[xmca] LCA: Bernstein and L2 learning

From: Phil Chappell (philchappell@mac.com)
Date: Thu Jul 14 2005 - 08:20:45 PDT


Hi Lars and All,

Lars, you've made the bold next leap to Basil Bernstein's last paper.
I'd prefer to leave more qualified others to respond to your question
directly; however if I may share my own reactions - - as
"in-practicuum" as the may be --

my conundrum with the paper on the first couple of readings was the
distinction between vertical and horizontal discourses, and
hierarchical knowledge structures. I'm afraid my readings of Bernstein
have been totally localised in the sense of applying the aforementioned
constructs to language teaching; English as another language teaching
at that. I don't approach these constructs as dichotomies, but rather
in the same vein as one might approach Vygotsky's spontaneous and
scientific concepts - there is somewhere in there a dialectic at work
that doesn't imply "lower to higher"; "horizontal to vertical".

My reading of Bernstein and Bernstein-inspired educators positions
horizontal discourse as the local, context dependent and segmented
(situationally separated) instantiations of knowledge and skills found
in non-formal contexts. As a language educator, that means for me the
"commonsense" knowledge of doing things through language (and other
semiotic means) that usually emerges from (voluntary, or
not-explicitly-coerced) interactions in the home, neighbourhood,
playground, kindergarten, workplace and familiar educational settings.
This is the terrain of informal first language development and
bilingual development.

In a simplified model, vertical discourse is the arranged situations
for learning, in which a "pedagogical discourse" frames the activity,
which is usually focused on learning goals and the curriculum, and
might be described as strongly scaffolded explicit instruction. Both
horizontal and vertical discourses are constitutive of a singular
activity system, however Bernstein's ideas of classification and
framing become crucial. Importantly in my context, weak classification
(which may appeal to those with a more constructivist orientation) may
lead to the problem of disenfranchised/target-language-enclosed
(learners not exposed to language-in-use) learners being disempowered
during classroom learning activity compared to those with experience in
a particular context. This contrasts with a prevailing approach (a
"strong communicative approach") that assumes equality and homogeneity.
I've been challenged to consider the complementarity of strong/weak
framing; weak/strong classification in the "arranged" language learning
classroom with groups of L1 (Thai) learners. Love to hear some ideas.

Cheers,

Phil

On 14/07/2005, at 2:03 AM, Lars Rossen wrote:

> When reading the Bernstein paper I had the feeling that the
> descriptions of vertical discourses would link to Latour's analysis of
> institutional life and their localized, emerging discourses and the
> connection is indeed made in the end. However from my (somewhat
> fragmented and far from qualified) reading of both the researchers in
> focus, a question comes to mind: I am under the impression that Latour
> would claim that any and all discourses, theoretically specialized or
> not, would be horizontal, situated and take the shape of enclaves
> and these enclaves will, through their research and science production
> contribute to the language of science, reshaping the general
> scientific language tools by participation and localized negation that
> spreads into the larger network of science workers.
> Even though the language might be structured around established
> cannons (as science) it will quickly reshape under the influence of
> the language users (as research). As far as I understand the Latourian
> mindset, it can not be a question of vertical vs. horizontal
> discourses, or putting one over the other, since this would be in
> opposition to the idea of the network (or work-net) where the
> discourse of everyday life and science and research float back and
> forth within the enclave and between the nodes in the net as a larger
> set of enclaves.
> Where the dichotomy of the two axis seems to imply that one has to
> develop from a lover state to a higher rise from the profane to the
> academic - in order to participate in the scientific discourse and
> that the acquisition of the vertical languages equals a adaptation to
> a pre-set structure and growth towards a given set of behaviors by
> learning the hind lying theoretic frame work, Latour seems to bring
> emphasis to the fact that knowledge distribution and social
> development is a matter of circulated and indeed non-hierarchical
> negotiations and refrains from giving any heed to theoretical
> frameworks or power structures that might be governing the network in
> question meaning specialized language becomes a tool among many
> others that can be analyzed alongside any other tool in play very
> much in line with the activity theoretical understanding.
>
> My question is - when the paper conclusively points towards focusing
> on a problem instead of a theory as a solution to the issues of too
> many specified languages, is there not a discrepancy between the use
> of Latours notion of a theory-free approach and the notion of the
> sketched horizontal-vertical dichotomy?
>
> Lars Rossen
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> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
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