I recently read ‘An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method’ (Gee, 2014), seeking a more thorough understanding of the principles and practice of discourse analysis (DA). Although this is not a technique I’d planned to use, several papers I’ve encountered have used it in the context of a wide variety of online sources and a book I read earlier offered some promise. Although Gee is quite accessible, I struggled to see how I could get myself into a position where I’m sufficiently comfortable and confident with DA to be able to use it effectively. It’s not especially complex, but it does rely on you having a solid foundation of linguistics. Given the time limitations within which I’m working, developing a thorough grounding in that field looks somewhat unlikely, and yet the close attention DA pays to text remained appealing. So when I subsequently came across ‘The Discourse of Blogs and Wikis’ (Myers, 2009), which seemed more closely aligned with my area of interest, I thought I’d take another look.
Discourse sees language as a social practice, so it makes complete sense that someone would seek to uncover whether language used in social media follows the same principles found in more traditional contexts, or whether perhaps it is somehow different. My focus was drawn much more to the chapters on blogging rather than those on wikis, simply because the former have more relevance to my studies. Of those, Myers covered text, place, time, audience, opinions and evidence; these being of particular significance where social practice is conducted within this particular aspect of the Web. Despite the shift towards increasingly rich media, blogs remain largely textual in nature, so DA is clearly an appropriate technique to deploy. Now it’s highly likely I’ll be taking a close look at blogs, so anything I can learn here will be valuable, but if that can also be applied to the microblog that is Twitter, so much the better.
Myers suggests we can define blogs as a specific genre, determined by their look, feel and function, but more so by the uses to which they are put. Essentially blogging is diary writing, enhanced by links which provide intertextuality. This can take place through the outward links to other related sites/blogs which may extend, enhance, or substantiate what has been discussed in the post. They may also provoke action, challenging us move on from where this particular post takes us. In addition to this dynamic view, I also see the interlinked resources as offering an opportunity network; the point at which you enter the network may take you in a number of potential directions. The nature of blogging is such that links reach out, though often to content on the same theme. This naturally leads to topic clusters, which in education might be on a particular curriculum area, pedagogical approach, current news item or increasingly, specific ideology. A similar phenomenon can be seen in Twitter’s micro-blogposts. There are hyperlinks which perform the same actions as those in their big brothers’, although in Twitter, the internal links to posts take the form of retweets. The network which arises here is much more ephemeral and doesn’t persist in the same way as that formed in blogs, yet can still lead to a similar echo-chamber effect.
DA reveals different ways in which blog authors provide the connective threads to additional resources. This can be achieved using words, phrases, sentences, URLs, images and quotations, or through deictic expressions like ‘follow this link’ or ‘as xxx said here’ which seem to add a further degree of exhortation to explore further so you can establish the veracity of what I am writing. Myers suggests we can even quantify linkiness (although he doesn’t use that expression … which I think is a shame) as the number of links per 1000 words, and can thereby establish how well connected a particular blog is. I see a parallel here with social network analysis (SNA) in which connectivity within the network can be estimated based on the number of links per node (Hoppe & Reinelt, 2010). Just as in SNA, the ways in which links from blogs to other blogs, sites and articles measured by linkiness only provides a partial view. I wonder therefore how appropriate it might be to consider additional factors like bridging, centrality and density?
Much of the aforementioned behaviour depends on a blogger’s view of audience. Although some claim to use their blog as a personal reflective space and write purely for themselves, for the majority, a readership is important. Myers contends that audience is solicited and that DA can help us uncover the baited hooks. Some are plain lumps of bread – ‘Here is a post I wrote on xxx.’ Others are big juicy worms where links are appended to headline-grabbing or controversial statements; often called click- or linkbait. DA reveals some to be more subtle however, like a fly cast gently on the waters, perhaps using pronouns like ‘you’ which speak directly to the readers in an attempt to make a connection, or using ‘we’ to hint at shared knowledge and values with the reader.
I’m beginning to see how we can use linguistic markers to help us interpret social practice; some of the techniques Myers described could be pertinent to my study. I now need to think more carefully about what textual markers I might use that are pertinent in shedding light on professional learning. Perhaps initially, anything related to learning; learning as an activity, or as an outcome. Questions? Links? Deictics? Or maybe markers which indicate establishment or nurturing of relationships, or trust? These may not contribute directly to learning, but perhaps provide precursors, without which learning is more difficult? What markers might you look for as evidence of professional learning?
Gee, J. P. (2014). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method. Routledge.
Hoppe, B., & Reinelt, C. (2010). Social network analysis and the evaluation of leadership networks. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(4), 600-619.
Myers, G. (2009). The discourse of blogs and wikis. Bloomsbury Publishing.