Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power


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Discursive Power - AbeBooks

Introduction - the discursive technology of science. Part 1 Professional literacy: construing nature; on the language of physical science; some grammatical problems in scientific English; the construction of knowledge and value of the grammar of scientific discourse - with reference to Charles Darwin's "The Origin of the Species"; language and the order of nature; the analysis of scientific texts in English and Chinese.

Part 2 School literacy: construing knowledge. Part 3 Uncommon sense: secondary geography and science; the discourse of geography - ordering and explaining the experimental world; literacy in science - learning to handle text as technology. Part 4 Technicality and abstraction: secondary science and humanities; technicality and abstraction - language for the creation of specialised texts; secret English - discourse technology in a junior secondary school; life as a noun - arresting the universe in science and technology. Halliday and his colleague, J. Martin, show scientific discourses at work in a range of historical, contemporary, and cross-cultural sites: from the works of the nineteenth-century scientists to other cultures' textual representations of the natural world; from school students' writings on scientific knowledge and procedures to the construction of a "Secret English" of science in secondary school textbooks and classroom talk.

While the book draws specifically from examples of Australian schooling, it both refers to and has immediate application to schooling in North America.


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Running across these essays is a commitment not just to remaking science as a humane endeavor, but also to developing new analytic perspectives for critiquing science. Although the research participants were not ethnically or culturally diverse, they did span a broad socioeconomic and generational range. After hundreds of interviews and extensive qualitative analysis, the authors concluded that the participants in all four case studies were rarely inclined to frame their challenges in terms of science. Although a minority of participants was interested in the scientific aspects of Down's syndrome, convection heating, and so forth, even these people had other concerns that made scientific rationales for action seem beside the point.

Along similar lines, the town councilors who were debating methane capture had to manage local concerns about pumping noise as well as their constituents' trust in their openness and accountability. For them, public perception of risk was more salient to their work than any technical evaluation. Do these findings simply reflect the pervasive absence of science literacy? To reach these conclusions, the authors argue, we would have to ignore the powerful subjective experience of the participants—in particular, the way in which they defined their own circumstances and the problems they faced.

Among parents of children with Down's syndrome, Layton et al. When they were interested in scientific research, these parents were more concerned about research on treatment. Their perfectly understandable preference for clinical research is at odds with the majority of writing on science literacy.

In everyday situations and times of need, people did not think of their problems in terms of science. Across all four case studies, the number of individuals interested in scientific explanations was small, and even the descriptive terms used by scientists to define a situation seemed tangential.

Layton et al. In light of this evidence, the authors argue persuasively that any claims about the daily relevance of science should be viewed with skepticism. They do not suggest that science, scientific explanations, and scientific constructs are never relevant to the challenges of daily life. Instead, they encourage their educational audience to work backwards from real life, examining the authentic situations in which science is or could be useful and finding pedagogies that anticipate the demands of these situations.

By examining the situations in which we expect science to be useful and finding far less science than expected, Layton et al. What Inarticulate Science did not do, however, was identify a clear set of common practices that might bring people into closer contact with science and help them make meaningful use of it. In other words, Inarticulate Science emphasizes the descriptive question—what does science literacy look like?

It offers only the most general of answers to the other, prescriptive question— What must people know or be able to do to be science literate? Like the authors of Inarticulate Science , Roth argues that the usefulness of science literacy can only be defined and evaluated in the context of everyday life.

In searching for meaningful uses of science, however, Roth eschews the idea that science literacy is something a single person can have or be. Instead, he suggests, science literacy is collective praxis : something that a group of people do or accomplish, particularly when working together on shared projects or overlapping interests. Roth and Lee followed two communities: environmental activists dedicated to preserving the ecological health of the local watershed, and children and teachers from the town's middle school.

Relying on videotapes, transcripts, and artifacts such as newspaper articles, the authors describe several scenarios in which a nuanced understanding of the local environment was collectively constructed from the scientific and nonscientific knowledge of community members. Rather than finding science to be largely absent, as Layton et al.

Different individuals contributed to the emerging conversation as fibers contribute to a thread … Furthermore, the scientific literacy that emerges as the thread of the conversation could not be predicted from the scientific literacy of the individual participant fibers—scientific literacy in conversational interaction is an irreducibly social phenomenon.

Accepting and even celebrating the diversity of expertise and attitudes within a community, Roth and Lee contend that the true project of science literacy, and a more worthy aim for science educators, is bringing communities together in an ongoing discourse that capitalizes on their collective knowledge and expertise. One fair critique of these conclusions is that Roth and Lee appear to have started with the assumption that knowledge is collectively held and meaning socially constructed.

Whether or not one agrees with the fervor of their conclusions, however, Roth and Lee succeed in pushing the conversation away from individuals and toward groups. They make the important points that people rarely act in isolation, that ideas are shaped through conversations, and that social groups have the singularly useful habit of pooling their skills and knowledge. Whether or not it is helpful to think about the science literacy of individuals, science literacy inevitably plays out in social context. Although this idea represents a striking departure from most work on science literacy, it is strongly reminiscent of John Dewey's perspective on scientific expertise and civic discourse.

In both of the examples described so far, the researchers started with a situation where science seemed likely to be relevant. The work of Angela Calabrese Barton is markedly different. Barton's work, too, belongs to the nascent tradition of research on everyday science, yet unlike Roth, Layton, and their collaborators, Barton focuses on contexts where few people expect science to be relevant: the lives and pastimes of minority youth in high poverty urban environments.

