Yet more ‘prefacing’ re. mode of address

My work is not directed towards positing a new specific concept of literacy to displace or replace existing accounts and definitions. Rather, my concern is to stitch literacy, its pedagogies and practices into a larger canvas, to discover and release threads and themes between literacy as a bounded field and the larger culture and worlds on which it rests. To show that literacy is part of a much larger picture and human enterprise, and that framing literacy as an expression or part of this larger praxis, a part that both draws on this whole for motives and motifs, in short for cultural sustenance and ethical resolve, while at the same time contributing its own energies and experience to the larger process. There is thus a two-way, dialectical, mutual enrichment in construing literacy in relation to this larger background.

By situating literacy within this larger context, I am not deconstructing or doing ideology critique on literacy. I am not showing it to be a mere symptom or expression of larger social or historical forces. Rather, I am hoping that filling in the details and scope of background ideas, values, practices and history lying in back of literacy will enlarge and strengthen the meaning of literacy pedagogy in the minds of its practitioners, that literacy will not seem a small almost paltry ‘basic (workplace) skill’, but entry into the rich veins of conversation and discourse of the whole diversity of humans and their worlds.

Literacy as moving towards participation in universes of discourse, not as a set of discrete, self-contained skills.

Reflections on Genre Theory

SFL (systemic functional linguistics) typically defines something by relating it to a range of contexts – contexts around it, below it, or above it, [notice there has not yet been much attention to ‘before’ or ‘after’]. However, in practice we find that the notion of genre is almost never explicated in terms of what is above it. In other words, generic categories tend to function as a meta-discourse within which other categories are located, but they themselves are not explicated through a further set of categories. In effect, this amounts to the banishment of history, philosophy, psychology, ideology critique, sociology, politics and so on as ways of articulating social meaning. This has the effect of presenting us with a brute positivity – ‘This is what narrative is and what it is for, and here is how you do it; now, let’s do it’.

The problem with this is that it obscures from view what we might call ‘the moment of enunciation‘. Read more of this post

Genre theory: a critique

The Sydney Genre School (SGS) conflates two distinct theoretical lines of investigation. One is a matter of educational linguistics investigating the role of language in learning. The other is the study of language in social life generally, as-it-were in extra-curricula social life. For SGS, there is a synergy between these because both realms – education and social life at large – are constituted by genres, ‘gatherings of meaning into relatively stabilised practices’. In fact, the relationship between genres in the two realms seems to be posited as quite transparent – or at least potentially transparent if an SGS curriculum were to be implemented.

Assumed identity of genre between school and social life

Whereas van Leeuwen has emphasised that the ‘recontextualisation of a practice from one social region to another is fundamentally an act of colonisation in which the coloniser imposes its own imperatives and constraints on the initial practice, SGS has (to my knowledge) never really studied the difference between genres ‘in the wild’ and educational genres that have been stylised and streamlined to function as scenes of testing and assessment. (Note: I have not included ‘learning’ in this listing of the roles of writing in education because in general teaching and learning are engaged through dialogue, listening and reading – not through writing. This is at odds with the ‘writing to learn’ movement. I will say more at another time about some ways that I think that writing does or could figure as a scene of learning, not just assessment.)

In general, SGS is too complacent in assuming that schooled genres and wild genres are identical, and that as a result learning to write a school genre means that one will be able to write wild genres. Read more of this post

Genre is not enough


This article, drafted in 2001, attempts to articulate my disagreement with efforts to construct the goals and processes of the educative practices appropriate to Batchelor Institute (BIITE) in terms of the concept of genre. I will argue that the focus on genre is a reductive account of the goals of education at BIITE, a focus that inevitably substitutes a mono-cultural definition of learning outcomes for the richer educational commitments defining BIITE.

In the past, power in education and training was exercised at the point of ‘inputs’, in the writing of textbooks and in the design and production of curriculum resources. However, during the 90s, the exercise of power in education and training has shifted its focus to ‘outcomes’. This shift from the moment of instructional input as a point of leverage to the assessment of outcomes as the object of governmental gaze means that definitions of ‘what is assessed’ has become the key site for negotiating and contesting the purposes, modes and meanings of education and training.

