#CritLit2010 Reflection on discourse and critical literacies

What is meant by discourse?

Iara Lessa summarizes Foucault’s definition of discourse as “systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak.” He traces the role of discourses in wider social processes of legitimating and power, emphasizing the construction of current truths, how they are maintained and what power relations they carry with them.” Foucault later theorized that discourse is a medium through which power relations produce speaking subjects.[4] Foucault (1977, 1980) argued that power and knowledge are inter-related and therefore every human relationship is a struggle and negotiation of power. Foucault further stated that power is always present and can both produce and constrain the truth.[4] Discourse according to Foucault (1977, 1980, 2003) is related to power as it operates by rules of exclusion. Discourse therefore is controlled by objects, what can be spoken of; ritual, where and how one may speak; and the privileged, who may speak.[9] Coining the phrases power-knowledge Foucault (1980) stated knowledge was both the creator of power and creation of power.

When I reflected on Foucault’s definition of discourse, I realize that power relations would have a significant impact on the conversations held between networkers.  Take Twitter as an example, would the followers and the following assume a power relation? Some of those who tweeted as “experts” may post tweets which link to their or other blogs that provide what are claimed as “expert advice”.  How would you know if the blog post referred by the tweeterer is “accurate and reliable” in such expert advice?  Would you be based on the connections you have on the twitter community? Do you know the referer(s) well enough?  Is the referral important? Or would you adopt some specific strategies in screening some referrals or tweets? How would you decide what and who to follow? This video http://mashable.com/2010/06/08/yahoo-social-media-science/ seems to provide clues to the question of:” Who’s talking to who and with what effect?”

Similarly, when I am networking with others in the Facebook community, I would explore the “what can be spoken of; ritual, where and how one speak, and the privileged, who may speak” to understand the impact of each Facebook post and thread may have impacted on my learning and others, and to anticipate the impact of my action on others who could be my potential readers.  Such learning in action through “posting”, “response with comments” and further conversation could lead to a deeper insight into why some engagement or conversation are highly successful, whilst others are not.  Would these be due to factors like the negotiation of power that are inherent in the interaction and conversation?  Would the content in the conversation be mediated through the social media (FB)?  Though not every conversation involves discourse,  I think there are always some that may lead to further construction of  certain “truths” through further conversations.

So, one of critical literacies whilst learning over Social Media (with twitter and Facebook etc.) could be an understanding of the role of discourse in social networking.

In this How to Win Friends & Influence People

I am particularly impressed by the following suggestions:

How to Interest People

– Be a good listener

– Talk in terms of other’s interests

– Make the other person feel important

You can’t win an argument

– Any victory will be an empty victory

– Feeling of Importance

– A man convinced against his will… is of the same opinion still

Never Say “You’re Wrong”

– Don’t use words that imply certainty

– One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing

– Every man I meet is my superior in some way.  I learn from him

In reflection, I found some of the above statements holding some “truths” under certain context.  However, when I apply the concept of critical thinking, I realise that certain statements sound “flattery” and may be counter-intuitive in maintaining my integrity, despite the possibility of winning the friend, both face-to-face and in virtual networks.

This critique on the How to Win Friends & Influence People provides some interesting insights and balanced views.  It shows how some of the “truths” that are conveyed in the artifacts could be perceived and interpreted quite differently by the readers, especially when the subject speaker is assuming the role of an expert.  So, would we need to question the “validity” of the statements, based on the context where such statement is uttered from different perspectives, and different contexts?

How would we be able to be connected to others effectively?  This Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Downes provides a list of good habits – which are highly useful for reflection on the critical literacies, and discourse in social networking.

How would you see power in the course of discourse in social networking?

How would you decide what and who to follow in social media?


9 thoughts on “#CritLit2010 Reflection on discourse and critical literacies

  1. “When I reflected on Foucault’s definition of discourse, I realize that power relations would have a significant impact on the conversations held between networkers”

    According to Barabási (2003), the Internet is a scale-free network (i.e., containing hubs and connections) that follows a power law distribution (for good or bad). In order to recognize the impact power has on any particular type of discourse requires that each actor 1) recognize the type of tie that exists between the actor and other nodes within the network and 2) recognize the attributes of each node. This level of criticality will help determine the impact nodes (including the actor herself) have on the network with regard to centrality and prestige.

    “Take Twitter as an example, would the followers and the following assume a power relation?”

    This would depend on how much the actor depended on Twitter as part of a personal learning network and whether the actor perceived the tie with the individual or node as valuable. I would dare say that most people use Twitter in conjunction with a wide variety of additional tools that ultimately would limit the impact power might have on this type of discourse. That is, even those along the long tail have the opportunity to gain some level of power if they are able to critically assess ties and node attributes.

    I view Twitter discourse (TD) differently than Facebook discourse (FBD). Typically, TD is limited to the individuals participating in that discourse and tends to be a bit more fragmented and difficult to follow for “outsiders”. It’s been my experience that FBD is easier for others to view discourse and the discourse itself tends to include more turn-taking. In general, TD is more spontaneous and I would say contains more utterances (non-discursive) while FBD is more thought out and contains more conversations (discursive) – although I don’t have the data to back this up. Finally, I see TD as more of a network, FBD as more of a group, at least in terms of degree of openness, agency, types of interaction.

