15.2200, Review: Discourse Analysis/Applied Ling: Rogers (2003)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-15-2200. Tue Aug 3 2004. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 15.2200, Review: Discourse Analysis/Applied Ling: Rogers (2003)

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Date:  Mon, 2 Aug 2004 16:56:08 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Elaine Richardson <ebr2 at psu.edu>
Subject:  A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Mon, 2 Aug 2004 16:56:08 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Elaine Richardson <ebr2 at psu.edu>
Subject:  A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy

AUTHOR: Rogers, Rebecca
TITLE: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy Practices
SUBTITLE: Power In and Out of Print
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2003
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-1441.html

Elaine Richardson, Pennsylvania State University


Rogers' text is an ethnographic investigation of the literacy
practices of one working class African American family. The book,
particularly, highlights the literacy practices of the mother and
daughter. Through a critical discourse analysis approach, the author
demonstrates how one working class family internalizes dominant
literacy ideologies even when these ideologies are not in their best
interest and do not yield them social rewards for their compliance. It
will be of interest to educators, literacy theorists, sociolinguists,
discourse analysts, applied linguists, social cultural theorists, and
those with an interest in educational and social policy. The book
consists of eight chapters, a bibliography, appendixes, and an index.


In the introductory chapter (chapter one), Rogers introduces the
participants in her study, the Treader family. Here she explains how,
through the course of the mother's participation in adult basic
education classes, she became the mother's tutor and subsequently
tutored the preadolescent daughter, as well as a group of youngsters
from the Treaders' neighborhood. This frequent and sustained contact
over 2 years provided Rogers with opportunities for close participant
observation of the interaction between personal and public literacies
and discourses, and intergenerational literacy practices.  Rogers also
lays out her theoretical orientation here. Her work is informed by
literacy studies scholarship (i.e.  Heath, 1983; Dorsey-Gaines, 1988;
Delpit, 1996; Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000), theories of discourse
(i.e. Gee, 1991 & 1996; Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999), social
reproduction theory (Althusser, 1971; Foucault, 1970; Bourdieu, 1991),
and theories of cultural models, members' resources, and
subjectivities (i.e. Fairclough 1992; Davies, 1993; Gee, 1999). She
draws out of literacy theories the cultural and discursive mismatch
hypothesis that is so often called upon to explain underachievement of
working class students. Rogers connects this hypothesis to theories of
discourse and social reproduction theory.  Following Althusser, Rogers
''locates schools at the center of a critique of the reproduction of
capitalist society.''  (5) Later in the text, she describes and
analyzes a meeting that shows how school officials effectively label
and place June Treader's daughter, Vicky, into special education. The
meeting also functions to make June consent to her place in the social
hierarchy. As Rogers states in this chapter, ''One promise of this
book ... is an illustration of the ways in which people learn to see
themselves through the eyes of an institution.'' (4) Rogers' use of
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) illuminates the micro and macro
linguistic aspects of language in use as it relates to social context
and the language users' subject position.

Chapter two describes the location of the research--the home, the
neighborhood, as well as the city. This chapter also gives the
rationale and procedures for the ethnographic method used in the
study. Here, Rogers also explains the constructs that she uses to
inform her analysis -- literacy events/practices; discourse/Discourse;
and orders of discourse. Rogers is careful to point out that she is a
reflective practitioner, meaning that she is implicated as a White
woman studying oppressed people as well as herself throughout the

In chapter three Rogers describes June and her experiences in the
adult basic classroom, June's ideas on what reading and literacy are
and how they are evaluated. An important refrain in this text that
comes through in this chapter is that June measured her literacy the
way that the schools did, through tests based on biased constructs of
intellect.  Rogers will identify this as an intergenerational
stronghold. Against this backdrop, Rogers shows how June wrote a
community petition and took action to have signs posted for pedestrian
safety in her community. Rogers also shows how June is able to
negotiate documents concerning her child's schooling and
healthcare. Whereas some research on working class families finds
parents uninvolved in their children's education, this work shows that
the mother of this family was deeply involved. In this chapter, Rogers
reveals that June's daughter, Vicky, is recommended for special
education, an evaluation that June detests.