What I find particularly disquieting is the claim that genre captures the entirety of social life and that therefore there is no worthwhile distinction between ‘genre’ and ‘socio-historical practice’. This means that the latter is irrelevant to the goals of the curriculum as expressed in its assessment practices. Sometimes it is acknowledged that understanding the socio-historical dimension of a genre may be a ‘teaching strategy’, ‘a means’ to mastering the genre, but still, it is insisted, it does not form any part of the content or goal of assessment. This can be captured in the claim: ‘It is the essay itself that we need to assess, not depth of cultural analysis and understanding’.  Read more of this post

Two approaches to action: Managerial & Kairotic

One of the most popular mantras in contemporary professional sport is: ‘Play what is in front of you!’ To understand the significance of this mantra, you have to fill in the background against which it makes sense, and the other mantras it is responding to.

Managerial Approach

In much contemporary sport, there is now very detailed analytical coaching and planning of plays. Plans and plays are scripted beforehand and then practiced over and over during training, so that when they are called every player knows what they must do to play their part. This emphasis on preparatory planning aligns with the planning in the military and in business. Start-ups and new businesses also invest much effort in business plans that will be used to determine their future activities.

Across all these fields, there was a belief in the value of plans, and in the value of conforming to these plans. It was as if you could see into the future or decide or predict the future, and the plan as your road-map. The plan is an analysis of the situation and predicts what should be done by tracing the causal connections and effects of different sequences, structures or combinations of actions; and playing is simply a matter of ‘following the plan as laid down’. The player’s job is simply to remember the plan and follow it; not to think or make their own decisions.

In this scenario, players are as it were tools of the coaching staff and their plan. Their job is to ‘apply’ the plan, a set of strategies and combinations of plays that has been worked out theoretically beforehand based on reams of statistical data.

The assumption in this approach to sport – or education for that matter – is that it assumes that things mostly goes to plan, that there is very little room for chance, or mishap, or surprises. The assumption is that a well-drilled team with a well-planned set of strategies and structures will triumph. The same for armies and businesses.

This managerial model is the approach deployed in the Vietnam War, the Irak invasion. The chaos following the Irak invasion was a surprise to US military planners because their planning was based on the assumption (based on solid evidence) that the Irak population would welcome arrival of US troops and immediately embrace a new national democratic government, enabling coalition troops to withdraw quickly.

It is a model that assumes that every possible contingency, every needed resource, can be predicted and dealt with beforehand in the planning process prior to any action.

We could sum up this approach as the ‘managerial model’. The coach, CEO or Commander draws up the strategies; the role of players, workers, and soldiers is to follow orders—not to use their own intelligence or judgment about ‘what is in front of them’ and what would be the most effective way of responding. Thus, the mantra capturing this approach is: ‘Stick to the plan; Ignore what is in front of you; We have already predicted everything that can happen in the big picture and have it covered; Just do what you are told and don’t go feral on us’.


Kairotic Approach

So, now we can understand the meaning of ‘Play what is in front of you’. It is a rejection or supplement to the managerial approach. This new mantra embodies the belief that no pre-planning can ever cover every contingency arising in a game. What happens and what to do is not a matter of precisely defined causal relations that can be perfectly dealt with by slavishly following pre-determined rules, precepts or instructions. What happens is an amalgam of the predictable and the unpredictable. In fact, the more predictable, the more important the moments of unpredictability become. It is in these moments of confusion or disruption, that a space is opened up for inspired play by players alert to ‘what is in front of them’ and able to think outside the box of ‘the plan’.

Mode of address

This book will take up the same rhetorical stance as its proposes be offered to adult literacy students—or any and all other students for that matter. That is, it will put forward its views, ideas, theories and and stakes always with the thought in mind that this is only a perspective, and that there is always more to be said both from other points of view and in clarifying or deepening my own point of view. This is rhetorical dialogism: the claim that we are always ‘on the way’ to knowing; that full and complete knowledge (‘the truth, the whole truth and only the truth’) is always just out of reach. What makes it more reachable, even though still out of reach, is the response of others.  Read more of this post

Preface (draft) to book on Adult Literacy as education into care of the world

I wish to describe things from a rhetorical perspective, or rather, to describe the world rhetorically, even better, to describe a rhetorical world. To describe the world in a way that that brings out its rhetoricity.

I am not trying to explain the world by reducing it to rhetorical principles. Rather I describe it bringing out it rhetoricity and hope that you the reader will be able recognise yourself and your world in what I describe. So that you can reply: ‘Yes, You are right. I too live in the rhetorical world you describe – even though I have never heard it described or named in this way before’.

