Cuddy And Gee Describe Entering a Discourse

In order to become something that you so desire, you must know the ins-and-outs of it.

You must be the most observant person, noting how those who are in this “discourse” (as James Gee would call it) act, talk, and think. A discourse is a lifestyle that you must embody in order to be a part of, and the true nature of the discourse must be instinctual. To truly embody a trait, it has to become you, and you must become it. Two authors have written about ways of being, that involve different methods of doing so. Both discuss the ways in which you can become something that you are not currently. The first author, James Gee discusses the term “discourse” and elaborates on the ways in which one is in or out of a discourse. The second author, Amy Cuddy describes something similar to Gee, however, she focuses more on the mechanisms one can use to enter a group or “discourse”, such as non-verbal signals. A discourse can be classified as a way of being, and Gee’s discourse is exactly that. In this way, Gee’s idea of a discourse is enhanced by Cuddy’s principle of “fake it “till you become it”(19:14), where someone has the opportunity to become something through physical impressions. There are many life styles that one may choose to pursue, however, there are very few ways in which one can successfully embody that lifestyle.

One who knows nearly everything, exhibiting the highest level of accomplishment in a particular area, can be known as a member of a discourse.

There is an essential level of greater knowledge that someone must procure if they wish to claim that they are an expert in a certain area. The idea of being ultimately knowledgeable about a topic is presented by Gee when he unveils his idea that

“Metaknowledge is liberation and power, because it leads to the ability to manipulate, to analyze, to resist while advancing.”(13)

Metaknowledge is an all-knowing theory; it’s a method of using recent attempts to acquire new knowledge as a way of also analyzing old.

So, in turn, not only do you expand your horizons further into another discourse, but you also solidify your place in the previous one. This concept is an essential skill when attempting to advance in social roles. The idea of observing until you acquire enough knowledge to appear as though you are in a discourse is what society revolves around. Without this concept, there would be little to no way to effectively expand your horizons. Meta-knowledge has many applications, and can be key in entering a discourse.

Amy Cuddy uses the idea that our minds can change our bodies. So when you observe someone portraying what you’d like to portray, paying attention to them (which is effectively gaining “meta-knowledge”) will help you become that. Her observations of MBA students provides the statement that

“powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly, more assertive and more confident, more optimistic…. So there are a lot of differences. They take more risks.” (Cuddy 7:57).

By observing this behavior, your “metaknowledge” can be increased in more than one discourse.

For example, it can be increased in the “alpha” Discourse, because you now understand what mannerisms an alpha portrays. Presenting those around you with the alpha Discourse persona will prove to them and yourself that you are the alpha. As you attempt to portray the alpha, you can also increase your knowledge of your current Discourse because you become highly aware of the mannerisms you posses instead of these “alpha” ones. Heightening your awareness is a key aspect of meta-knowledge because it is a time in which you can absorb the most significant mannerisms, thus becoming well versed in both your current and future Discourse. Observation is one of the key ideas behind meta-knowledge and ties into the act of actually entering a discourse. When you reflect the actions that you have observed and studied, I believe you begin to make others believe that you belong in that discourse. With each person you convince, you convince yourself more until you finally embody that discourse that you wish to.

Body language is one of the most essential aspects of human nature.

The way your body presents itself to others is the message you send without ever opening your mouth. Your physical actions set the tone for how all of your social interactions will progress. Amy Cuddy’s study proves this point, she noticed in a classroom

“that MBA students really exhibit the full range of power nonverbals…. Caricatures of alphas, really coming into the room, they get right into the middle of the room before class even starts, like they really want to occupy space.”(5:24).

The idea of portraying something that you wish to be, such as the “alpha” is the main principle supporting the body language theory. These “alphas” bring dominant body language into a room with them, and are respectively treated as though they are alphas, whether or not they truly are is irrelevant. The alpha body language portrayed is enough to visually demonstrate to others who they are. This theory of making the impression you wish to is essential to members of our society in an age where social acceptance is key.

Gee represents the same general belief of faking-it with his term “mushfake”(10),

which is coined as the only way someone stands a chance of entering a discourse while not being entirely “literate” in that area.

Mushfake is the idea of implementing something in place of something else.

So in terms of the alpha personality, in order to be seen as an alpha you have to embody the alpha. So, you would take the persona of the alpha and put it in place of the current persona you display. Through the act of replacing one with the other, you begin to exude the character qualities that someone who is “literate” would. This idea goes even further to say, that

if you desire to be something other than what you portray yourself to be currently, you have to be extremely convincing.

The combination of embodiment and careful non-verbals can lead to precisely the response you desire from those who are observing your body language. These two principles are on the basis that you can “Fake it ’til you become it.” (Cuddy 19:14). In order to become the alpha, you must first act like one, then you will begin to think like one until you realize, you have become one.

