Thursday, January 28, 2010

Urszula Clark: War Words -- Language, History and the Disciplining of English

Clark, Urszula. War Words: Language, History and the Disciplining of English. NY: Elsevier, 2001.

Foucault does not deny that tradition and continuity act as forces of influence upon an idea, but rather that they are not enough in themselves to act as significant forces in creating change. The expression and site of ideas he calls discourse, is for him an active and dialogic, rather than a passive and monologic, process. Any discourse at any given moment in time is structured as much by the assumptions about what constitutes it as a discourse as by the boundaries of language itself. Discourse in a Foucaudian sense, then, combines linguistic utterance, whether spoken or written, with the underlying non-linguistic structures—such as the cultural, social and economic—through which utterances are realized and suppressed. Within education, for example, institutional practices control the access of individuals to various kinds of pedagogic discourse. (Clark, 4) {MB—see Foucault, 1972: 46, which she references; also Bakhtin; Irving/Moffett}

The historical process of cultural institutions, of which the education system is a part, has also been investigated by Raymond Williams. In Marxism and Literature (1977), Williams divides into three the elements which are responsible for what Inglis (1995) calls the value-loadings of discourse: residual, dominant, and emergent. These elements co-exist in varying degrees at any cultural moment. By the ‘residual’ Williams does not imply archaic elements of past culture which survive. Rather, they are experiences, meanings and values which have been formed in the past but cannot be expressed in the terms of the dominant culture. Even when in opposition to it, they are still present and potentially active within it. ‘Emergent’ culture involves the making of new forms and discourses, in the process of which there occurs pre-emergence, where expression is active but not yet fully articulated. Furthermore, the very existence of subordinate and repressed cultures point to the fact that culture is not a unitary phenomenon. Non-dominant, discursive elements interact with dominant ones at various times, co-existing with, being absorbed or destroyed by them, as well as challenging, modifying or even displacing them. Consequently Williams views historical time as dialogic and multi-dimensional. According to Williams, then, any analysis of cultural formations is an attempt to explain how cultural value is ascribed, and has to take into account the interaction between legislation in the form of the state ascription of value and historio-cultural processes. (Clark: 5)

Because of its association with value, feeling, and experience as expressed through language, and particularly as literature and the national language, English as a school subject quickly came to be more than the transference of a particular body of factual knowledge. It also came to be concerned with contemporary beliefs about the nature of human individuals and societies: that is, with cultural knowledge and how to live. (Clark: 5)

Consequently, issues about English, particularly when it comes to constructing policies about language, are at one and the same time an outcome of power struggles and an arena within which they take place. Therefore, any attempt to outline the formation of an idea such as that of English as a school subject and its relationship with language has to take account of both the struggles ‘outside’ as well as ‘within’ the subject. (Clark: 6)

For Bernstein, ‘text’ can refer to the dominant curriculum, dominant pedagogic practices as well as any pedagogic representation, be it written, visual, postural, sartorial, spatial. … {MB—Likewise} the term ‘text’ is used to refer to anything that occurs or exists in a classroom, from the slightest movement of an individual, materials and books, to the spatial and visual settings of that classroom. … Thus, the importance of Bernstein’s theory … is that it provides a framework within which the formation of English as a curriculum subject in general, and issues of language in particular, can be considered. As such, it considers not only the subject’s discursive practices and the texts privileged within it, but also how they came to be constituted and constructed in the way they have. (Clark: 10)

In other words, for a theory of cultural reproduction to be complete, it has to explain how a text came to be constituted as it is and accorded a privileged status as well as what is transmitted. (Clark: 11)

Black English or Ebonics, because of its categorization as a variety of English, is excluded from recognition as a minority language. Consequently, it ranks below all others in terms of linguistic hierarchy to such an extent that it does not feature in issues of linguistic democracy at all. Learning to be literate in American society, therefore, also carries with it the dual aspect of learning a specific cultural literacy (Hirsch, 1978; 1987) and what it means to be an American, based upon a Eurocentric language and culture, a ‘white’ way of being. Thus, any challenge or change to the norms associated with learning to be literate, such as that posed by the Oakland Resolution, represents nothing less than a challenge or change to what it means to be American. (Clark: 229)

As one of the subjects most closely associated with the reproduction of culture and cultural values as these are generated through language, and with concepts of language themselves constructed around the central notion of standard English, battles over language are always and inevitably to do with battles over culture, identity and Williams’ notion of ‘ways of being’. Ultimately, they are also struggles for control of the pedagogic device itself. Williams makes the point that “A definition of language is always, implicitly or explicitly, a definition of human beings in the world. The received categories—‘word,’ ‘reality,’ ‘nature,’ ‘human’—may be counterpoised or related to the category ‘language,’ but it is now commonplace to observe that all categories, including the category of ‘language,’ are themselves constructions in language…” ({MB-Raymond} Williams, 1977: 21). Education is thus never neutral, but a site of cultural reproduction as much as any other. Nevertheless, systems of education also contain within them the seeds of their own transformations. Just as reproduction is historically configured at any given moment in time, today’s acquirers become, in turn, tomorrow’s reproducers and producers of knowledge. Schools then, and the curriculum they teach, are at one and the same time sites of cultural reproduction and of potential future transformations. (Clark: 257-258)

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