Describing, rather than explaining: I am not wishing to show or prove that there is a simple ground or principle underpinning and explaining the world(s) we live in. Instead, I simply wish to describe the world and events and people and what people say or write – or what you do or say or write –  in such a way that brings out its rhetorical dimension.

I will use the historical tradition of rhetoric in Western and Eastern Europe as an example, an instance, a paradigmatic case, an exemplum. By describing the features, dimensions, practices, values and variety of this past world of rhetoric, I hope that it becomes clear that these very same features are also true of the world outside this past world of rhetoric.

The world of the tradition of rhetoric is a microcosm that is emblematic of our world today and of the world at large – I hope. By describing this smaller world of rhetoric I am hoping that you will recognise similarities and points of connection with your world and thereby you will find yourself more attuned to the rhetoricity of our current world: you may find yourself noticing things you did not notice before; or reacting to them differently from before; some things or events that just passed by in the background as background noise might now jump out at you and attract your attention. In short, your world, the world you live in, your world, might subtly change its shape and feel so that different things call out to be named. In this way learning the language and forms of speaking and analysing developed by a training in rhetoric, you should find that different features, different things come to prominence asking to be named or analysed rhetorically. Welcome to a more rhetorical world

If  we used the idea of fractality, then the elements and shape of the historical world of rhetoric as a discipline may exhibit the very same elements and patterns of other regions of the larger world and also of the world, or worlds, as a whole (if there is such a thing).

Now, this is not purely a matter of generalising, of induction or extrapolation from a single case to other cases or a kind of cases. It is more than this. Rather, it is a matter of how you see and stand in the world, not just what you see or know about the world. It is a matter of how you relate to the world. So, my hope is to write a text through which you will gradually find yourself changing, seeing things including yourself and what you can see or imagine doing differently. In short, becoming a rhetor, becoming someone who views matters rhetorically. Who thinks, speaks, writes and acts rhetorically. Who does not assume that the world can be captured simply in neat concepts or theories that can then be used to design social institutions, train the habits and actions of children, adults and groups, or used to develop formulas or algorithms for technologies.

So, there is a pedagogic intent to this text, not simply an informative intent. I am not just trying to tell you the facts like Wikipedia, nor simply trying to explain a theory. Really what I am doing is trying to initiate or apprentice you into being a rhetorician, to noticing and responding to issues, things, texts, and events as a rhetorician. So, my hope is that from reading this book, you will not simply know (more) ‘about’ rhetoric, but that you will become (more of) a rhetorician, that your world will take on a more rhetorical flavour. My hope is that you will find the rhetoric-ness of the world around you more pronounced, as if it was calling to you,  “Look at me!” My hope is that you come to experience the world with different ears and eyes – with the ears and eyes of rhetoric and that you will be able to respond with the speech and discourse of rhetoric too.

As well as hoping that you come to perceive the world differently, I also hope that you find your self taking up a new stance in the world—a rhetorical stance. A rhetorical stance is one that contributes in speech or action to revealing what is going on, what is happening, what people are arguing about or unhappy about. A rhetorical stance is not a matter of big noting yourself, of becoming a loud mouth or trying to out argue or shout others down. It is not about winning. It is about helping to bring clarity to a situation of confusion where everyone is seeing and feeling different things. A rhetorical stance is when you ‘put something into words’ in a way that helps clarify the meaning of what is at issue.

Rhetoric is a way of dealing with misunderstanding, disagreement, conflicting views, conflicting interests or goals, different feelings, different hopes or ambitions, different memories, different fears or hurts. Rhetoric is useful in every part of life and every walk of life: in family life, in work life, in academic life, in political life; in all forms of communication – speaking, gesturing, writing, reading, social media, broadcast media, cinema, videos, public speaking, stand up, performance art, etc, etc. In short, life is rhetoric, rhetoric is life. Life is lived rhetorically, and rhetoric is lived.

So, you have been warned: My hope is not just that this book will give you new knowledge or new things to talk about, but that it will change you into a different person, into a rhetorical person; someone who lives in a different world, a rhetorical world.

You have been warned…


(Later, in Chapter ?? I will describe all this more fully using ideas from the realm of rhetoric, along with some more recent ideas that help describe the world of rhetoric: experience (Gadamer); bildung; mimesis; disposition/ethos/habitus; affordance; attunement; book as dialogic Spiel; Bourdieu on investment in the game.)