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[xmca] Article for Discussion

Mike, Larry, (and others),
I'll take a swing at making sense of the article, but must admit I too had difficulties.

First off, I appreciate the attempt to bring the framework of Wortham and Holland to analyzing data. The tools that Wortham provides are extremely powerful, as is the notion of "figured worlds." 

Second, I appreciated some of the concluding statements such as: "the analysis shows the multiplicities of contexts, conversations, and identities being accentuated in clinical learning activities. Professional identitiy formations cannot therefore be considered a self-evident by-product of learning authentic problems in 'real' professional contexts of practice." 
By themselves, these are interesting conclusions. Where I get a little tripped up is in how the author gets to these conclusions from the evidence. 

A cleaner statement of the conclusion in the context of the data is near the bottom of p. 54 (just before the Discussion). There the author writes that when the students were supposed to learn how to interact with patients, the students figured themselves in relation to this "communication" portion of their education by positioning themselves with respect to a lay-figured world. In contrast, when they were supposed to learn nuts and bolts medical stuff, they "recognize[d] themselves as becoming particular characters, imbued with biomedical and clinical knowledge and skills." In the former, they did not appear to see themselves as burgeoning experts, but in the latter they did. Again, an interesting conclusion that may be true enough, but I'm not sure that I'm convinced by the data (if I've even got it right).

This conclusion links up to interesting questions about epistemes surrounding Medical vs. Social Scientific (Communication) knowledge. Why do they (we?) feel like experts with the one kind of knowledge and like mere lay people with the other? There is certainly lots more interesting stuff that could be said about these issues that isn't said in the paper. But maybe I have already missed the author's point. Still not sure.

I also admit to having difficulty following the way in which Wortham's tools were being used to analyze the data. It was often difficult to tell what it was that was being described as being particular types of voicings (e.g. evaluative indexicals, metapragmatic descriptors, etc.). A phrase would be introduced in quotes and then it would be said that this phrase is an example of X type of voicing. Sometimes I could reconstruct what it was about the phrase that qualified it as a token of a particular type, but there were instances where it was ambiguous or appeared to not be an example at all (e.g., "you think it might be" as an example of an evaluative indexical indexing a medical persona - maybe something was lost in translation (another thing not discussed), but I don't see how this utterance functions in this way).

Of further trouble, I'm concerned about applying these tools without much thought about the relationship between the event of narration and the event being narrated (a major theme in Wortham's work). Here the narrating event and the narrated event both have the same subject (i.e. this is med students talking about their own experiences). This is different from the types of interactions that Wortham and Locher were analyzing (news reportage). This doesn't mean that these tools aren't useful for thinking about autobiographical narrative, just that it would be helpful to have some discussion of what it means to, for example, voice oneself using quasi-direct discourse (Wortham 2001 provides detail about analyzing auto-biographical narrative). There are some potentially very interesting things to say with regard to this, but they weren't said here.

I also found it troubling that there was no consideration of the nature of the event of narration (Wortham's "narrating event"). It isn't clear how we are to understand the quotes analyzed in this piece: as evidence of a true inner self? As mere discourse? What are the stakes of positioning oneself in one manner or another? 

A consideration of the interviewing event itself would help the reader (and maybe the author) to understand how the interview is a context that enables students to take certain positions while constraining certain other positions. These are called "interactional positions" because they are accomplished in interactions with another person and through an immediate interactional context by drawing upon a larger macro-social context (i.e. "figured world"). As Wortham demonstrates very convincingly in his book Narratives in Action, positions are always taken with respect to some local metapragmatically regimented context (what Erving Goffman (1974) refers to as an interactional "frame"). I wasn't clear if the author was assuming that the interactional context was the same thing as the figured world or if this was something different. Without some theorizing of the context of the interaction I simply don't know what to make of the conclusions drawn from each of the individual exam!

Overall, it feels like the article is describing the form of a process in theory, but when it comes to filling that form with a particular content, I have difficulty seeing how the content given serves an example of the form being offered in theory. Most particularly, what are the poarticular identities that are accomplished by what forms and with regard to what figured worlds?

Is anyone else able to answer these questions?


For anyone interested in the Wortham and Locher paper, "Voicing on the news: An analytic technique for studying media bias", it is available for free at:
Many more articles by Wortham can be accessed at:

>Message: 1
>Date: Mon, 7 Mar 2011 20:15:56 -0800
>From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
>Subject: Re: [xmca] Article for Discussion
>To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>	<AANLkTimr9BcgnjTqM3GxqMKD8ShwUYbLPKKYbEX-Uvf3@mail.gmail.com>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1
>I fear I had a lot of trouble reading and interpreting Andre Vagan's
>article. When I got to the end I went back and read the summary and intro
>again, then came back to the examples.
>My difficulty is that when I was done, and even as I write now, I cannot
>remember the cases in the case study. Without the proposed melding of the
>different theoretical perspectives, in fact,  would we have been unable to
>say anything useful about examples?
>Clearly the paper did a lot to please you, Larry. Is it possible to help out
>here for those of us less in the flow of these ideas?
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