Discourse in Use

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DISCOURSE-IN-USE

David Bloome and Caroline Clark
The Ohio State University

Manuscript prepared for Complementary Methods for Research in Education co-edited by Judith Green, Greg Camilli, and Patricia Elmore to be published by the American Educational Research Association. Address for correspondence: David Bloome, Language, Literacy & Culture, School of Teaching & Learning, The Ohio State University, 216B Ramseyer Hall, 29. W. Woodruff Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210 bloome.1@osu.edu

Discourse-In-Use

The concept of discourse-in-use focuses attention simultaneously on how people interact with each other, the tools they use in those interactions, the social and historical contexts within which they interact, and what they concertedly create and accomplish through those interactions. The concept of “discourse-in-use” can be distinguished from other definitions of discourse. Discourse has been defined as stylistic ways of using language ( ), written text ( ), as a set of cultural, historical, and ideological processes (cf., Foucault, 1980), among other definitions (see Bloome, Carter, Christian, Otto & Faris, in press, for a discussion of definitions of discourse). Gee (1996) distinguishes between discourse with a lower case “d” and Discourse with an upper case “D.” The former referring to ways of using language within face-to-face events and similar situations; the latter referring to broad social, cultural, and ideological processes. Whether one uses Gee’s trope of lower case “discourse” versus upper case “Discourse,” acknowledgement needs to be made that people use language and other semiotic tools within multiple layers of social context and that ways of using language do not exist distinct from broader social and historical processes. We use “discourse-in-use” to ask who is doing what with whom, to whom , when, where, and how? The concept of discourse-in-use focuses attention on how people adopt and adapt the language and cultural practices historically available in response to the local, institutional, macro-social and historical situations in which they find themselves.

In this chapter, we examine methodological warrants and obligations that the concept of discourse-in-use provides for researchers interested in describing and understanding how people accomplish education. By “accomplish education,” we mean how people create events and social institutions that are recognizable to themselves and others as educational events and educational institutions. We view the accomplishment of education as occurring both in classroom and non-classroom settings.

We begin by briefly discussing historical roots of the concept of discourse-in-use. Then, we discuss the material nature of discourse-in-use and the nature of the warrants needed to support claims regarding interpretations of discourse events. We follow the discussion of warrants by raising two key issues: animation of discourse and agency, and dividing practices. To illustrate the concepts we present, we examine a small segment of classroom conversation from a seventh grade language arts lesson. In this classroom conversation, the teacher and students had been discussing Sterling Brown’s poem, “After Winter.” The conversation evolved into a discussion of language variation and the particular conversational segment we use involves discussion of “sounding white.” Transcript 1

Conversational segment from a Seventh Grade Language Arts Lesson

|01 |Teacher |Who can explain to the concept of sounding white ↑ | |02 |Maria |OK I have an example | |03 |Maria |When I be at lunch and I say li+ke | |04 |Andre |When I be laughs (aside) | |05 |Teacher |*Wait a minute*...
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