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Reader in Functional and Applied Linguistics, University of Glasgow
SFL, Discourse Analysis and Transformative Remedies.
There has long been debate over the extent to which discourse theory, including SFL-inspired social semiotics, can (or even should) contribute to social justice. We can distinguish between two broad tendencies here, each of which can be further subdivided. On the one hand, we have non-interventionist positions, within which analysts limit themselves to describing discursive events, either from a neutral or a critical point of view. On the other hand, we have interventionist positions which, following Fraser (1997), can be divided into those seeking to develop: (i) affirmative remedies to linguistic inequalities, which are aimed at correcting inequitable outcomes of social arrangements without disturbing the underlying framework that generates them (Fraser 1997:23); and (ii) transformative remedies (Fraser 1997:27), which seek to put right inequitable outcomes precisely by ‘restructuring the underlying generative framework’ by which they are produced. In this paper I will focus on SFL theory and practice and its potential contribution to both affirmative and transformative action.
Within SFL, interventionist approaches are often clustered together under the name of Positive Discourse Analysis (PDA), a term introduced by Martin (2004) to describe the identification of model texts as only one aspect of a necessary range of research activities aimed at “change for the better”. Following earlier work (Bartlett 2018), I will begin this talk with an overview of research self-identifying as PDA and a synthesis of their distinct contributions:
This framework adds to Martin’s central concept the need for an understanding of the social contexts in which existing discourses are produced and in which any interventions are likely to be taken up or rejected (Bartlett 2012). However, given that regressive or problematic conditions often occur when communicative practices from two distinct social contexts come into contact, it is also necessary to consider the spatiotemporal frames within which distinct discourses operate and are effective (Blommaert 2005) and the constraining relationship between these discourse structures and the material conditions of their emergence (Bartlett 2019).
Such complexity connects with a second element of Fraser’s critique of progressive politics: that it needs to be multivalent rather than one-dimensional (in Block 2018:239). In Block’s terms, this one-dimensionality is often evident as a post-structuralist emphasis on identity and the recognition of difference (with a corresponding affirmative approach to social action) to the relative exclusion of social class and the relation to the means of production (and a corresponding transformative approach).
In this paper, therefore, I will consider discourses from three different cultural contexts in which differential relations to the means of production plays a significant role: development discourse in Guyana; environmental policy in Scotland; and the UK election of 2019.
On the basis of this discussion I will propose an elaborated version of the SFL architecture (Bartlett 2017) and consider how this might provide a framework for integrating a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods in order to identify and challenge the “underlying generative framework” of inequitable linguistic practices in specific contexts.
Bartlett, Tom. 2019. Scaling the Incommensurate: Discourses of Sustainability in the Western Isles of Scotland. In N. Montesano Montessori, M.J. Farrelly and J. Mulderrig (Eds) Critical Policy Discourse Analysis. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
– 2018. Positive Discourse Analysis. In John Richardson and John Flowerdew (Eds) The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Analysis. London and New York: Routledge.
– 2017. Context in Systemic Functional Linguistics: Towards scalar supervenience? In Tom Bartlett and Gerard O’Grady (Eds). Routledge Handbook of Systemic Functional Linguistics. London and New York: Routledge.
Block, David. 2018. The political economy of language education research (or the lack thereof): Nancy Fraser and the case of translanguaging. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 15:4, pp. 237-257.
Blommaert, Jan. 2005. Discourse: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
Fraser, Nancy. 1997. Justice Interruptus – Critical Reflections on the ‘Postsocialist’ Condition. New York: Routledge.
Martin, J.R. 2004. Positive discourse analysis: Solidarity and change. Revista Canaria de Estudios Ingleses, 49. pp.179-200.