Those who are convincing are able to portray almost any characteristic they desire, this results in becoming something they wish to be. Cuddy also introduces this idea of becoming something new when she tells her student

“You are going to fake it. You’re going to do every talk that you ever get asked to do. You’re just going to do it and do it and do it and do it, even if you’re terrified and just paralyzed and having an out-of-body experience, until you have this moment where you say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m doing it.’”(17:02).

Cuddy’s student exemplifies the idea that if you can physically communicate who you want to be, you can mentally and physically become that person.

This principle ties back into Gee’s discourse concept of discourse, once you become the image of someone in that discourse, you will be accepted into it. This ability is essential in society today because who we are is almost entirely based off of discourses, so in order to further define yourself, you must reach deeper into new discourses. These principles can be essential for those who wish to further their involvement in social roles.

In a broader sense, entering a Discourse can be defined as becoming an example of a social role you would like to display.

Cuddy and Gee nearly contradict each other with their beliefs based on this concept. While the two in some ways enhance one-another’s ideas (such as with meta-knowledge), in others, they cloud them. I feel that the concept of meta-knowledge combined with mushfake is the very essence of a learning period, wherein you learn the ways of those who are in the Discourse.

Gee represents his belief that there is no real middle ground between being in a discourse, and not, but there is however, the potential to “mushfake”.

Mushfake is where you can fake the characteristics and ways of being that are necessary, until you can solidify a spot in the discourse. Gee says that

“There is, thus, no workable “affirmative actions” for Discourses: you can’t be let into the game after missing the apprenticeship and be expected to have a fair shot at playing it.” (10).

So, broken down, his statement concludes that you are either fully in a discourse, or not at all. There is no middle ground or apprenticeship for it. I feel that this may not necessarily be true. In order to be able to do something or become something, there has to be a grace period in which you understand and embrace the ways of the discourse. This time could be termed as an “apprenticeship” and in that case, I would go as far to say this principle of Gee’s is almost entirely wrong, and he himself nearly contradicts it with “mushfake”. To contest this point by Gee, Cuddy says if “She can fake it, she can become it.”(18:07).

The idea of faking-it, as well as the idea of mushfake, does not go in accordance with Gee stating that you can’t be halfway in or out.

Cuddy’s idea brings forth the “mushfake idea” in the form of nonverbals. There must be a time of learning and making impressions in order to gain access to the exclusive club coined “Discourse”. So, where Gee says you’re either there or you’re not, Cuddy believes you can be almost there until you truly are.

Mastery in a certain area that you wish to attain is only possibly through a certain mindset and an active portrayal of non-verbals.

The mindset can be achieved through a compilation of past experiences, and the utilization of different ways they can be implemented into your current daily life. But the combination of the two can pave the way into entering a discourse. Amy Cuddy has evidence suggesting that you can pretend to be something you aren’t currently, until you become it. Her experience with this occurred when she

“realized that she had not just faked it until she made it, she actually faked it ‘till she became it. So she had changed….. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.” (Cuddy 19:14).

The key is to internalize, once this has occurred the discourse has been entered and the position within it has been solidified.

The internalization is the point where not just those who you are trying to convince believe you, but you believe yourself as well. The impression that you worked to create has solidified into a true state of being. Gee’s take on becoming a part of a Discourse that most similarly parallels Cuddy’s idea of “becoming” is “filtering”(Gee 15), which is explained as

“a process whereby aspects of the language, attitudes, value and other elements of certain types of secondary Discourses are filtered into primary Discourse… Filtering represents transfer of features from secondary Discourses into primary Discourses.” (Gee 15).

This is the only process in which someone has potential to embody a secondary Discourse. A secondary Discourse, differs from a primary in the respect that you are not born into it, and often times it is chosen, rather than inherited. Entering a secondary Discourse, while not stated outright, can be compared to Cuddy’s concept of “becoming”, the step following “faking-it”.

The process requires that you encompass that which you wish to have as a secondary Discourse within your Primary Discourse. As you begin to embody this secondary Discourse, it melds itself with your primary Discourse.

This is the recipe for you to evolve into the Secondary discourse, which is key if you wish to increase your involvement in social culture or current events. A secondary Discourse is a higher level of social accomplishment in which you set your place into not only one Discourse, but two. Gee represents the idea that you may only evolve into, not just merely enter a discourse because it is such an involved commitment.

Though they share different opinions how how it can be done, Gee and Cuddy both agree that being in a secondary Discourse is possible, but the paths that must be taken to get there are different.

With each new person entering a secondary Discourse, another layer of complexity is added to that Discourse, as well as the society it impacts. Discourses are essential to all cultural and social exchanges. Entering and maintaining your place in a Discourse is the societal glue that holds the people of the world together.

Cuddy, Amy. “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” Ted Conferences LLC, Edinburgh, Scotland. June 2012. Lecture. 31 Aug. 2015.

Gee, James Paul. “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction.”Journal of Education 171 (1989): 5–17. Print.