James Gee and The Idea Behind Discourse

“Dominant Discourses is the mastery of which, at a particular place and time, brings with it social goods such as money, prestige, and status. Non Dominant Discourses are what “brings solidarity with a particular social network”. (Gee 8).

Gee and Cuddy on Discourse

Throughout life it is important for us to understand the mechanisms through which one can enter a Discourse. Gee develops the idea behind Discourses, which he offers two Discourses known as primary and secondary.The two Discourses are developed in separate times in life and lead to how one socializes outside their home. Cuddy’s TED talk provides information on the social aspect of Discourses and how the body has its own nonverbal way of communicating with others. Body language is an extremely powerful way to communicate with one another and is a necessity to understand to the fullest extent. By developing the knowledge of how to enter and master entering a Discourse, you will then be able to move from one Discourse to another with ease and not be seen as a pretender.

“Not just ways of talking, but ways of talking, acting, thinking, and valuing”(Gee.10)

Apprenticeships within the Discourse

In order for us as humans to join a Discourse, we must understand the entire idea within the Discourse. Gee describes one way of joining a Discourse as an “apprenticeship”. Apprentices are people who are being taken in by people of the secondary Discourse and being shown the ropes and ideas that they all share.The apprentices understand “not just ways of talking, but ways of talking, acting, thinking, and valuing”(Gee.10) which allows them to enter the particular discourse. The quote by Gee supports my claim because he explains that you need to understand everything in the Discourse in order to adopt it. Like Gee, Cuddy explains that “we make sweeping judgments and inferences from body language”(1) providing the idea that we can communicate through body language. Having the power to talk through our body language is a critical aspect in our lives. We can communicate signals as if we are weak or if we are strong. This supports my claim because we must understand the body language of the Discourse in order to fit in. The quotes help advance my claim because they both have the same idea in order to join a Discourse, which would be to understand the values, body language, and the way they speak in the particular Discourse.

Primary and Secondary Discourse

In life we do develop two main Discourses, a primary and a secondary. A primary Discourse is the Discourse we develop in our primary social area in life, such as at home. A secondary Discourse is what we develop once we begin to socialize outside of our homes and primary spaces. Areas such as schools, church, and sports are all examples of where one can develop a secondary Discourse. Gee presents the idea of how one can move from a secondary Discourse when being in the areas as

“social institutions that commands and demands one or more Discourse and we acquire these fluently to the extent that we are given access to these institutions and allowed apprenticeship within them.”(8)

In order to move from one Discourse, by the way he presents it, is by becoming a fluent user and pass the test by the natives of the Discourse. The test are conducted by people within the Discourse trying to see if the person wanting to enter the Discourse understands what they stand for or if they are just trying to enter a group in which they don’t fit in. By passing these test, you can then develop attributes that belong to other Discourses while still belonging to the new one you have just inhabited. In Cuddy’s talk she describes how we need to use body language properly because “If you use them poorly, bad idea. Right? So when we judge others, how they judge us and what the outcomes are.”(2:04) The idea that we need to pass a test by our actions and the way we appear to join a secondary Discourse is entirely accurate. Our social groups that we all belong to have their own basic beliefs and ideas, which we must follow if we want to continue to belong.

Mushfaking into a Discourse

You can fake your way into a Discourse by being around the members within the group long enough to understand their behaviors. This is mentioned by Gee, which he calls “mushfaking”. Mushfake is described by Gee as “making do with something less when the real thing is not available”(Gee 13). This means you are able to take certain knowledge of another Discourse and “fake it” acting as if you belong. By doing this you adapt to the Discourse and gain enough knowledge to adopt it. Like Gee, Cuddy tells the readers to

“fake it till you make it”(Gee 6)

She explains that if you fake it enough, you will feel as if you belong to the Discourse, and in turn, trick the members of the Discourse to believe you are a part of it. Gee and Cuddy both mention the action of “faking it”, which goes back to my claim that one can enter a Discourse by faking their way into it. By developing the aspect of faking your way into a Discourse, you will be able to use this method and be able to join multiple secondary Discourses.

Understanding the Discourse of Your Job

A Discourse can help you advance in your job by being able to communicate with others and show power. Cuddy’s research explored how the nonverbal expressions we make such as hand gestures and body movements are very important to those of whom are in the business Discourse. Our “nonverbals are a language” and they act as a communication as Cuddy states. Understanding how to have a powerful, confident, body language will in turn make you feel this way. Having this knowledge, people with a Discourse of business can use it to their advantage and express confidence and strength. The confidence will lead to success compared to having high stress, which will be shown through your body language as well. Gee describes how within your secondary Discourse there is a dominant and nondominant Discourses.

“Dominant Discourses is the mastery of which, at a particular place and time, brings with it social goods such as money, prestige, and status. Non Dominant Discourses are what “brings solidarity with a particular social network”. (Gee 8).

Understanding these Discourses allows you to develop the power and status you need to be successful, as well as making the bond stronger between you and that secondary Discourse. By tying the ideas presented by Cuddy and Gee, a person has the ability of using the power they develop through body language to join other Discourses. Whether it be a granted apprenticeship, or fully joining the Discourse, your powerful body language and having the social goods desired, you will be able to obtain Discourses much easier than appearing weak and lacking social goods.

Power and You

Power is crucial to have in the world we live in today. We can develop this power we desire through meta-knowledge. We use meta knowledge to balance multiple Discourses at once. Meta-knowledge is the ability to balance several Discourses at once, and having the knowledge of when to show one or when not to. Gee describes Meta-Knowledge as liberation and power, because it leads to the ability to manipulate, to analyze, to resist while advancing.” (Gee 13). Having the ability to express multiple Discourses and showing you understand several ideas pertaining the many Discourses you belong to will show confidence. Obtaining study skills and critical thinking can lead to metaknowledge and allow you to actually acquire a Discourse through manipulation.


Developing all these crucial strategies to gain a Discourse will help advance you in life. Understanding the difference between your primary Discourse and secondary Discourse will allow you to master how you are supposed to act in your new Discourses. Mushfaking and becoming an apprentice to a Discourse grants you the ability to see what the secondary Discourse is like and what it takes to become a part of it. Once you complete all the tasks I have listed, you will be a master of obtaining multiple Discourses.

Work Cited Page:

Cuddy, Amy. “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” TED Talk. TED.com, Edinburgh, June 2012. Transcript. 30. Aug. 2015.

Gee, James Paul. “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction.” Journal of Education 171.1(1989) : 5–17. Print.