language + other stuff


Picture taken in Geneva at the ‘Place Bourg du Four’

Like Bourdieu and Fanon before him, James Gee uses Discourse (but with a capital D) theory and analysis techniques to investigate and explain how language works both to scaffold human activities and affiliations and to maintain social identities within social groups (1999, p. 1). Also, like Fanon and Bourdieu, Gee recognises that there is more to language than oral and written words. For Gee language is made up of what he refers to as “other stuff’ which includes body language, gestures, actions, symbols, tools, technologies, values, attitudes, beliefs and emotions (Gee, 1999, p. 7). These ways of communicating and of acting are often, according to Gee, supported by a range of props, which can include such material and non-material identifiers as accents, writing styles, dress standards, building designs or an assortment of possessions that can be used to signal the values and beliefs of an individual or group. All these props go towards creating an image that signals membership of a particular group and which can be recognised both by members of the groups and those outside it.

Taken from a study on Higher Education Institutions This idea of language and other stuff is central in my research on literacy. Being “literate” within a certain context (among a specific group of people) means that you are not only aware of “the ways with words” that count in that setting but also with other “ways of being” (other stuff). This is true as much for becoming part of a youth subculture as for entering Academia (which can be seen as a subculture in its own right).

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