Orthopraxy, writing and Identity

Orthopraxy, writing and Identity – Shaping lives through borrowed genres in Congo

Jan Blommaert

In: Jim Martin and Ruth Wodak (eds), Re/Reading the past, Amsterdam, 2003, 177-194.

Orthopraxy: hegemony often occurs in the shape of hegemonic pratcies rather than hegemonic beliefs. People’s behaviour can emanate normative rules and models, while their worldview remains largely untouched and can be a tool of resistance against the deeper meanings contained in that behaviour.

The absence of overt resistance, therefore, did not preclude the existence of resistance per se. What was visible in social life was orthopraxy, hegemony-oriented practices, not hegemony-oriented faith or belief.
=> They may offer an interesting spectre through which to look at the mobility of signs and sign-systems across referential and indexical spaces.

Orthopraxy, resitance, identity formation  the ways in which acts of identity-construction are lodged in the use of generically regimented models of text and textuality, forms of use that can be identified ethnographically.

Generically regimented models of text and textuality offer spaces for identity-construction, and performing them can amount to a (local) construction of self.

“Cultural reality”

Castells: Self-identity is not a distinctive trait possessed by the individual. It is the self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of her/his biography. => through active semiotic, representational and discursive construction.

The acquisition of subjectivity, in other words, depends on the capacity to reorder generically regimented discursive resources and functions – referential and indexical frames which give (local) ‘meaning’ to the resources.

Their handling of orthographic conventions and narrative style.

The deep differences between economies of literacies allow for shifts in functionality and relative positioning of written texts vis-avis other genres and forms of communication.

Particular type of text

Sub-elite resources are given elite functions, thus allowing a self-identification that does not necessarily come across to the addressees.

Yet the texts are the product of enormous amounts of work, care and attention. The texts are littered with corrections and additions, revealing an awareness of ‘correctness’ and a desire to write ‘correctly’.

Julien and Tshibumba adopt a prestige format – the tightly structured model of the ‘serious’ genre they try to accomplish – but realize it with means that betray their sub-elite place in the economy of communicative resources in which they live. But these sub-elite resources are given the function of realizing the elite, prestige-bearing genre.

Even by means of very deficient resources, Julien and Tshibumbe are capable of inserting themselves in an elite discursive space and assume prestige identities.

The genre – offers spaces for such self-creation.

The attempts are orthopractic in the sense that they adopt a form but add other meanings to it: the genres are not adopted orthodoxically – but orthopractically.

The orthopraxy observed here is thus not necessarily an expression of resistance, but one of inequality: people behave as if they have control over elite resources, but not because they reject these elite resources.

Metapragmatic awareness: limits that are induced by the widening difference between value and function attributions to linguistic resources on a world wide scale. The ‘doing as if’ has to be seen now in terms of global economies of signs and symbolic resources.

=> ethnographic approaches to text must be sensitive to the historicity of the materials that enter into the text.

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