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Multimedia, minority languages and the New Economy, by Glyn Williams


Before so doing there is another issue to be confronted. Much of the above work tends to proceed with only a background reference to technological developments. We find technologists developing the architecture associated with new learning environments while educators are aware of the need for new pedagogies to exploit these architectures. We find a certain degree of awareness of what the technology can do among Geographers and Economists, but it is limited. What is missing is the ability to design new technology-based environments beginning from the philosophical and epistemological assumptions associated with the Knowledge Economy. In enabling things to happen, the technology development assumes certain things about how these things do happen, without understanding how technology itself is based on certain assumptions, while also being determinative in the sense that it makes things happen in specific ways.

There are other consequences associated with the advent of the New Economy. There is a shift away from neo-Classical principles of orthodox Economics. The new perspective results in the claim that fluid labour markets are not conditioned merely by occupational or sectorial knowledges, but by a capability for permanent learning.  Thus, knowledge comes to replace the role played by natural resources in the OE, and enterprise support must be knowledge based (Williams, 2000).

Much of what is claimed by reference to the generation and management of knowledge is encompassed in Wenger’s notion of communities of practice (Wenger, 1998). His work is remarkably eclectic and it is difficult to see how his mixing of problematics does not result in epistemological contradiction. He embraces the work of orthodox Marxists such as Gramsci, Bourdieu and Braverman side by side with the asociological work of the ethnomethodologists. He incorporates the more conservative thrust of Giddens’ work while also flirting with post structuralists and allied thinkers including Bakhtin, Heideggar and Wittgenstein. He embraces the work of Michel Foucault but is not comfortable with it because of its denial of the individual subject. He does accept how Foucault’s work involves ‘…pervasive forms of discipline sustained by discourses which define knowledge and truth…’, and views discourse as ‘…a characterisation of practice…’ while not equating the two. He is also critical of Foucault for ignoring identity, seemingly being unaware of how the relationship between the individual, the subject and identity are handled in post structural discourse analysis. This position is a consequence of his reliance on Giddens’ (1984) notion of structuration, and Bourdieu’s (1980) emphasis on social practice,   theoretical conceptions which are open to criticism.

What does emerge is the claim that much of our knowledge is tacit in nature. This is by no means a new idea and, in this case at least, appears to derive from the work of Polyani (Polyani, 1983). It is another manifestation of the claim of both Giddens and Bhaskar that the normative order of any society involves tacit knowledge. That is, normativity is not seen as a preordained form which relates to social order, but is to be found in the common sense of the ordinary citizen who is unable to easily express the basis of this common sense. While Polyani’s work is of relevance here, so also is the more general work of post structuralism and how it has had a profound impact upon how Sociologists have come to understand behaviour

What Wenger does with this awareness of the nature of knowledge is to relate it to social practice. He claims that bounded communities operate social practice on the basis of tacit knowledge. Within this process meaning is constantly negotiated, not as a rational process, but as an on-going process of interaction which draws on tacit knowledge in developing new knowledge. This would appear to be merely another manifestation of how Sociology has always viewed social structure as patterned behaviour.  What is different is how he relates the production of knowledge, not to a rational form of reflexivity, but rather, to the relationship between identity and the social construction of meaning within social interaction among members of this community of practitioners. He argues that the task for anyone interested in organisational learning is to be able to uncover and exploit tacit knowledge.

Space does not permit a critical evaluation of Wenger’s work, nor that of those who draw upon it. Rather, in the remainder of this paper I would like to attempt what Wenger does not do –to develop a framework based on language and its use which embraces the idea of the social construction of meaning and how it relates to the production of knowledge. In pursuing this objective I will not draw upon orthodox linguistics which is based on Cartesian principles, but rather on what is known as French Discourse Analysis (FDA) which is based upon post structuralism (Williams, 1999).  I retain the notion of a community of practice and seek to relate what is said about the relationship between the construction of meaning and practice by reference to the new workflows associated with multimedia content production.

