The discursive organization of social futures: Working both ends of the learning trajectory

Kevin OConnor

University of Rochester, USA

WS136: Trajectories of learning in/across contexts of learning

This paper examines relations between micro-interactional processes and macro-social structuring by examining trajectories of learning across spatial and temporal boundaries among practices. Specifically, it examines how present talk and action prospectively index possible futures for learners, becoming contingently productive of those futures by contributing to the creation, maintenance, or transformation of forms of social organization. Two forms of discursive work along the learning trajectory are identified. Discourse that works on the “near end” of the learning trajectory primarily focuses on local conditions of learning, emphasizing reorganization of persons in relation to some taken-for-granted community of practice, for example by promoting mastery of discipline-specific forms of discourse, thinking, and knowledge. On the other hand, discursive work that focuses on the “far end” of the learning trajectory attempts to fundamentally reorganize possibilities for future relationships in one or more communities. These points are developed through examination of discourse in two different settings that overtly attempted to organize social futures. The first setting, a cross-institution student engineering project in the US, was characterized officially by an attempt to reorganize learners in relation to a taken-for-granted discipline by providing conditions for hands-on learning. This project thus focused on what is being termed the “near end” of the learning trajectory. Unofficially, however, discourse among participants included struggles over the very definition of possible future worlds, and worked to materially affect those future worlds, thus attempting to organize social relationships at the “far end” of the learning trajectory. The second setting examined here is an urban community redevelopment project in a sector of a US city characterized by a history of intergenerational poverty, student under-achievement, under-employment, and violence. The focus here is on the work of community activists who are expressly involved in a political process of organizing positive futures for children and youth. The focus here is on how the anticipatory discourse of participants prospectively indexes, and constitutes, possibilities for those futures.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Trajectories of learning in/across contexts of learning
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 04