RE: [xmca] Wells article

From: Worthen, Helena Harlow <hworthen who-is-at>
Date: Mon Oct 01 2007 - 12:41:40 PDT

Hello, xmca:

I'll take a shot at the Wells article, as usual, from the point of view
of a labor educator.

As I read it, he's distinguishing between the use of language as
"ancillary" to an activity and the use of language that actually
constitutes what participants are doing. When people use language to
coordinate activity, that's "ancillary." When the thing that has to "get
done" is itself made out of language (he gives the example of a meeting
with an agenda and agreed-upon decisions to be made - p. 167) then
that's "constitutive discoursing," the co-construction of "possible
worlds" (he references Bruner). However, he's saying, this distinction
has already been made (by Halliday). Wells then says that the
distinction between the two is not always clear, because people may be
co-constructing with different goals in mind. He lists some examples of
different goals in the middle of page 173.

At this point, I am thinking that Wells is right but I'd like him to
give an example where people are co-constructing something but have more
strikingly different goals in mind -- goals more different than the
goals of a trio of researchers observing their own discoursing or even
than the goals of a teacher and three students in a busy classroom.

Of course I was reading this article keeping in mind the co-constructive
constitutive discoursing that takes place when workers and employers
bargain a contract. The contract is an example of a "possible world." It
is built up bit by bit over the years, written down and enforced through
yards and yards, miles and miles of talk. In fact, both the contract and
the process by which it is negotiated are negotiated. But most helpful
of all to me, as I try to understand what is actually happening when
people negotiate their conditions of work, was Wells' point that(p 174)
the "the participants are not interchangeable." Constitutive
discoursing (the co-creation of something through language) is
characterized by participants in an itneraction who are not
interchangeable. It is the different perspectives of the parties to the
negotiation that make the co-construction of something possible.

I'm not convinced that the word "discoursing" is going to get into
popular use. It may be that Wells doesn't expect it to go much further
himself; in fact, he could be putting forth this term ironically, since
by the end of the article he appears to have pulled the plug on the
notion that discoursing is an activity in its own right.

Is there a significant stream of argument that says that the use of
language for no other purpose (no co-construction, no constitution) is
in itself an activity? Wouldn't that be like carrying a tape recorder
down a busy street or drifting from channel to channel on the TV? But
then we'd be in the realms of art.

I saw Chris Marker's movie, Les Chats Perches (?) last night. Now
there's a record of co-construction of an emergent text and possible

Helena Worthen
Helena Worthen, Clinical Associate Professor
Labor Education Program, Institute of Labor & Industrial Relations
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
504 E. Armory, Room 227
Champaign, IL 61821
Phone: 217-244-4095


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