4. Post structuralism (3)

The main focus I want to take by reference to post structuralism involves the work of Foucault (1969). It can be claimed that his work focused on normativity, and involved how the actions of norms in the life of humankind determine the kind of society in which they themselves appear as subjects. It involves a novel definition of subjects and objects and the relationships of these definitions to the constitution of meaning.    Normativity is not seen as a preordained form which relates to social order, but rather, as the effects of discourse which establishes a norm of knowledge which is expressed as ‘truth’. In this respect it differs from orthodox Sociological meta discourse which constructs the normative order as a manifestation of the social order which the individual rationally engages with. Thus Foucault shares in common with more recent understanding of normativity as pertaining to forms of tacit knowledge which relates to the individual, but which that individual is unable to express.

Foucault referred to the norm in two ways. Firstly by reference to how it engages ‘objects’ as in its juridical sense, and secondly how it involves the norm’s ‘subjects’.  The norm sets boundaries which are related to judgement about the merits of inclusion and exclusion and results in domination. When we treat norm as discourse which not only sets boundaries in constructing subjects and objects in relation to each other, while institutionalising or stabilising certain discourses as normative, we begin to see how domination operates and how liberation is achieved.

The individual does not exist outside of discourse but, as we shall see in a moment, is brought into existence through her engagement with discourse within which she becomes the subject of that discourse. This means that the individual is not the centred rational subject of Cartesianism, fully capable of making rational decisions about social practice and her role in it. This also has implications for the concept of ideology in that Post structuralism argues that ideology is not constituted outside of practice, but only emerges within social practice. Ideology is not constituted before the act.

However there is also a need to relate the individual as subject with the social, either as subject or as object. This is achieved by recognising that the norm is that whereby, and across which, society communicates with itself. The norm is the link, the principle of unity and communication of individualities. It is also a relationship between the local and the global. The stabilisation of discourse involves relatively fixed relations between subjects and objects, and it is this stabilisation which gives the norm its enduring quality. Change occurs when discourses are destabilised. What Foucault achieves is to recognise the norm as a principle of communication devoid of origin and devoid of a subject. Normative individualisation occurs without reference to a nature, nor to an essence of subjects. We conform without realising how and why we conform. It is an account that is not far removed from the notion of tacit knowledge. Normativity becomes the effects of discourse which establishes a norm of knowledge expressed as ‘truth’.   If society is viewed as the pattern of recurring human behaviour, then the focus on discourse collapses the distinction between language and society which has been at the heart of Sociology for two centuries. Viewing language acts as social acts is to consider its stability within a ruled system of social relastionships that involves shared meaning across locuteurs.

The essence of Foucaltian DA is that meaning is conditioned by what he refers to as discursive formations. Indeed, a discursive formation is circumscribed by how it pertains to meaning. It relates to stabilised discourse within which meaning is fixed, as are subjects and objects. Thus, in some respects it resembles the notion of communities of practice except that the focus is upon discourse as practice, and meaning as associated with practice, rather than focusing upon the actors within the community.  A discursive formation sets limits on what can be said while determining what must be said from a given subject position. It is in this sense that it determines meaning.

5. French Discourse Analysis (FDA)

FDA is the analytic component of post-structuralism.  Evidently it is obliged to resort to a form of linguistics, or more centrally, a semantics  which is not premised on the centred, rational subject. In this respect it departs from Chomsky’s position within which semantics belongs entirely to the linguistic field, where semantics is a natural extension of the syntactic, so that meaning is a fact of language. For Chomsky, the individual rationally chooses from among a range of possible meanings   which derive from the essentially ambiguous nature of language. The alternative to this Cartesianism is what is known as enonciative linguistics (Culioli, 1990) which I will return to in the next section.

There is a sense in which normativity is conceived of as shared meaning, not merely between individuals, but also across individuals. This being the case, if there is a means whereby shared meaning can be ascertained outside of the orthodoxy of a Sociology based upon rationalism, then that is all that is required.  Discourse comes to be equated with society. Social places are defined in discursive materiality, through the effects of discourse, rather than in an analytic meta discourse of a Sociology external to discourse. Social places are opened up in the materiality of discourse. This observation underlines that Sociology is merely an account which suffices to indicate the form of social practice. It is an account that is premised upon the centrality of reason, and the insistence of sociological orthodoxies such as ‘there is one society for each state’. The focus shifts from this concern to how the effects of meaning organise and permit the understanding of the dimension of the physical inscription of social processes. This involved two things –how enonciation relates to social places, and how the inter-discursive accumulation conditions the memory of notions and their function. I will consider each of these in turn.

