The Secrets Behind Discourses

Using Gee and Cuddy on How to Enter a Discourse

Defining Discourse

Everyday interactions occur between people who share similar thoughts, ideas, and values that make it easy to identify them as a group. These values and ideas stem back to the way people are brought up as a child and affect who they become in their future.

From author James Paul Gee in his, “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction”, we learn these specific groupings of similar people are called Discourses.

There are two specific kinds of Discourses: Primary Discourses and Secondary Discourses. Primary Discourses are developed during first experiences and are used to create individual identities. From Primary Discourses, Secondary Discourses are acquired, which are outside of the immediate primary group but are difficult to join and do not come naturally like Primary Discourses. The question then, is, how does one enter a Secondary Discourse?

The Beginning

Ideas from not only Gee’s article but also Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, help provide mechanisms that relate to the ways of entering Discourses.

Source: TED.Com

The main point of Cuddy’s Ted Talk is focussed on body language and how it shapes who people are. If a desire is to be part of a certain Discourse but entering is uncomfortable and foreign, then changing ones actions to be like the people who have already mastered the Discourse will make it much more attainable.

After reading both Gee’s article and Cuddy’s Ted Talk, I find that a majority of the time people pretend or act like they are part of a Secondary Discourse only to later truly enter.

Process One

One mechanism to enter a Discourse is to simulate the acts of members that have already mastered everything involved. Since it is impossible to know everything, one form of this idea, which is related to Gee, is mushfake;

“a term from prison culture, as making “do with something less when the real thing is not available” (Gee 13).

Gee also defines mushfake as meaning,

“partial acquisition coupled with meta-knowledge and strategies to ‘made do’ ” (13).

This idea is one way to enter a Discourse if you don’t already posses the skills necessary to enter right away. At first people have to create ways of fitting into the Discourse that aren’t exactly how things are done, but will work as a substitute. For example, if someone decided to participate in a 5k supporting any cause but didn’t have the designated shirt that all runners wear, they could make their own shirt with the name of the run on it and try to fit in. They could still participate in the run but wouldn’t be fully part of the Discourse. Their shirt would be an example of mushfake, displaying their difference from the rest of the Discourse.


From Cuddy’s talk, there is another mechanism that relates to simulating the acts of members in a Discourse which is,

“Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize” (19:14).

Cuddy is suggesting that pretending like you know how everything works in a Discourse will eventually get you into that Discourse. In this example it is critical that the acts of the Discourse be realized sooner rather than later so the faking becomes real and the membership into the Discourse is as well. Both of these mechanisms are ways to enter a Discourse through imitation until truly part of the Discourse.

Process Two

Without the use of mushfake or “faking it until you become it”, apprenticeship can be used to enter a Discourse. Although not imitation, apprenticeship relates to the previous examples because time is required to experience Discourses and be immersed in the environment before full entry is possible. However, this is a separate mechanism from mushfaking because in this case there is no pretending. In Gee’s article he states,

“Discourses are not mastered by overt instruction… but by enculturation (“apprenticeship”) into social practices through scaffolded and supported interaction with people who have already mastered the Discourse” (7).

Apprenticeships involve using background knowledge about a Discourse and taking the guidance of a member to fully absorb all parts. The knowledge members already possess is invaluable to people who want to be in a Discourse. Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk provides a great example of an apprenticeship. When Cuddy was new to Princeton, she had to give a 20 minute talk which was completely out of her comfort zone. It took time but she got used to it and eventually was able to use her experience with participating outside her comfort zone, to become a mentor and apprenticed one of her students. Cuddy had a student that needed to participate in class to improve her grade. Cuddy had her fully invest herself into one class and asking a brilliant question. Through this, Cuddy extended her expertise of the Discourse and the student gained experience on how to successfully enter the Discourse. Apprenticeships provide non members access to information necessary to enter Discourses directly from the source. With the use of apprenticeship, eventual entrance to a Discourse is very possible.


In regards to all of the mechanisms to get into a Discourse, it is important to clarify the point that the people participating in apprenticeships, mushfaking, or any other form need to have a real chance of getting into the Discourse. If they know they will never belong to the Discourse then they become an imposter. Being an imposter and a simulator of masters are two different things. Gee provides a definition to fully understand this point. He states,

“If you’ve fossilized in the acquisition of a Discourse prior to full “fluency” (and are no longer in the process of apprenticeship), then your very lack of fluency marks you as a non-member of the group that controls this Discourse” (Gee 10).

It is necessary to be successful in the acts of attempting entrance through these mechanisms so the members of the Discourse accept you and allow full entrance into the Discourse.

Final Points

Everyone is different and so are the Discourses they are a part of. Gee’s, “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction”, and Cuddy’s Ted Talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”, help understand how entering a Discourse is possible. What is similar about people are the approaches they use to enter Discourses. After thorough readings of Gee’s article, it provided many mechanisms for entering Discourses but relating to eventual entrance are mushfaking and apprenticeships. Cuddy’s talk provided corresponding ideas and other mechanisms that relate to real life that give evidence towards why these mechanisms work. Mushfaking and faking it until you make it or become it is one combination that could work for eventual entrance to a Discourse.

The other combination is apprenticeship and how Cuddy experienced this first hand. On the negative side of these mechanisms, both combinations have room for error. There is the possibility of mushfaking or apprenticeships not working out and “fossilizing” before full fluency of a Discourse. Faking it but coming up short and never actually entering the Discourse leads to being a non-member. Although gaining entrance to a Discourse is the ultimate goal, not being successful is acceptable because the point of being part of a Discourse is that you find where you belong. If mushfaking, faking it till you make it, and apprenticeship don’t work out, it means you aren’t meant to be in that Discourse.