  2. Hi Benjamin,
    I resonate with your views that “Most people use Twitter in conjunction with a wide variety of additional tools that ultimately would limit the impact power might have on this type of discourse… even those along the long tail have the opportunity to gain some level of power…”
    Is Twitter discourse (TD) significantly different from that of Facebook discourse (FBD)? I could see TD more as a network in some respects, with more utterances sharing emotions, feelings and beliefs by the tweeterer or re-tweeterer based on the tweets (for amplification), or retweets, links to artifacts or news for further discourse (i.e. a mediated link for further conversation). FBD as you mentioned tends to be based on groups and fans conversation, discussion and debates, which may be bound by the “privacy settings” set within FB, and so such conversation and message could be more directed to particular groups who could only be viewed with “restricted openness”. Further research would however be needed to substantiate such claims, as TD and FBD are often interlinked in their use by some users.
    In this Just what is being reflected in online reflection?: new literacies for new media practices. Ross concludes that:
    These tools and environments are not innocent nor culturally neutral, though, as they are “inscribed with social meaning, power relations, possibilities for and restrictions on the expression of personal identity” (Goodfelow and Lea 2007, p128), and their use in higher education can produce many tensions and issues. So, as students negotiate the management of personal, academic and sometimes also professional voices in blogs and e-portfolios, they need new digital literacies and critical perspectives, not just technical skills.
    How would one determine the new digital literacies in the case of TD and FBD? What might be the similarities and differences in new digital literacies amongst blogging, Twitters and Facebook? Just wonder….
    Thanks Benjamin for your great & stimulating insights into TD versus FBD.

  3. Thanks for sharing Ross’s (2010) article. In higher education, I agree that cultivating one’s digital identity in most cases requires the guidance of a teacher or some other more knowledgeable other. It may also depend on how the online activity integrates with the overall learning experience.

    I have used online reflections on several occasions over the last few years, both written and oral. In most cases these reflections were conducted by English language learners studying in Mexico. Setting aside the fact that for the most part they are reflecting in a target language and the basis of the activities are not on blogs themselves (granted, two very important details), I wonder if the reflections served some future purpose if learners would approach them differently with respect to authenticity, risk, pretense, commodification, othering, and narcissism (Ross, 2010).

    I teach preservice English language educators and I have participated in various virtual language exchanges over the last two-to-three years where learners were required to conduct reflections in L2 or their target language (i.e., English). Reflections can be found here:


    I have also blogged about these classes where learners have written out reflections both in L1 (i.e., Spanish) and L2:


    In my teaching context, reflection takes a lot of encouragement and yes, at times it involves reminding them that what they say online is a reflection of their own digital identity. Because they are language learners and because the act of reflecting is not a natural one, I have to be careful not to “front-load” all the topics mentioned by Ross (2010) (i.e., authenticity, risk, pretense, commodification, othering, and narcissism) although they are important issues. To date, online “self-incrimination” has not been much of a problem and has only required me to occasionally mention it at the beginning of each semester. I think the reason for this is perhaps how the reflections are being used and the criteria of what makes a “good” reflection.

    Learners in the language exchange must provide weekly reflections that are assessed in terms of what they learned culturally from their language partner, new words or phrases they learned, how they felt during the language exchange (i.e., what they found easy/difficult during their conversation), and aids used to facilitate conversation. Because they spoke with their partner each week, and since their partner had access to the same reflections (which they also performed), my learners had to “face” their partners each week knowing that what they said last week was made available to their partner (as well as the entire world). These same reflections also served as content for what was done during the week face to face.

    I wonder how much authenticity, risk, pretense, commodification, othering, and narcissism depend on how educators frame the act of reflecting within the educative experience and how the criteria used to assess such reflections are being communicated to the learner beforehand (e.g., rubric).

    Ross, J. (2010). Just what is being reflected in online reflection? New literacies for new media practices. Retrieved on June 20, 2010 from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/PDFs/Ross.pdf

  4. Hi Ruth,
    I think that would also help in better understanding about the motives of others. There are times when I keep my silence too, when I disagree. I would reflect on why I disagree with what others are saying, and think about the differences in perspectives to better understand their perspectives.

  5. I like a good fight.

    Being right or wrong, who can judge this?

    Devil’s advocate: sure, I like to question people’s stances, especially when they are convinced they are right, and seek to impose their rightness on others. It is the attempted imposition of their perspectives that rankles me. And if they accompany this with any hint of arrogance, I move on it.

    Using different avatars was not a well-thought out, planned activity, it just happened in cck08. I find it useful still, to attempt to be different perspectives, this helps my understanding. Eventually, or maybe even now, the perspectives are merging within me.

  6. Pingback: Ideas, discussion and discourse in social and online networks | Learner Weblog

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