James Paul Gee’s introduction to Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics and his article, What is Literacy? , approach literacy studies from psychological and sociological viewpoints. He states that the focus of literacy is social practices (“it’s not just how you say it, but what you are and do when you say it). Early in the writing, Gee defines Discourse as a combination of acts: saying, writing, doing, being, valuing, etc. He views Discourse as a social construct not dissimilar from Culture.
In fact, in order to master a Discourse, one must go through an intensive process of enculturation or apprenticeship where there is a focus on social practices and supported interaction with people who have already mastered a Discourse. The first Discourse we learn, which is usually focused on the home and our families, is our Primary Discourse. Gee states that the Primary Discourse is “attained through being a part of something. ” It’s a foundation and they vary from person to person .
Secondary Discourses are learned through social institutions (school, church, work, etc. ). There are two types of Secondary Discourses: Dominant Discourses allow for the acquisition of social goods and status points, Non-Dominant Discourses do not. However, Non-Dominant Discourses do allow for an individual to become ‘solid’ with a given social network, there is just no increase in social status. Gee continues by defining Literacy within the parameters of Discourse. Literacy becomes the mastery of a given Secondary Discourse.
As the article continues, Gee discusses the idea Liberation through Literacy and comes to question superficial features of language that lend nothing to meaning. He states that classrooms must become active apprenticeships for full fluency occur. Once full fluency occurs and individuals become truly Literate, they will be able to Liberate themselves by discussing, comparing and questioning different Discourses instead of being mindless followers of certain Secondary Discourses. To me, Gee’s articles seems a bit conservative in that it views Primary Discourses as limited.
I often find my Primary Discourse to be very liberating, but in the article he declares that this is an impossibility. Also, I find his view of Dominant and Non-Dominant Discourses to be troublesome because it assumes that Non-Dominant Discourses offer no status. It seems as though solidarity within a given network would yield some sort of result even if it doesn’t raise your status points. He states early on in the reading that Discourse is not static. Isn’t there the possibility of a Non-Dominant Discourse becoming a Dominant Discourse?