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Language and Power in Education
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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3.2. Language and ideology
What we hope has become clear by now is that discourse (or Gee's "Discourse" with a capital D) is 'always language plus "other stuff"', to quote Gee (1999: 17). To take further this view of discourse, we should explore what sort of relationships obtain between language and ideology. More specifically, an attempt will be made to prove that conventions permeating discourse carry, or even embody, ideological assumptions which are tantamount to 'common sense', as Fairclough (1989: 77) asserts, and which accentuate and sustain power relations. What needs to be made explicit from the outset is that ideology is a property of 'the dialectic of structures and events' (Fairclough, 1995: 71), in that 'structures' point to 'events', that is, discoursal practice, 'to be constrained by social conventions, norms, histories' (ibid.).
The sociologist Harold Garfinkel (1967, cited in Fairclough, 1989: 77) writes of 'the familiar common sense world of everyday life', a world which is premised upon, and actually tinkers with, assumptions and expectations that are implicit, taken as gospel, and seldom formulated or impugned. Against this background, it would be nothing short of ludicrous to assert that discourse is immune to the social contexts that, on the one hand, feed into and impregnate it and, on the other, are shaped and determined by it. In order to come to an understanding of how ideology invests elements drawn upon in producing and interpreting a text; how these elements are assembled in orders of discourse; and how the latter are 'rearticulated in discoursal events' (Fairclough, 1995: 74), we should consider the following passage from True Story, Summer Special, 1986 (cited in Fairclough, 1989: 79).

Driving rain almost obscured the wooded hills as I made my way along the winding roads towards the village where I had my craft shop.
As I drove over the bridge and towards the shop I was excited about Geoff's arrival that evening. I hadn't seen him since I'd left Hampshire for Scotland three months before.
Geoff had been annoyed. 'I can see there's no use my trying to change your mind, Carrie. Go ahead, move to Scotland and open your shop'.
'We can be married next year', I pleaded. 'I have to take this chance of running my own business, Geoff'.
'Just when I think you're going to settle down, you get this hare-brained idea'.
I sighed as I remembered our conversation…

There are two "messages" about Carrie: on the one hand, she is independent (with her own business), and on the other, her behaviour is in keeping with that of the traditional woman (who pleads with her husband, sighs, and is considered hare-brained). There are mainly two frames that assist the reader of the text in arriving at these messages: women are entitled to a career and women depend on men to make decisions because they lack discipline and are prone to emotion. The textual elements such as where I had my craft shop, I was excited about Geoff's arrival, I pleaded, hare-brained idea, I sighed, even the title of the story, His kind of loving, 'act as cues for a particular frame, and the frame provides a place for each textualized detail within a coherent whole, so that the apparently diverse…elements are given coherence, in the process of interpretation, by the frame' (Fairclough, 1989: 80). It should be noted that texts have an interpretative character, in so far as it is incumbent on the producer or reader to draw upon her knowledge of the world in constructing the text and providing cues on which the interpreter of the text will base her own interpretation, according to the assumptions and expectations she entertains. Implicit assumptions, such as those cloaked in the seemingly "benign" words and phrases we saw above, or other features and "jingles" characteristic of the discourse of politics or advertising, 'chain together successive parts of texts by supplying "missing links" between explicit propositions, which the hearer / reader either supplies automatically, or works out through a process of inferencing' (ibid.).
It is our contention that ideology is most effective when 'least visible' (ibid.: 85). And invisibility is achieved when ideologies and norms are brought to bear on discourse not as explicitly stated, foregrounded, markers, but as the background assumptions 'which on the one hand lead the text producer to textualize the world in a particular way, and on the other hand lead the interpreter to interpret the text in a particular way' (ibid.) (my italics). Ideology, though, ceases to exist when one becomes aware that what is implicitly stated as 'common sense' is actually conducive to power inequalities and discrimination at one's own expense. Furthermore, what can vitiate ideology and put paid to the process of its naturalisation, i.e., that of becoming a status quo, is an awareness that there is no inherent reason why women should be presented along the lines we discussed above, or job interviews be conducted the way they are, and that 'the common-sense way of doing things is an effect of power, an ideological effect' (ibid.: 99).
This 'common-sense way of doing things' lies at the heart of structural change and the establishment of hegemony-a power that insidiously cuts across economy, politics, and ideology, and constructs alliances by 'integrating rather than simply dominating subordinate classes, through concessions or through ideological means, to win their consent' (Fairclough, 1995: 76). To this end, the so-called 'democratization of discourse' (ibid.: 79) comes into play, which involves the reduction of explicit markers of power asymmetry between powerful and non-powerful social classes-teachers and pupils, employers and employees, parents and children, and so on. Yet, as Fairclough (ibid.) observes, this tendency, i.e., the democratisation of discourse, 'appears to be generally interpretable not as the elimination of power asymmetry but its transformation into covert forms'. For example, teachers, as we shall see, may exercise control over students through indirect requests and the way they respond (physically and verbally) to their contributions, rather than through direct orders and constraints on when and how to speak. In other words, their language is a cross between democracy and hegemony, '[a] contradictory [mixture] of discourses of equality and power' (ibid.: 80).

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