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Re: [xmca] Is IRE Really Individually Oriented?

I may wait to see the article and the specific context of the discussion, but on the whole, I think I can assure David that SOMETHING, for which IRE or IRF is a common placeholder term, is quite a pervasive and specific mode of dialogic discourse in many sorts of classrooms.

If you look only at the "bare bones" definition of it, then, yes, there are analogues in other kinds of discourse, and you can even, in its broader IRF form fit it, as David suggests, to many kinds of dialogue.

But the real discourse phenomenon is not the bare bones form, it is the more extended speech genre, which has a lot of other regularities to it, and a rather horrifying ubiquity in classrooms where informational knowledge is taken as the main objective, and where there is a basic power relationship in which T is authorized to question and judge S answers to questions.

As Gordon Wells has pointed out, IRE can be used to do some good in teaching, though in my experience it tends to pull things back towards the focus on informational knowledge. I have seen it used brilliantly to stimulate students' thinking, but not often.

And there are many other discourse patterns in classrooms, and some kinds of classes which downplay IRE in favor of alternatives.

Nothing else, however, is quite like it. The closest comparison of which I am aware is to known-answer questioning of witnesses in some legal proceedings, but even that really has a very different guiding goal. I think that one of the most interesting things about IRE analysis is the relationship of form and function, and while the form has a certain austere elegance, the functions are not usually so pretty.


PS. The Socratic elenchus makes for another interesting comparison.

Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Nov 27, 2009, at 4:49 PM, mike cole wrote:

I am afraid that the article has not been posted yet, David. Holiday
intervened with end of voting.

Your questions are very well motivated. And, just to make sure we have full participation, I will alert the authors to that the paper is going to be discussed. And Gordon Wells, who has his own bones to pick with the IRE formulation and Bud Mehan who is the usual citation as the old gimper of the

On Fri, Nov 27, 2009 at 3:25 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com >wrote:

I don't know how many people have access to the new article for discussion (Gratier, Geenfield and Isaac). But I was reading it over last night and

The authors say (on p. 200) that Initiate-Response-(Ostensibly Optional Feedback, of which Evaluate is a common form) is a discourse format that
"suits" individualistic cultural emphasis.

I have two qualms about this statement. The first is that I wonder to what extend IRF (or IRE) is simply an artefact of analysis: ANYTHING said as a "starter" in an exchange constitutes an initiate and almost anything in response to the implicit demands in the starter is a response, with the
optional feedback being either:

a) a response to the response (tacit communicative style)
b) an evaluation of the felicity of the exchange as a whole (more explicit)

Defined this way, I have found instances of IRE in almost EVERY sample of discourse I have ever analyzed, and I'm not at all sure that it is more
common in classroom situations than elsewhere.

My second qualm is that I don't see any inherent link at all between IRE and individualist cultural emphasis. If anything, I would say the opposite is true: IRE is well suited to T-Everyone exchanges and T-Anyone exchanges and is rather LESS suited to T-Someone exchanges because the uptake on these
tends to be contingent and specific.

Is it possible that our feelings about IR(E) are simply a cultural
prejudice? I don't mean East-West culture; I mean a kind of smaller,
academic culture which sees IR(E) where it doesn't really exist and which sees in this largely imaginary unit of discourse a kind of neo- behaviorism, where the E represents the bread offered to our salivating dogs, the pellet
offered to the pigeons, and the candy offered to the child.

If that were a true picture of IR(E), why would the E be the OPTIONAL

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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