In chapter four ''Family Literacy as Apprenticeship,'' Rogers strives
to demonstrate that ''intergenerational literacy learning is a
delicate balance of textual encounters, institutional arrangements,
and subjectivities.'' (65) In this chapter, Rogers discusses her
relationship with Vicky and the reading club that developed with other
children from the neighborhood. Rogers' work with Vicky shows her to
be a capable reader and student. Vicky and the other African American
children in the reading group preferred historical biographies or
books where there were consequences attached to the characters. They
liked non- fiction and historical fiction with strong African American
characters. Rogers' work with Vicky included letting her and the other
children choose appropriate books that they liked, books and reading
experiences that allowed them to somehow live the text, for example,
demonstrating empathy toward the slaves as Vicky did when the author
discusses the historical fictions of slavery with her. Furthermore,
Vicky read the newspaper of her sister's pepper spray incident
authoritatively; she explained how to get social services. By using
these examples, Rogers demonstrates that children can be set up to
succeed in literacy. It is against this backdrop that Rogers presents
the school's view of Vicky as a special needs student with language
and literacy deficits. A general trend noted in African American
literacy scholarship is that literacy is not taught according to the
context of lives of the students from Black and working class
backgrounds (Richardson, 2003). Rogers found this to be true in the
education of both Vicky and June, both of whom were taught to read
texts out of the contexts of their lives.

The section '''You Fill Out These Papers'': Acquiring Social
Relations' may trouble some readers. Rogers' questioning of Vicky and
Taz about the Women Infants and Children's social services program
[called WIC] could be interpreted as illuminating the family's
dependence on government programs since at a bare minimum need would
be a requirement for eligibility. Although we may presume that Rogers'
questions are authentic: ''Who do you call to get it?'' (77) and ''So
can I get WIC?''; this pattern of questioning has a problematic
history in White/Black relations, where Whites ask questions that
Black core culture members perceive as off limits or simply
unnecessary. Perhaps this is why Vicky signified on the researcher
with the statement: ''She's gonna have a baby to get WIC.'' Similarly,
some readers may find the following statement problematic: ''First,
the relationship between the need to have children and the ability to
receive support is clear to Vicky.'' (77 ) The researcher is making
this statement to underscore the daughter's ability to learn, make
connections in the real world. However, the discussion of WIC could
also be taken to exemplify the family's legacy of dependence literacy
or recipient literacy when the author writes that ''Vicky learned that
June [Vicky's mother] attended to these things [such as applying for
WIC] and that eventually, so would she.'' ( 77)

The Free-and Reduced-Lunch Forms section presents similar
concerns. Rogers points out that June is very proficient in the
welfare/government program vocabulary: ''income level,'' ''house
income,'' ''eligible to receive a free meal.''  The point that the
author is making is that the school, which represents the interests of
the state, teaches certain people certain types of literacy, beginning
with learning how to read and fill out worksheets out of context in
elementary school to filling in welfare and reduced lunch forms.

A valuable aspect of Rogers' text is her application of theoretical
constructs to complex discourse analyses.  Throughout the text she
appropriately shows readers what the orders of discourse are in her
particular study, for example, when specific utterances from her
subjects represent certain orders of discourse such as ''the Discourse
of schooling'' ''The Discourse of disability'' or her explanation of
how style of speech implicates social positioning.

Chapters five and six describe the special education referral process
in more detail. Though June protested and declared that she would not
let them put her daughter in special education, the administrators
with their official evidence of Vicky's test scores label June's
daughter as ''a multiply disabled student'' almost forcing the woman
into a position of powerlessness. Rogers' analysis of June's language
shows a passage from empowered to powerless, from active to passive
across different contexts. Rogers shows that June's acceptance of
herself as a failed literacy student influenced her ''decision'' to
let the school have their way with her child. The researcher's
reflexivity also comes into play here as she contemplates her own part
in not being able to stop the school from constructing Vicky as a
deficient student, despite the fact that she and the adolescent's
mother had evidence to the contrary. Chapter six provides a detailed
illustration of critical discourse analysis of the Committee on
Special Education Meeting and how institutional discourses
operate. The researcher takes note of turn taking strategies of the
officials and those of the mother, the mother's and the officials
''I'' statements to demonstrate how language functions to create,
uphold, and disrupt social arrangements.

