An overview of socio-cultural theory in discourse
Discourse analysis is one of the principal methodologies of sociocultural research in education. sociocultural research focuses on understanding how cognitive, social, cultural, affective, and communicative factors influence instruction. we review how sociocultural theory conceptualizes teaching and learning, some fundamental constructs of both the theory and the methodology, and the basic guidelines for discourse analysis. we discuss the applications of sociocultural theory and discourse analysis to remedial and special education by focusing on three areas of research: the social construction of disability, contingent instruction between adults and learners, and miscommunication between adults and working class or minority students.
An emerging body of work in social, political and educational fields is interested in integrating ethnographic and discourse analytical approaches. This field includes a wide range of studies,
2.1 Ethnographic perspectives
Ethnography is concerned with understanding and describing meaning in social life. Ideally, it involves sustained involvement in a research site through fieldwork, and the recording of social activity in as much of its complexity and messiness as possible. As such, ethnography is at once a research methodology, a set of fieldwork techniques, most prominently participant observation, and a research product, a reflexive account of social life that prioritizes participants' perspectives. As a theoretical and methodological perspective on situated practices, ethnography is particularly useful for examining discourse production.
We begin the discussion of discourse and language by introducing two types of meaning that attach to words and phrases in actual use: situated meanings and cultural models. After a brief discussion of these two notions, we turn to a discussion of an important and related property of language-in-use, a property ethnomethodologists call refiexivity. Through these constructs, we examine language as social action with a focus on what members of a social group are accomplishing through their discourse, rather than focusing solely on language form or function.
Situated Meanings and Cultural Models
A situated meaning is an image or pattern that we (participants in an interaction) assemble "on the spot" as we communicate in a given context, based on our construal of that context and on our past experiences. For example, consider the following two utterances: "The coffee spilled, get a mop" and "The coffee spilled, get a broom." In the first case, triggered by the word mop (a lexical cue), a hearer (or reader) may assemble the situated meaning as something like "dark liquid we drink" for "coffee," by using his or her experience in similar situations. In the second case, triggered by the word broom and personal experience in such matters, a hearer (or reader) may assemble a situated meaning as something like "grains that we make our coffee from" or "beans from which we grind coffee."
These contrasting cases provide a point of departure for the discussion of situated meaning. However, in a real context, there are many more signals as to how to go about assembling situated meanings for words and phrases. Gumperz (1982a) called such cues (or clues) contextualization cues. They include prosodic and nonverbal cues such as pitch, stress, intonation, pause, juncture, proxemics (distance between speakers, spatial organization of speakers), eye gaze, and kinesics (gesture, body movement, and physical activity), in addition to lexical items, grammatical structures, and visual dimensions of context. Such cues provide information to participants about the meaning of words and grammar and how to move back and forth between language and context (situations).
Words are also associated with "cultural models." Cultural models are "story lines," families of connected images (like a mental movie), or (informal) "theories" shared by people belonging to specific social or cultural groups (Cole, 1996; D'Andrade & Strauss, 1992; Geertz, 1983; Holland &. Quinn, 1987; Spradley, 1980). Cultural models "explain,11 relative to the standards (norms) of a particular social group, why words have the range of situated meanings they do for members and shape members' ability to construct new ones. They also serve as resources that members of a group can use to guide their actions and interpretations in new situations.
Cultural models are usually not stored in any one person's head but are distributed across the different sorts of "expertise" and viewpoints found in a group (Hutchins, 1995; Shore, 1996), much like a plot of a group-constructed (oral or written) story in which different people have different bits of information, expertise, and interpretations that they use to contribute to the plot being negotiated. Through this process of joint construction of text, then, members construct local meanings that they draw on to mutually develop a "big picture."
From this theoretical position, not all of the bits and pieces of cultural models or principles of practice are consciously in people's heads, and different bits and pieces are shared across different people and groups. Through interactions, members appropriate the bits and pieces available to them within a social group, and these bits and pieces often become part of people's taken-for-granted social practices. In this way, members construct-and, at times, reconstruct- cultural models socially significant to appropriate participation within their social group. This view of the situated nature of meaning and the constructed nature of cultural knowledge places particular demands on discourse analysts. The task of the discourse analyst is to construct representations of cultural models by studying people's actions across time and events. In closely observing the concerted actions among members, examining how and what members communicate, and interviewing members (see Briggs, 1986, and Mishler, 1986, for discussions of the constructed nature of interviews), the analyst asks questions about the patterns of practice that make visible what members need to know, produce, and interpret to participate in socially appropriate ways (Heath, 1982).
One way to approach the study of cultural models is through the use of an ethnographic perspective to guide a discourse analysis. While this approach is not the same as doing ethnography, Green and Bloome (1983,1997) argue that the cultural perspective guiding ethnography can be productively used in discourse studies (hence the term ethnogaphic perspective). One way to assess how discourse and ethnographic perspectives are conceptually related is through the definition of the phenomenon of study in ethnography by Spindler and Spindler (1987):
Within any social setting, and any social scene within a setting, whether great or small, social actors are carrying on a culturally constructed dialogue. This dialogue is expressed in behavior, words, symbols, and in the application of cultural knowledge to make instrumental activities and social situations work for one. We learn the dialogue as children, and continue learning it all of our lives, as our circumstances change. This is the phenomenon we study as ethnographers-the dialogue of action and interaction, (p. 2)
In summarizing the goals and purpose of ethnography in this way, they place the study of "dialogue" in the center of the work, whether that dialogue be through discourse or through action. Discourse analysis, then, when guided by an ethnographic perspective, forms a basis for identifying what members of a social group (e.g., a classroom or other educational setting) need to know, produce, predict, interpret, and evaluate in a given setting or social group to participate appropriately (Heath, 1982) and, through that participation, learn (i.e., acquire and construct the cultural knowledge of the group). Thus, an ethnographic perspective provides a conceptual approach for analyzing discourse data (oral or written) from an (insider's) perspective and for examining how discourse shapes both what is available to be learned and what is, in fact, learned.8