Wouldn’t it be great if any social role we wished to embody came with its own rule book and ‘how-to’ guide? In a way, they do. By selecting journals and papers written about the very topics we wish to learn about, we can pick out certain aspects that are necessary to master in order to embody such a role. These social roles, or Discourses explained by linguist James Gee in his first journal, “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction”, can now be taken and applied to a wider range of disciplines. These
“ways of being in the world [and] forms of life which integrate words, acts, values [and] beliefs…” show us just how we should act and be, in order to emulate any social role we desire (6–7).
Specifically, as we look at the Discourse of science, we can take what Gee has previously said and combine it with teachings from a newer article of his, an “Introduction to Discourse Analysis”, and combine it with readings from Christina Haas and P.K. and Vimala Nair in order to understand what is required, when entering the Discourse of science.
Creating Meaning Through Language
Gee begins this chapter in his second journal, an “Introduction to Discourse Analysis” by stating the importance of things he calls building tasks, as they allow for us to
“make meaning by using language” (31).
He states that without a clear understanding of how to communicate these 7 things, significance, practices (activities), identities, relationships, politics (the distribution of social goods), connections, and sign systems and knowledge, one cannot effectively create and establish meaning behind what they wish to communicate. Without effective communication, we would not be able to make such connections and without connections effective communication, especially in science, would not be possible.
This idea of effective communication is also examined by Christina Haas, in her study entitled “Learning to Read Biology”, though she refers to this concept as scientific literacy — something more than just being able to read sentences and comprehend the meaning of paragraphs. Rather, she explains that in order to be considered truly literate, one must be able to comprehend the context in which the piece is written, possess some kind of background knowledge, and understand the implications of that particular discipline. For example, Haas states that
“experts within scientific domains… draw upon rich representations of discourse as a social and rhetorical act”,
and in order for one to understand what is truly being said, one must be literate in more than just the traditional sense of the word, so as to understand the true meaning and value of what is being said (45). This same topic is examined by Gee, though he refers to it as a practice, and is something he classifies as a
“socially recognized and institutionally or culturally supported endeavor that…involves…combining actions in… specified ways” (32).
Without practicing effective reading and understanding the implications of what is being communicated, being able to internalize and reiterate it to others is not possible.
Real World Applications in Science
Haas continues her explanation of scientific literacy throughout her paper by using a longitudinal study of a student she refers to as Eliza. This paper is based on Eliza’s progression through her college career and how her conceptualization of knowledge changes as she attempts to enter the Discourse of science as a biologist. Throughout this description of Eliza’s intellectual journey, Haas describes something very similar to Gee’s building tasks; a rhetorical frame. Haas describes “rhetorical frame”, within the context of reading, as
“a model or representation of discourse situations…that helps readers account for the motives underlying textual acts and their outcomes” — essentially a ‘tool-kit’ of background knowledge and experience in order to understand a text and what it is truly trying to communicate (47–8).
Without this ‘frame of reference’, readers of a text would not be able to understand the true context in which it was written, and what the author wishes to communicate to an audience. It is through these very elements, building tasks and rhetorical frames, that one can successfully practice and enter the Discourse of science as it is described by Gee and Haas.
As we continue to examine Gee’s building tasks, authors P.K. and Vimala Nair are brought into the picture as they describe another essential element one must master in order to enter the Discourse of science: the IMRaD format. This odd acronym represents the section headings that are a part of the traditional scientific paper, introduction, methods, results, and discussion. Without the knowledge of this communication format, one cannot possibly be considered a member of the scientific Discourse. This article, one primarily written as a ‘how-to’ for research writing and communication, alludes to this same idea of thorough explanation and understanding in order to effectively communicate in the Discourse of science. Though they do not explicitly mention these building tasks as Gee describes them, they do allude to the very same concepts and state that scientific papers “should provide all the information needed to allow another researcher to judge the study or actually repeat the experiment”; effective communication essential in being able to do just that (18).
Each author brings a perspective that helps in explaining how one enters the Discourse of science and the essential tools they must use on such a journey. Though each author, or set of authors, presents varying points, there is a clear relationship. Not only is this relationship applicable to language and communication in general, it happens to play a significant role in the world of science. Because of the concrete nature of science, communication among individuals and groups is essential in maintaining an environment that is conducive to collaboration. Without mastery of this skill, one’s presence in the scientific community is unnecessary and can be easily overlooked. Each author’s perspectives and experiences draw on crucial points that help paint the picture of the values, beliefs, and practices that are essential in the Discourse of science, while providing a frame of reference to those wishing to enter it.
Gee, James Paul. “Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method.” 4th ed. Florence, KY: Taylor and Francis, 1999. ProQuest Ebrary, 2014. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
Gee, James Paul. “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction.” Journal of Education 171.1 (1989): 5–17. Print.
Haas, Christina. “Learning to Read Biology: One Student’s Rhetorical Development in College.” Written Communication Vol. 11. Sage, 1994: 43–84. Print.
Nair, P.K. R., and Vimala D. Nair. Scientific Writing and Communication in Agriculture and Natural Resources.Switzerland: Springer International, 2014. ProQuest Ebrary. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.