also be seen ... by looking at the circumstances that lead to writing. Just as the writer attempts to predict and evaluate the reader’s response, the act of writing is at least in part a response in itself to a request or need that comes from others.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“Writing is grounded in the material world in at least three ways: the writer communicates using material objects (letters, pen, paper, word processor, internet), which in turn shape the writing; the product of writing, that is the text itself, is a material object in itself; and the text also often influences events in the material world.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“A cognitive perspective of writing ... requires an integrated account of the relation between cultural and cognitive factors in writing.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“A writer’s history is seen in the individual and idiosyncratic knowledge and processes that are brought to bear as the writer composes for particular readers, selects content for text, structures the text, and evaluates and modifies it.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“For example, by what means does a writer’s past interaction with an audience come to influence word choice when composing?” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“The current challenge for those of us who study writing and its development is to integrate social, cultural and material factors that bear on writing with cognitive factors that underlie planning, writing and revising text.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 299)

“Bourdieu (1990) proposed the construct of habitus to account for regularities in performance, or, as Bourdieu would call it, the practices of activity.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 300)

“With respect to how habitus arises, Bourdieu places heavy emphasis on the process of embodiment or incorporation.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 300)

“With respect to the way that it affects performance ... the habitus provides the principles for the generation and organisation of the practices of activity.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 301)

“ ‘A habit arises, when, having had the sensation of performing a certain act, m, on several occasions - a, b, c - we come to do it on every occurrence of the general event l, of which a, b and c are special cases.’ (Pierce, 1931 - 1958, 5.297) ” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 301)

“In cognitive theory, the construct of expertise has been the principal one used to account for the acquisition of regular and skilled performance, or, if you will, habits of mind that distinguish particular pursuits or knowledge domains.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 302)

“Expertise from comes a long and motivated experience in a domain, an experience that produces a large and complex knowledge base that one uses in the course of activity (Ericsson and Smith, 1991).” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 302)

“The Soar model of cognitive architecture (Newell, 1990) ... provides a general architecture for cognition ... of the actual time-based constraints on performance, skill acquisition, and goal-based activity, among others.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 303)

“In the Soar model, learning is a by-product of one’s acts Cognition is viewed as an active process of dealing with the environment ... based on a goal that one is attempting to achieve.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 303)

“Learning is ... closely dependent on attention in that one is attending to the immediate environment and to the goal which is realised in a single action.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 304)

“Where a single action does not achieve a goal directly, one creates a subgoal of finding an action that can be applied to the environment.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 304)

“The defining characteristic of an ill-structured task is that part of the task itself is to define what the task is. Another way of putting this is in terms of goals: what one does in an ill-structured task, in addition to trying to achieve the goal, is to define what the goal is (Simon, 1978).” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 312)

“[The ill-structured task itself] does not readily connect readily with the constraints, such as time limitations; or resources, such as one’s knowledge; or tools, such as lexical and semantic signs which work across knowledge domains, that constitute the immediate context of the task. In order to make this connection, one must elaborate the nature of the task.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 312)

Ill-structured tasks provide a vehicle for determining the task definition through interactive social means.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 312)

“For Bourdieu especially, the ... operation of the habitus is important for accounting for how people carry out activities in the face of both knowledge and real-time constraints on performance.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 309)

“In fact, the mechanism for this process has been addressed by both activity and cognitive approaches in terms of proceduralisation of knowledge and action.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 310)

“Moreover, the creation of subgoals that occurs with the use of heuristics in the construct of satisficing, and the incorporation of knowledge into other active knowledge structures that occur with proceduralisation, realises Pierce’s unlimited semiosis.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 312)

“Activity theory ... focus[es] on the importance of social/communicative aspects of human experience for the development of individual competence.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 312)

“Constructs such as the zone of proximal development, the internalisation of activity, and even the mediation by tools assume a social and material dialectic that underlies and supports the realization of the constructs in a particular situations.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 312)

“The additional characterization of the mediating device as an artifact or tool presupposes a way of using the tool in order to effect the mediation.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 306)

“A material object such as a tool serves as a mediator because of the appropriate knowledge that the subject is able to apply, leading to the proposition that there cannot be effective tool use without accompanying semiosis.” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 308)

“Further research is required on the issue of how one retrieves, transforms and constructs knowledge in the course of writing (e.g., Bracewell and Breuleux, 1994; Chenowyth and Hayes, 2003).” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 313)

“A second domain concerns the material contingencies of writing. This would include empirical studies of the nature of writing tools and how these affect writing (e.g. Haas, 1996), and the role that writing plays in the shaping of the world (e.g. Haas and Witte, 2001; Medway, 1996).” (Bracewell & Witte, 2008, pg 313)


References  (back to top)

  • Bourdieu, P. (1990) The logic of practice. (R. Nice, trans.) Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Bracewell, R. and Breuleux, A. (1994) Substance and romance in the analysis of think-aloud protocols. On P. Smagorinsky (ed.), Speaking about writing: reflections on research methodology. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp 55 - 88.
  • Bracewell, R. and Witte, S. (2008). Implications of practice, activity, and semiotic theory for cognitive constructs of writing. In J. Albright and A. Luke (Eds)., Pierre Bourdieu and literacy education. (pp. 299 - 315). London: Routledge.
  • Chenowyth, N. and Hayes, R. (2003) The inner voice of writing. In Writing Communications. Vol 20, pp 99 - 118.
  • Ericsson, K and Smith, H. (1991) Toward a general theory of expertise: prospects and limits . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Haas, C. (1996) Writing technology: studies on the materiality of literacy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawerence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Haas, C. and Witte, S. (2001) Writing as an embodied practice: a case of engineering standards. In Jounral of Business and Technical Communication. Vol. 15, pp. 413 - 457.
  • Medway (1996) Virtual and material buildings: construction and constructivism in architecture and writing. In Written Communication, Vol. 13, No. 4. pp 473 - 514.
  • Newell, A. (1990) Unified theories of cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Peirce, C. (1931 - 1958) Collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (8 vols). C. Hartshone: Weiss and A. Burks (eds). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Simon, H. (1978) Information-processing theory of problem solving. In W.K. Estes (ed.), In Handbook of learning and cognitive processes: human information processing (Vol. 5). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp 271 - 295.