James Paul Gee’s introduction to Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics and his article, What is Literacy?, examine literacy studies using psychological and sociological perspectives. According to Gee, literacy encompasses social practices, emphasizing that it involves not only how one expresses something but also who they are and what they do when expressing it. At the beginning of the text, Gee defines Discourse as a combination of various actions such as speaking, writing, acting, existing, valuing, and more. He regards Discourse as a social construction that bears similarities to Culture.
To become proficient in a Discourse, one must undergo an extensive process of enculturation or apprenticeship, which entails emphasizing social practices and engaging with individuals who have already achieved mastery in that Discourse. The initial Discourse we acquire, often centered around the household and our relatives, is referred to as our Primary Discourse. According to Gee, the Primary Discourse is “obtained through participation in a particular group or community.” It serves as a groundwork and differs from one individual to another.
Secondary Discourses are acquired through social institutions such as school, church, and work. There are two categories of Secondary Discourses: Dominant Discourses enable individuals to gain social benefits and increase their status, while Non-Dominant Discourses do not provide these opportunities but still allow individuals to establish connections within a particular social group. According to Gee, Literacy is defined as the proficiency in a specific Secondary Discourse.
Gee argues for the concept of Liberation through Literacy in his article. He questions the significance of superficial aspects of language that contribute nothing to meaning. Gee emphasizes the need for classrooms to function as active apprenticeships to achieve fluency. Once individuals attain full fluency and become truly literate, they can free themselves by engaging in discussions, comparisons, and inquiries about various Discourses instead of blindly adhering to specific Secondary Discourses. However, I find Gee’s perspective somewhat conservative as he regards Primary Discourses as restrictive.
I frequently find my Primary Discourse to be incredibly liberating; however, the article argues that this is impossible. Additionally, the author’s perception of Dominant and Non-Dominant Discourses troubles me because it implies that Non-Dominant Discourses do not carry any status. It appears that within a specific network, solidarity could potentially generate some form of outcome, even if it does not elevate one’s status. The author asserts early in the text that Discourse is not fixed. Could there be a chance for a Non-Dominant Discourse to transition into a Dominant Discourse?