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Professor of Functional and Applied Linguistics, University of Glasgow
SFL, Discourse Analysis and Transformative Remedies.
There has long been debate over the extent to which discourse theory, including SFL-inspired social semiotics, can (or even should) contribute to social justice. We can distinguish between two broad tendencies here, each of which can be further subdivided. On the one hand, we have non-interventionist positions, within which analysts limit themselves to describing discursive events, either from a neutral or a critical point of view. On the other hand, we have interventionist positions which, following Fraser (1997), can be divided into those seeking to develop: (i) affirmative remedies to linguistic inequalities, which are aimed at correcting inequitable outcomes of social arrangements without disturbing the underlying framework that generates them (Fraser 1997:23); and (ii) transformative remedies (Fraser 1997:27), which seek to put right inequitable outcomes precisely by ‘restructuring the underlying generative framework’ by which they are produced. In this paper I will focus on SFL theory and practice and its potential contribution to both affirmative and transformative action.
Within SFL, interventionist approaches are often clustered together under the name of Positive Discourse Analysis (PDA), a term introduced by Martin (2004) to describe the identification of model texts as only one aspect of a necessary range of research activities aimed at “change for the better”. Following earlier work (Bartlett 2018), I will begin this talk with an overview of research self-identifying as PDA and a synthesis of their distinct contributions:
This framework adds to Martin’s central concept the need for an understanding of the social contexts in which existing discourses are produced and in which any interventions are likely to be taken up or rejected (Bartlett 2012). However, given that regressive or problematic conditions often occur when communicative practices from two distinct social contexts come into contact, it is also necessary to consider the spatiotemporal frames within which distinct discourses operate and are effective (Blommaert 2005) and the constraining relationship between these discourse structures and the material conditions of their emergence (Bartlett 2019).
Such complexity connects with a second element of Fraser’s critique of progressive politics: that it needs to be multivalent rather than one-dimensional (in Block 2018:239). In Block’s terms, this one-dimensionality is often evident as a post-structuralist emphasis on identity and the recognition of difference (with a corresponding affirmative approach to social action) to the relative exclusion of social class and the relation to the means of production (and a corresponding transformative approach).
In this paper, therefore, I will consider discourses from three different cultural contexts in which differential relations to the means of production plays a significant role: development discourse in Guyana; environmental policy in Scotland; and the UK election of 2019.
On the basis of this discussion I will propose an elaborated version of the SFL architecture (Bartlett 2017) and consider how this might provide a framework for integrating a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods in order to identify and challenge the “underlying generative framework” of inequitable linguistic practices in specific contexts.
Block, David. 2018. The political economy of language education research (or the lack thereof): Nancy Fraser and the case of translanguaging, Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 15:4, pp. 237-257.
Blommaert, Jan. 2005. Discourse: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
Fraser, Nancy. 1997. Justice Interruptus – Critical Reflections on the ‘Post-socialist’ Condition. New York: Routledge.
Martin, J.R. 2004. Positive discourse analysis: Solidarity and change. In Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses 49. pp.179-200.
ICREA Research Professor in Sociolinguistics in the Departament d’Humanitats, Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Visiting Professor at University College London, Institute of Education; & Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences
Toxic life: Understanding and dealing with crises and the permanent state of exception in hyper-mediatized times
In most parts of the world today, people seem to either languish in anomie, alienation or outright depression, or they feel indignant in the face of the incessant progression of crises leading to a permanent state of exception (Agamben, 2005, Zabala, 2020). These crises include growing inequality engendered by the current dominant form of global capitalism; the precariousness of most employment and the meagre professional and employment prospects that most young people face; enduring social injustice, based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality and so on; environmental disasters caused by decades of inaction regarding anthropogenic climate change; a decrease in confidence in the political class; an increase in populism of various types, including authoritarian populism (populism as a discursive strategy and not an ideology); and the economic, political, social, cultural and psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (understood not just as a health crisis). Mediating these crises is the toxic media environment in which we find ourselves, whereby there is a balkanization of the production, circulation and consumption of information, leading to an increasing fractionalization of society when it comes to what is real and what is not, what is true and what is not, what is right and what is wrong, and so on. In this brave new world, we are reminded of the words of William Butler Yeats (1920): ‘things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’. But what of all of this? Or in Lenin’s words, ‘what is to be done?’. In this plenary, I will discuss what I see as key components of the permanent state of exception and toxic media environment in which we live today, before moving to a critical consideration of possible remedies suggested by researchers such as Cosetino (2020), Couldry and Mejias (2019), Fuchs (2020), Moore (2018) and Zuboff (2019).
