Gendered Social Construction

In my previous post I talked about the theory of socially constructed knowledge as used in real life and its benefits in the classroom. Today I want to go in the practice of knowledge construction in classrooms when members of the peer group communicate differently, for which I have to start with Harriet J. Malinowitz.

Malinowitz is an educator, writer, and speaker on rhetorical composition, queer studies, and contemporary social issues. You can find the bare bones of her education and books here and information about her current cause here.

In Textual Orientations, she outlines six criteria created by linguist John Swales that make up a discourse community—the body of people that socially construct knowledge. Without this peer group, this discourse community, without the group of people that participate in these six criteria, there can be no discussion and no socially constructed knowledge. The criteria are defined as such:

–        The group has a uniting goal or conversation topic.

–        Some discussion forum is accessible to all.

–        The forum provides feedback and information relating to the goal.

–        The group creates expectations for the way discussions unfold.

–        There is “an inbuilt dynamic toward…[a] shared and specialized terminology” (Malinowitz 79).

  • They develop their own unique vernacular specific to their goal/work.

–        There must always be enough people in the group who are experts in the field of the goal/work.

A discourse community is not legitimate without meeting these six criteria. So if a classroom cannot come together on one topic, discuss it in readily understood and by relatively uniform practices on a forum that everyone can access and use to inform their own work then there can be no creation of knowledge. The group needs to create a language system that is specific to their needs and reflects their ideologies as accurately as possible in order to be able to communicate ideas towards the goal of creating knowledge. At all times, the discourse community must have a “critical mass” of experts in order to impart their experiences and long-cultivated beliefs upon the novices (80).

If social construction is to be attempted in classrooms, then the students must be gathered together in a discourse community. They must find a common language by which to discuss their topics in conversation with one another not just research individually and present papers to the professor. True knowledge creation, and therefore learning, comes when people share ideas with one another.

The problem in many classes, however, stems from the many different languages shaped by the vastly differing experiences and personal identities of the students involved. Even people who share common causes—for example, those in the gay and lesbian community, as Malinowitz points out—come from nonhomogeneous backgrounds, may communicate differently, and may even identify more strongly with other cultures or identities than the LGBTQ group they are put into by the population majority (81).

Miscommunication and sex & gender stereotyping comes from our desire to have efficient and quick methods of understanding and categorizing others. By lumping a group of vastly different individuals into one umbrella category based on a similar trait of sexual orientation or gender identification ignores and devalues those traits that may lead them to think, feel, or communicate in a way that’s unrelated to the stereotype they’ve been assigned. It leads to a mono-faceted understanding of a group of people that have as many preferences, orientations, and identifications that most Americans are beginning to understand that members of the heterosexual community enjoys.

Sometimes the works of social constructionists like Malinowitz feel pointless—it spends so much time showing how and why our current operations fail to address everyone equally and pointing out all the minor details in our speech that hints at subconscious discrimination that it’s often hard to know what to do with that information. Sometimes, acknowledging that every categorization of human beings is insufficient helps keep you from being lazy. It forces you to consider every angle and keep your mind open to all the uniqueness and individuality possible in a human being.

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