ICREA Research Professor in Sociolinguistics in the Departament d’Humanitats, Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Visiting Professor at University College London, Institute of Education; & Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences
‘Post-truth’, agnotology, bullshit, lying and related phenomena in contemporary political discourses
In late 2016, I began to examine in detail the term ‘post-truth’, prompted by all of the talk about it in the international media after the June 2016 Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in November 2016. My intellectual journey took me through considerations of what we mean by truth and from there to a long list of related concepts and phenomena, both old and new: humbug, bullshit, lying, misleadingness, ignorance, agnotology, anti-expertise, anti-intellectualism, eco chambers, filter bubbles, astroturfing, deepflake and so on. My reading about these concepts and phenomena meant crossing a range of disciplines – from philosophy, sociology and history of science, to climate change studies and tourism management – to say nothing of an immersion in popular junk culture (for lack of better term). At some point, however, I realised that ultimately my primary interest lay in the realm of political communication and political discourse (and, of course, political activity in general). For the moment, my reading and thinking processes from late 2016 onwards are embodied, albeit very partially, in the book Post-truth and political discourse (Palgrave, 2019). However, I see this book as just a start, as I have become convinced that: (1) we are at an historical crossroads as regards the production, distribution and consumption of information, and (2) this crossroads is a very dangerous place to be. In this paper I will trace my way through the ideas just mentioned, ending with some thoughts on where I see events going in the future. Most importantly, I will explore the social justice implications of living in a world in which anything-goes information regimes have become predominant, emergent at the confluence of (1) pervasive Dubordian spectacle and (2) the increasing absence of common ground that would unite different social groups.
Professor, Department of Language and Literacy Education (TESOL and World Language Education); & Professor on Special Assignment, Professional Development School District
Culturally Sustaining Systemic Functional Linguistic Praxis
Recent research has highlighted how Halliday’s theory of social semiotics (SFL) supports design and implementation of culturally sustaining (CS) pedagogies with multilingual youth (Harman & Burke, 2020). As Halliday (1978) explained, the complex meaning-making processes of communities are often negated through institutional linguicism and racism. In our culturally sustaining SFL praxis, contrarily, emphasis is placed on the complex nature of all meaning making that is configured differently depending on purpose, situation and cultural context. In other words, CS SFL is an approach that promotes cultural and language variation equity (Paris & Alim, 2017). This paper provides description and illustration of our CS SFL praxis developed in partnership with youth and communities of color, teachers, and university researchers in the southeast of the United States. In our CS SFL programs, multilingual youth and novice teachers develop innovative solutions to what they identify as significant community problems, drawing from a spectrum of meaning-making and material resources (e.g., geographical mapping, multilingual resourcing, drawing, acting, rapping). The presentation begins with an overview of the theoretical premises of CS SFL praxis. It then provides illustrations of the multimodal processes and reflections of youth and educators in our programs. Implications discussed relate to the importance and challenges of designing multimodal and multilingual programs based on robust theories of social semiotics and equity.
Halliday, M. A. (1978). Language as social semiotic. London: Edward Arnold Ltd.
Harman, R. & Burke, K. (April, 2020). Culturally sustaining SFL praxis: Embodied inquiry with youth. Routlege Press
Paris, D. & Alim, H.S. (2017) Culturally sustaining pedagogies: Teaching and learning for justice in a changing world. New York: Teachers College Press.
Professor of Multimodal Communication at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense; Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney: & Honorary Professor at the University of New South Wales; the Australian Catholic University; and the University of Lancaster
Performance and Politics
Ever since the rise of televised politics (Bell et al, 1982), the performance of political leaders, in the sense of managing an impression of trustworthiness, sincerity, confidence, and so on, has been decisive for political success or failure (Fairclough, 1999: 95).
Such performances are not only a matter of verbal style, but also of the way politicians smile, look and move, and of the way their private lives are publicly portrayed in a wide range of media, and they are manufactured performances, following a model pioneered in the entertainment industry (Dyer, 1987), involving a whole industry of make-up artists, fashion designers, media coaches, publicists, photographers and so on.
It is therefore important that critical discourse analysts document this process, both by analysing the range of publicly available information about key political leaders, and by researching how the public images of these leaders are constructed. Using Van Leeuwen’s theory of discourse as social practice (2008), this paper will present an analysis of the public persona of Australia’s current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, as well as a critical analysis of theories such as those of Goffman (e.g. 1959) which see performance and the presentation of self as the central explanatory principle for social life and focus on the appearance of truthfulness rather than on objective truth, and on desires and feelings in relation to needs satisfaction rather than on broader political visions.
Bell, P, Boehringer, K, and Crofts, S. (1982) Programmed Politics – A Study of Australian Television, Sydney: Sable.
Dyer, R. (1987) Heavenly Bodies – Film Stars and Society. London: BFI/Macmillan
Fairclough, N. (1999) New Labour, New Language? London: Routledge
Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin
Van Leeuwen, T. (2008) Discourse and Practice – New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press.