Professor of Language and Literacy Education; Professor on Special Assignment to Professional Development School District; & Program Coordinator of TESOL and World Language Education Programs, University of Georgia
Culturally Sustaining Systemic Functional Linguistic Praxis: Multimodal Meaning Making with Multilingual Youth and Future Educators
When participating in justice-for-youth programs, educators tend to develop a heightened understanding of the cultural and semiotic repertoires of their multilingual students and the social inequities they often experience (Rubin et al, 2016). In this presentation, I provide an explanation and illustration of the key tenets of our culturally sustaining SFL praxis (CS SFL) enacted in a combined language teacher education and youth program in the southeast of the United States. In developing the theoretical parameters that guide our work, I draw from Halliday’s (1978) Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) and Paris and Alim’s (2017) approach to Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy (CSP). Halliday’s model of language celebrates the ecological nature of meaning making that shifts to accommodate variation in social register and cultural context. Aligned with this approach, CSP not only strives to bring in the ideas, desires, and needs of minoritized communities, it demands that they become the center piece in everything that we do. Alim and Paris posit that “culturally sustaining pedagogy exists wherever education sustains the lifeways of communities who have been and continue to be damaged and erased through schooling” (p. 1). Our CS SFL curriculum design, therefore, necessarily involves inclusion of a wide range of modalities that are purposively orchestrated on a continuum (Gibbons, 2006) to support youth and their adult partners in cumulatively coupling multiple modes (Martin, 2010) such as mapping, drawing, rapping and verbal argumentation to communicate their visions of a more equitable school and society. While engaged in this multimodal and multilingual work, future educators are encouraged to take up a metalanguage of multiliteracies and SFL to enact curriculum design, one which positions youth as agentive meaning makers. Implications and discussion in the paper relate to the importance and challenges of designing SFL-informed multimodal and multilingual curriculum that is culturally sustaining for all participants.
Gibbons, P. (2006). Bridging discourses in the ESL classroom : students, teachers and researchers. London ; New York : Continuum
Halliday, M. A. (1978). Language as social semiotic. London: Edward Arnold Ltd.
Harman, R. & Burke, K. (2020). Culturally sustaining SFL praxis: Embodied inquiry with youth. Routlege Press
Martin, J. R. (2010). Semantic variation: Modelling realization, instantiation and individuation. In M. Bednarek AND J.R. Martin (Eds.), New discourse on language: Functional perspectives on multimodality, identity, and affiliation (pp. 1-34). Continuum.
Paris, D. & Alim, H.S. (2017) Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. New York: Teachers College Press.
Rubin, B. C., Abu El-Haj, T. R., Graham, E., & Clay, K. (2016). Confronting the urban civic opportunity gap: Integrating youth participatory action research into teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(5), 424-436.
Professor of Multimodal Communication at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense; Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney: & Honorary Professor at the University of New South Wales; the Australian Catholic University; and the University of Lancaster
Performance and Politics
Ever since the rise of televised politics (Bell et al, 1982), the performance of political leaders, in the sense of managing an impression of trustworthiness, sincerity, confidence, and so on, has been decisive for political success or failure (Fairclough, 1999: 95).
Such performances are not only a matter of verbal style, but also of the way politicians smile, look and move, and of the way their private lives are publicly portrayed in a wide range of media, and they are manufactured performances, following a model pioneered in the entertainment industry (Dyer, 1987), involving a whole industry of make-up artists, fashion designers, media coaches, publicists, photographers and so on.
It is therefore important that critical discourse analysts document this process, both by analysing the range of publicly available information about key political leaders, and by researching how the public images of these leaders are constructed. Using Van Leeuwen’s theory of discourse as social practice (2008), this paper will present an analysis of the public persona of Australia’s current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, as well as a critical analysis of theories such as those of Goffman (e.g. 1959) which see performance and the presentation of self as the central explanatory principle for social life and focus on the appearance of truthfulness rather than on objective truth, and on desires and feelings in relation to needs satisfaction rather than on broader political visions.
Bell, P, Boehringer, K, and Crofts, S. (1982) Programmed Politics – A Study of Australian Television, Sydney: Sable.
Dyer, R. (1987) Heavenly Bodies – Film Stars and Society. London: BFI/Macmillan
Fairclough, N. (1999) New Labour, New Language? London: Routledge
Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin
Van Leeuwen, T. (2008) Discourse and Practice – New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.