A discussion of the relationship between enonciation and social places leads to a discussion of how the individual is transformed into the subject of discourse. Of central importance is the concept of interpolation, where the individual is interpolated as the subject of discourse. Any language act involves an inter-discursivity of  constructed or preconstructed places which the individual can or cannot be interpolated into. The subject as a human being is not the same as the linguistic subject. The ’I’ of grammar is not the same as the speaking subject.

It is in discursive materiality that social places are defined. Social practice becomes the effects of discourse, in its materiality. Discursive structure replaces the normative context of orthodox Sociology in which the individual is socialised in relation to pre-established norms and value systems. The discursive materiality imposes itself on the locuteur in organisaing the effects of position and disposition.

Institutions involve stable structures of types of acts and the places with which they are associated. That is, they lie at the heart of discursive stability. The individual can only be drawn into these places through signification, and the interpolation of actor-speakers into the categorised places is a performative act. The subject places which open up within discourse are there to be taken up or rejected by the individual through signification and interpolation. If the individual takes in charge of a place, she becomes the subject of that discourse. Furthermore, each subject relates to other subjects and to objects within that discourse. She accepts the social places which are constructively marked. Within discursive interaction any statement only has virtual meaning, but this virtuality is presupposed and taken in charge by all of the participants in the process in a non-marked way. Not taking in charge is viewed as an explicit process of refusal. The explicit process (marked) can be actualised in the form of language acts (enonciation), or non-language acts (non cooperation in the act).   Institutionalisation which involves tacit knowledge is treated in terms of the relationship between the places that relate to the structuration of action, and how individuals are interpolated into these places.

Turning to interdiscursive accumulation, this involves the role of the past in conditioning the present. Current discourse accommodates and incorprorates prior discourse. The meaning of  any notion such as ‘Wales’ cannot be elaborated outside of how it has been historically constructed as an object. Similarly, all discourses encompass traces of the past in the way in which stabilised discourse fixes the meaning of subjects and objects, and the relationship between them. Thus when we confront such a discourse we are also confronting the archaeology of the past and how it conditions current meanings.

Meaning has already been discussed by reference to how each discursive formation frames specific meaning.  Subject places are partly pre-defined by prior discourse, and the enonciateur occupies a specific place in relation to other subjects and objects which provide the structure we know as the ‘discursive formation’. Such places determine what can and must be said by the enonciateur.  By reference to the social, a discursive formation is conceived of as the structuring of social space by the differentiation of discourse. Discursive formations diferentiate  discourse, and thereby  structure localities on the basis of regularities. These regularities are akin to legitimisation, involving unmarked discourse.  From the point of view of signification there can be no  difference between the language act and its enonciateur; legitimacy is presupposed.  Whether or not the locuteur takes the discourse in charge, the place of enonciateur is external to signification, and is a matter of meaning.

A ‘fact’ is social only when it is put in meaning, directly or indirectly, in the speech act.  An act becomes a social act through social signification, linked to its stability in the ruled system of social relations. The social is defined by a certain type of stability, involving the shared meaning between the locuteur and others, a meaning which is manifested in analagous acts. ‘Social actors’ relate to the institutionalisation of behaviour or social practice and, in this respect, conform with the non-marked nature of the subject in discourse. A language act creates institutional places replete with subject places into which the individual is interpolated, taking in charge the discourse in relation to the place that the discourse assigns them. The subject lies at the intersection of form and meaning.

It is also important that this perspective is social rather than merely being relevant to the individual. The concept of interpolation is social rather than psychological. The places into which the individual is interpolated  are not merely individual places, but also pertain to social groups. Thus, a discourse on social differentiation may well open up places that pertain to gender, social class or language groups.

Identity is no longer the rational process whereby the individual rationally expresses her sense of self. Rather, it pertains to how the individual is transformed into the subject of discourse, and what is revealed about the individual as the discourse unwinds, and the relationships between the subject and other subjects and between the subject and objects are revealed. This means that identity cannot be a mater of self-reference but must encompass the others as social.

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