In Chapter seven, ''Through the Eyes of the Institution,'' Rogers
presents a second Committee on Special Education (CSE) Meeting to
compare the structure and logic between the year one and year two
meetings. Rogers is able to highlight several contradictions in the
discourses and ideologies invoked in the meeting on behalf of the
officials and the mother. In the year one CSE meeting, the officials
used standardized test achievement scores, rule- governed turn taking,
and other official discourse practices to effectively label and
classify Vicky. In this year two meeting, the officials used informal
anecdotes and memories of Vicky's performance to manufacture the
consent of the mother to another year of special education (but with
the intent of gradually integrating her into regular classes). The
same domains that were used to classify Vicky as multiply disabled
were used to identify her as a star student. In doing this, the
officials gain the confidence of the mother and build the confidence
of the student who have both internalized their own schooled and
dominant literacy deficits. Rogers shows that the officials set up the
parameters of the options available to the Treader family (go into a
regular classroom with no support or continue to be a star student in
special education). Although the mother and the daughter had more
voice in this meeting, the process was still unequal with predictable
outcomes. Rogers argues that ''what keeps the Treaders in their place
is their quite complete acquisition of the ideology behind ''schooled
literacy.'' (145) Rogers also argues that Critical Discourse Analysis
helps to illuminate this situation but ''does not do a good job of
showing us how individuals learn to see themselves through the eyes of
the institution.'' (145) Though Rogers acknowledges that there is some
truth to the structure versus agency argument, she holds that critical
discourse theory holds out the potential for both structure and

Overall, Rogers summarization of and reflection on her theoretical
approach and methodological struggles presented in using CDA are
extremely valuable for discourse analysts.  Similarly, Rogers policy
recommendations for teacher education programs and school systems
underscore the need for institutions to recognize and incorporate the
local literacies of families into official curriculum to stem the
trend of counterproductive literacy identities perpetuated through
current practices. One issue which this raises and that Rogers herself
identifies is that production, transmission, and learning of
counterproductive identities is not the sole province of schools and
is not usually adequately handled in literacy research applying
CDA. These ideologies are manufactured and circulated throughout media
and most segments of society. Critical Discourse Analysts must find
ways to employ ethnographic methods across a wide array of contexts
over a significant time period. Another major issue that this text
raises is that we need to deal squarely with race, class and gender in
literacy studies.  The profession must incorporate and make widely
known the work of African American and Black language and literacy
scholars in order to halt the reification and reproduction of
Eurocentrically biased views. (Makoni, Smitherman, Ball, and Spears,
2003) What counts as literacy is dependent on who or what one wants to
become. People of color are asked to adopt dominant Eurocentric
values, which may or may not produce social rewards, while this is not
necessarily a problem for most whites. Rebecca Rogers is to be
commended for taking on this much researched though still troubled
area of life in today's world.


Gates, H. L., Jr. (1988). The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro
American Literary Criticism. New York: Harvard University Press.

Makoni, S., Smitherman, G., Ball, A & Spears, A. (2003).  Black
Linguistics: Language, Society and Politics in Africa and the
Americas. London & New York: Routledge.

Mitchell-Kernan, C. (1974). Language Behavior In A Black Urban
Community. Reprinted with revisions, Nov. 1874.  Berkeley, CA:
University of California Berkeley, Language Behavior Research
Laboratory [1971].

Morgan, M. (2002). Language, Discourse and Power in African American
Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richardson, E. (2003). African American Literacies.  London & New
York: Routledge.

Smitherman, G. (1977/1986). Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of
Black America. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

- --. (2000). Talkin' That Talk: Language, Culture, and Education in
African America. New York: Routledge.


Elaine Richardson is Associate Professor of English and Applied
Linguistics at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Her
areas of research are discourse analysis, literacy studies, and
African American oral folk culture.


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