Barton's recent research with Sreyashi Jhumki Basu is a particularly clear example. In their study of sustained interest in science among urban minority youth, Basu and Barton focus on the role of a young person's community in shaping his or her interest in science, and the ways in which educators might fruitfully collaborate with the community to promote such interest.

They concluded that the young people in their study were more likely to sustain an interest in science when 1 their science experiences connected with how they envision their own futures; 2 learning environments supported the kinds of social relationships students valued; and 3 science activities supported students' sense of agency for enacting their views on the purpose of science.

In a sense, this conclusion simply returns them to the place where Layton et al.

They found that their participants' widely variable ideas about the usefulness of science often framed how they participated in after school science. Some students felt that useful science was science that could be applied to the things students cared about every day. Some students felt that science was useful if it allowed them to have some control over their lives or made their lives easier.

Some students thought science was useful if it helped to justify activities that were not as valued in the academic sphere, such as sports and pop culture. Finally, some students felt that science was useful if it actually helped people or solved problems, either personal or social.

Students did not begin their afterschool science experience perceiving science to be useful in all of these ways. The deeply personal and contingent nature of the connections that these young people felt with science is the most compelling aspect of Basu and Barton's work. It also presents a thorny conceptual challenge for anyone seeking to draw broader conclusions about the nature and usefulness of science literacy.

Also, from a more traditional perspective, it is sometimes difficult to see the science, per se, in the experiences and pastimes of these young people. Is it sufficient that they felt more comfortable with and interested in science as they interpreted it? Even when the science content of their interests is clear, it can seem too context specific. When the interests of young people shift, will science learned for earlier pastimes do them any good?

These questions point to an apparent tension between the limitless particularity of daily life and the need for a broadly useful science education. I explore this tension below.

Taken together, these three examples provide an interesting account of how empirical study can transform the way we think about science literacy. Roth and Lee argue that a truly useful version of science literacy can be found in the work of groups, rather than the knowledge and skills of individuals. Basu and Barton bring the discussion back to more familiar educational contexts; they show that students find science useful in unanticipated ways, and willingly appropriate scientific ideas and discourse when encouraged to ground science in personal ambitions, supportive relationships, and valued cultural and community contexts.

Science arises in unpredictable ways that are shaped by personal motivations and cultural context. While it does not provide complete answers, it contributes a significant element to a more complicated process of meaning making, a process in which people act together rather than alone.

Writing Science: Literacy And Discursive Power

I have argued above that the ideas emerging from the study of everyday science have the potential to transform our notions of science literacy. These ideas, although they are relatively novel in the context of science education, are not new to social research. In particular, they echo some of the central findings from another field: public engagement with science.

Consider, for example, the close parallels between the findings of Inarticulate Science and this conclusion from Helen Lambert and Hilary Rose's work with hyperlipidaemia patients: People clearly develop situated understandings of medical science through intensive experience of a specific domain in this case, familial hyperlipidaemia. Here, as in the work of Layton et al. Elsewhere, Lambert and Rose anticipate Basu and Barton's conclusion about the subjectivity of usefulness: Thus, although from the outside we can prioritise different contributory domains of scientific and medical knowledge according to their direct relevance for personal management of the condition, this is not how patients weave the knowledge together.

In this same paper, it is also possible to find a parallel to the collective praxis ideas of Roth and Lee : … many of the patients we interviewed employed informal networks to acquire new information.

In particular, where several members of a family or kin group have been diagnosed as having the condition, a number of them invariably discuss their treatment, compare their current cholesterol levels and their understandings of the nature of their condition, and exchange new information. Lambert and Rose do not make the specific claim that families are practicing science literacy, but their data show the same synthesis of knowledge and intimate experience that Roth and Lee cite as evidence that science literacy is located in the group rather than the individual.

The work of Lambert and Rose provides an apt point of comparison not because it is unique but because it is representative, in both focus and findings, of a considerable body of social research on science in daily life. Miller, This type of research, which continues to the present day e.

In the s, however, the balance of scholarly opinion began to shift. As Steve Miller observed, a more reflective approach to public understanding of science was developing. This approach drew from sociology and history, and sometimes from philosophy, too. Scientific facts and their public assimilation were not as unproblematic as the deficit modelers assumed S. Miller, , p. Irwin and Wynne's book was not the beginning of a trend, but a sign that the trend was already well established in academia.

Public engagement with science, as a rhetorical frame, remains popular today, and although few individuals identify as public engagement researchers per se, a loosely defined field has emerged around journals such as Public Understanding of Science. The convergence of science education and public engagement with science is not a coincidence.

Although research on public engagement is rarely referenced in science education journals, each of the three examples above draws on this research, or on related work from the interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies a field whose acronym I will avoid because it is identical to the educational acronym for Science, Technology, and Society.

About Language of Science

In fact, one of the characteristic features of educational research on everyday science is its consistent and explicit attention to Science and Technology Studies. This attention comes with a delay. Despite the precocious appearance of Inarticulate Science and notwithstanding the somewhat exceptional trajectory of British educational policy , contemporary educational research is only now identifying themes that research on public engagement explored years earlier. Furthermore, science education has paid only limited attention to the public engagement literature, and much highly relevant work has not yet filtered through.

A comprehensive summary of this research, even the pieces of it most relevant to science education, would be a paper in itself. It is relatively easy, however, to point to a few particularly fruitful topics for exploration.

Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power
Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power Writing Science: Literacy and Discursive Power

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