"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A quick look at fast capitalism

For this week's blog, I thought I would try critical discourse analysis (CDA) of  The New Work Order: Behind the Language of the New Capitialism (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996).   I set out to learn  more about James Gee, the author and linguist whose ideology is evident (to me) in his work.  Since we proceed on the assumption that all text is positioned, I took that one step further and included the author as part of the context.  I see the individuals who create text as inseparable from the context in which the text is situated.

To that end, I began reading one of Gee's papers,  Discourse Analysis: What Makes It Critical?  thinking it would be a good source of information about  CDA and the author.  I quickly realized this text was above my level.  What I was able to gleen from it was that CDA is not just  a critique of the content, rather, it is an examination, from a critical perspective, of the words, tone, message, way a text positions itself and others.  It is an analysis of the assumptions and argument.   I think Janks (chp. 4) said it in a way that made more sense to me: "all text is positioned and positioning." 

Therefore, with respect and humility, I will offer some CDA on the New Captialism text from the position of outsider, or at least one who is just on the periphery.  A few weeks ago I was not even part of its Discourse; CDA was not yet part of my vocabulary.   Gee talks about this as pretending to know what you are doing by watching others, learning to do what they do, until you become more knowledgeable.   

The prompt for this assignment was to look at page 38 of  New Captialism and render an opinion on how well Gee et al. make transparent or conceal their own biases.  My opinion of Gee is that there is deliberateness and calculation in every word he uses, in the syntax of each sentence, in the way he structures and presents his ideas.  I don't think anything is concealed, but, I should back up and start at the beginning.

Gee et al. begin their "simple" (p. 1) argument that literacy is a social practice and that all text is positioned in a social practice.  The "simple" cue seemed to be aimed at the average person, the student or outsider who may be reading this text for educational purposes.  The authors' argument for literacy as a social practice is compelling, it legitimizes their position.  Their tone seemed intimidating, their use of words such as "fast capitalism," "utopian," "midwives at the birth of the new work order," are, in keeping with what I learned about Gee,  deliberate.  These words seem like the linguistic mirror of the fast capital texts that they criticize. Gee et al.lay out their position that "literacy and a sociocultural approach are ...deeply political matters" (p. 13).  I feel the authors are transparent about their position.

In keeping with their argument that all text belongs in a social practice, I put  New Capitalism  in the context of scholarly journals, written by and for scholars.  I find this a bit ironic given that the authors criticize those who control what is valued as knowledge.  They are openly critical of the powers of science and technology as "one of the core utopian aspects of fast capitalist texts" (p. 28), yet they are scholars, positioned in universities, maintaining the standards of what is considered knowledge in their fields of expertise.

Finally, in as much as "fast capitalist texts" such as America's Perfect Storm use fear and manipulate facts to disguise their case, Gee et al. are transparent but intimidating, even and a little too bold (sarcastic?) with their linguistics to present a counter position.  "There is no doubt that symbols and information....in the fast capitalist literature...." (Gee et al., pg. 38, underlining added by me).  I humbly submit that a dualism has been created.  The reader is left to choose a side, if she can even begin to understand the deeper meaning of the argument at all.  From my position on the periphery, many of us may not even be aware of, or able to understand, the underlying issues of this argument.

Thank you.  Susan Wa



  1. Hi Susan! Very nice write-up, although each of us were situated a bit differently we found common ground in the text. When I read your post I felt the background research you did informed my post. At the risk of sounding my age, that was very, very cool. Susan

  2. Thank you for the in-depth writing, Susan. You really get into the heart of what these writers say. And Susan, it's not your age. I use so much grammar that I shouldn't. Cool as a word never goes out of style. Anyway. Back to Gee. I find myself trying to read these texts looking for whether I am reading against or with the text. Sometimes, like this reading, I just found myself fascinated to find analysis of things I thought I saw in corporate America in my business classes years ago. Technology lends itself to fast corporate culture as well. Since people don't have to wait for things, they're more likely to spend less time thinking about their decisions before they make them.

    Joyce M.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.