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. 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. 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. 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.
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?