praxis attending to discourses of power

From: Ares, Nancy (
Date: Thu Jun 03 2004 - 10:48:22 PDT

Hi Phil,

You wrote:
<[Habitus] make distinctions between what is good and what is bad,
between what is right and what is wrong, between what is distinguished
and what is vulgar, and so forth, but the distinctions are not
identical...the same behaviour...can appear distinguished to one person,
pretentious to someone else, and cheap or showy to yet another.
Bourdieu, 1998, p. 8 [Practical Reason]

What hidden discourses of power are at work amongst learners, and how
might more equitable learning spaces be negotiated in classrooms for
the learners, by the learners? I asked this question of an educator in
Australia who is dealing with genre approaches to literacy,
incorporating Halliday's and Bernstein's work, and the response was
that this line of praxis might be too expensive and too time consuming.

The relations of power that someone wrote about in another posting seem
germane here, but that sends me into Foucault's work about power as
productive rather than reproductive, and situational as well as
fluid. Not that historical and political structures don't exert a lot
of influence (usually conservative) on where power resides and who
wields it, but that power is not monolithic, sovereign, owned, or static.
habitus has elements of power, seen in the decisions about right and
wrong, vulgar, etc. and whose judgments hold sway. The link between power
and habitus in classrooms can
help us, I think, in working out the question you pose about power
amongst learners, made more visible in classrooms focused on collaborative
cooperative activity. Students are accorded/enact status in their
with each other, which affects who gets to do what kind of work, who is
seen as a resource versus a liability, who is sought after and who is
That status arises from myriad factors (e.g., social class, gender,
prior interactions, achievement, popularity, etc.) that vary according to
make-up of the class/group and the task at hand. In practical, praxis
terms, Elizabeth Cohen, along with
collaborators such as Rachel Lotan, have developed a program called
Complex Instruction that directly addresses issues of status, power, and
in collaborative learning. Tasks are designed, along with group
and instructions/prompts, that put low-status students in positions of
partly by directing teachers' attention to what those students are good
at (through close observation and listening during group work as well as
longer-term formal and informal assessment), so that they can then bring
that information to groups and increase the status of the target student.
Cohen and colleagues don't delve deeply into theoretical constructs like
power or habitus, their work provides an important example, I think, of ways
that the productive instead of reproductive discourses of power can be
leveraged in cooperative learning.


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