Agency and Social Practice

This week’s readings addressed how agency is connected with social practice. In general, a lot of common principles and ideas occurred throughout the papers. For instance, most in general embraced a relational approach to agency and social practice. How effective each author was in this approach is what I am sure will be an exciting discussion on Tuesday.

First and foremost, James Paul Gee had an exciting critique of progressive theories of learning that are now being adapted in educational liberal reform  (e.g, Lave/Wenger, Vygotsky). I agree with his critique of distributed systems that this system is based on knowledge and experience of the workers to adapt to a multifaceted situation. Where I think Gee is at his best is when he argues that the knowledge being produced within these distribute systems does not question the structures of power and tacit knowledge Gee writes, “…both students and workers working within communities of practice come to internalize’ tacit goals, values, and understandings from whose perspective any overt reflective awareness operates. These tacit understandings are not themselves the subject of much conscious reflection and critique. Indeed, such reflection and critique would be dangerous…” (2000 ,pg 53).

Another point that I agree with that I think is missing from Freire is what is mentioned on page 62. The notion of critically and its importance, not just for oppressed students, but specifically also for advantaged children learn about the power structures. Whereas Freire argued that it is the oppressed who will liberate themselves and the oppressor, Gee on the other hand, argues that the oppressor (or the advantaged students) must also learn and contribute to this process as well.

Questions for discussion: Gee How do these bill of rights fit together in the classroom?I was happy to see that he considered learning and teaching in his bill of rights, but as separate processes?

The notion of identity made a strong appearance in Nasir and Saxe’s paper. It was helpful for my own research to read an article that detailed the multi methods of capturing the emerging tensions between academic and ethnic identities. I do agree with the Nasir & Saxe’s claims of the limitations of survey/questionnaire research, which are unable to capture the complexities of emerging identities.

A topic that I might have for Tuesday’s discussion is the idea of agency and structure within Nasir & Saxe’s paper. My sense of this paper was that their analysis didn’t explore more fully how individuals actively shape their identities as well. For instance, in the case study, Daniel replied to Wille who told Daniel, while playing dominoes to leave and go study. Daniel replied “I’ll be all right” instead of doing what Willie suggested. This sheds lights that Daniel was an active actor in shaping and negotiating (i.e., the give and take) the tensions of Daniel’s ethnic and academic identities.

This idea that identity is a give and take is an interesting idea because it can show how we are consistently given an identity (or a set of cultural/social expectations) and it is up to us to negotiate with them (i.e., conform or to resist).

Lastly, is my question of the notion of positioning. I believe this was the fist time I came across positioning in the papers we read for class. What does positioning make meaning of agency? Is positioning an active process? Also, does positioning covered in this paper imply a sort of passivity of the individual? Responding to cultural models and practices? But not changing them themselves?

One comment

  • I really appreciate your linking Gee’s paper with a critique of Freire’s approach to liberation. It’s something that I thought about while reading his paper too. In some ways it made me think of Shamus Khan’s book “Privilege” and how advantaged students continue to retain their lead over other students by modulating the ways in which they navigate society. In the book the students seem to have reframed their advantage under the guise of having ‘worked hard’ versus acknowledging their elite background. It leads me to wonder, if we teach advantaged students how to think critically about power and social justice, will it really encourage them to change their attitudes towards reproducing hierarchies? I support an approach to liberation that enables both the oppressed and the oppressors to think critically about their contribution to and place in power structures. At the same time, I wonder how effective that might actually be.

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