Thursday, December 21, 2006

Semiotic domains - part 2

More reading of Gee's book presents an interesting connection between the kinds of meta level thinking that I hope my students in WR 222 will do next term and the kinds of thinking that graduate students do as they move into teaching.

When I explain to my students in WR 222 (intermediate composition/argument) about discourse communities - a conceptual place where natives / insiders are specialists in a content area and language and can detect a newcomer / immigrant as "not one of us" (at least not yet) - compared to the larger everyday lifeworld of nonspecialists where "everyone" interacts -- I hope the students will have a better idea about the academic and workplace domains they hope to (or may have to) join.

The last point is crucial. With video games or sporting events, neophytes voluntarily become enthusiasts and specialists. With academia, neophytes (students) may have no desire at all to become specialists.

When Gee (p.43) contrasts the internal design grammar (content) with the external design grammar (social practics and identities) this makes me think about how graduate students might move from a studently-identity into a simultaneous teacherly identity. Gee writes:

Semiotic systems are human cultural and historical creations that are designed to engage and manipulate people in certain ways. They attempt through their content and social practices to recruit people to think, act, interact, value, and feel in certain specific ways. In this sense, they attempt to get people to learn and take on certain sorts of new identities, to become, for a time and place, certain types of people. ... some of these identitites constitute, within certain institutions or for certain social groups in the society, social goods. By a "social good" I mean anything that a group in society, or society as a whole, sees as bringing one status, respect, power, freedom, or other such socially valued things. Some people have more or less access to valued or desired semiotic domains and their concomitant identities. Furthermore, some identities connected to some semiotic domains may come, as one understands the domain more reflectively, to seem less (or more) good or valuable than one had previously thought. Finally, one might come to see that a given identity associated with a given semiotic domain relates poorly (or well) -- in terms of one's vision of ethics, morality, or a valued life -- with one's other identities association with other semiotic domains. For example, a person might come to see that a given semiotic domain is designed so as to invite one to take on an identity that revels in a disdain [or, alternatively, I would argue, a valuation] for life or in a way of thinking about race, class, or gender that the person, in terms of other identities he or she takes on in other semiotic domains, does not, on reflection, wish to cotinue. In this sense, then, semiotic domains are inherently polticial (and here I am using the term "political" in the sense of any practices where the distribution of social goods in a society is at stake.)"
In saying this, Gee is hints at theessential self-awareness needed fas people intentionally experiment with and adopt identities when they join, temporarily at least, new semiotic domains.

Video games, says Gee, usually allow players to "customize the identity the game offers him to a certain extent" (p.45) and that people who play games learn to do just this. Which leads Gee to discuss social justic for those who do not have the opportunity.

This customizing of the standard or default player identity sheds light on the experience of graduate students who become teaching assistants.

ps: part 3 Gee also refers to semiotic domains that could be "composed of clusters (families) of more or less closely related semiotic domains" (p.43) - which sounds applicable to departments in the college of liberal arts.


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