Critical Discourse Analysis and Critical Reading

Wednesday 23 September 2020

Post By: Agus Supriyadi

Points of Departure

This book investigates reading as a social, critical process. It is addressed to language teachers and researchers, and is based on studies of reading and readers, as well as on classroom interactions around text. My point of departure is the text: what do texts have to tell us about contemporary social life? How can we make use of them in the language classroom for critical reading? 

I taught my first ‘critical reading’ class to a group of intermediate foreign language students from various European and Far Eastern countries in the Autumn of 1989. In Europe it was a time of change, typified most memorably by the fall of the Berlin Wall. I recall discussing with students the image of Germany in one newspaper report ‘striding like a colossus across Europe’, an image which, in the view of the German students in the class, conveyed a menacing and false impression. Later that academic year, in February 1990, came the release of Nelson Mandela. The texts recording this occasion remain defining texts of their era – we all recall the clenched fist salute of Winnie and Nelson Mandela, which featured on the front pages of news-papers worldwide. The following year brought the Gulf War and a fresh set of newspaper reports, which as I revisit them now in the Summer of 2003, take on a new resonance in the context of further conflict in the Gulf. During that first course and those in subsequent years, students and I went to work critically on a wide range of texts, not just newspaper report texts, but brochures, posters, advertisements and magazine articles, drawn largely from everyday life. I shall follow Luke et al. in calling these ‘community texts’. These texts of everyday life may seem, as Luke et al. put it, ‘innocuous, neutral texts requiring simple decoding and response’ (Luke et al. 2001: 113 in Fehring and Green eds), but cumulatively they document and shape social and cultural life. 

My experience of working with community texts, largely with foreign lan-guage learners, over several years ultimately fed into the rationale for the par-ticular course which is at the centre of this book. The class I shall describe took place in 1993, and consisted of first year university students, those preparing for the Cambridge Proficiency examination and, in addition, several students doing a Master’s degree in English language teaching (ELT). The students were mainly in their early twenties and came from France, Spain, Germany, Japan, China, Indonesia, and Argentina.  

In looking for some analytical tools to present to students in their work with texts, I turned to critical discourse analysis (CDA), and the work of Norman Fairclough, whose influential book Language and Power appeared in 1989, and I have since continued to develop frameworks based broadly on the systemic/functional grammar of Michael Halliday (e.g. 1970, 1994), which Fairclough in turn drew on. I will describe more fully in Chapter 2 the varying accounts of this work and the nature of its impact. Suffice it to say for the moment that CDA is concerned with critiquing the ideology of texts, the way discourses serve to privilege those with power. A discourse, as Kress describes it, ‘provides a set of possible statements about a given area and organises and gives structure to the manner in which a particular topic, object, or process is to be talked about’ (Kress 1985: 7). Here Kress is drawing on a Foucauldian view of discourses as deriving from the major institutional bases of society. Foucault (1972) downplays the role of individual agency in the manipulation of power, seeing it as mediated through social institu-tions, such as education, the military establishment and the law, rather than being consciously exercised by the authors of specific written or spoken texts. Discourses are implicated in power relations in the sense that they tend to reaffirm the largely taken-for-granted dominance of particular social practices and social groups.  

While critical discourse analysts such as Kress and Fairclough offer detailed textual analyses of the manner in which power operates through language, as an educational procedure a further step is needed, one which can translate some of the principles of CDA into pedagogic action. This became the role of critical language awareness (henceforth CLA), more fully described in Chapter 3, which saw its goal as raising students’ awareness of how the uses of language in all its realisations serve to perpetuate dominant discourses and the ideologies they encode. For the moment I shall use the term CDA generically to include the pedagogic strand represented by CLA. 

Some might say that, both in educational and popular texts, greater care is now taken to avoid the discriminatory language of earlier times. Yet, I would argue that, while grosser, more visible forms of sexist and racist language are relatively rare, discourses continually regroup around new issues and social groups, in a manner which privileges dominant members of societies, and is prejudicial to others. A current example might be discourses of islamo-phobia (cf. Sarwar 2002). To be alert to these, and to invite students’ atten-tion to them, is part of our project as educators. A key principle of this book then is that texts matter, what they say and how they say it. At the World Congress of Reading in 2002, Vincent Greaney, lead education specialist for the World Bank in Washington DC, made this the theme of his keynote lecture, with particular reference to school textbooks. He talked of how school textbooks can promote ideology by omission, imbalance and distor-tion; that far from serving an educational role, they can actually promote intolerance of other nations, ways of life and beliefs. Certainly the idea of ‘critical thinking’ has been around for sometime, but not, as Greaney pointed out, thinking critically about difficult political issues. A comment after the lecture by one of the course participants was along the lines of ‘well that’s just history texts; it does not relate to the texts we use for teaching reading’. My answer would be that all the texts we use in teaching are history texts – they are historically situated and embody the ideology of their day. They therefore repay critical analysis. And while a key principle in much contemporary reading theory is intertextuality across contemporary texts, it is also salutary to look at the history of discourses, their shifting articulations, even within recent times. 

The focus on critical reading 

I see critical reading as one strand within the wider project of CLA, and one which has been relatively neglected. Fairclough (1992a: 28) notes: ‘In critical linguistics there tends to be too much emphasis upon the text as product and too little emphasis upon the processes of producing and interpreting texts.’ It is largely, perhaps, because of the relative neglect of the interpretation of texts, within their contexts of use, that critical discourse analysts have been accused of merely ‘reading off’ effects from texts (cf. e.g. Stubbs 1994; Widdowson 1995). At the same time, within ELT, while reading is well covered in the psycholinguistic and general methodology literature (cf. e.g. Davies 1995; Nuttall 1996; Urquhart and Weir 1998), there is little on critical reading in the second or foreign language classroom. Many models of second language (L2) reading have been ultimately reductive in their effects. For early learners, reading may be seen as decoding texts, pronouncing the words correctly or practising language structure. For more advanced learners a comprehension view remains the dominant model. Indeed it is assumed that the eventual and unique goal of reading is comprehension of text, even though recent writers in the field of reading research make a plea for the development of a model of reading as interpretation (cf. e.g. Urquhart and Weir op. cit.). I do not want to deny that under-standing a text conceptually and linguistically must be a starting point for all reading positions; merely to point out that readers may want and need to respond to texts in more diverse and complex ways than is generally acknowledged. All learners, whether reading in a first, second or other lan-guage, are, from the earliest stages, potentially both making meaning from texts, and engaging in critique. I would want too to challenge the dominant ‘four skills’ view, which is common in the discourse of foreign language teaching, by which we mean ‘speaking, listening, reading and writing’. Even though integrated approaches to teaching the skills are argued for, it continues to be assumed in ELT methodology that there is an underlying discrete set of abilities which can be sequentially taught and learned. Broadly I want to argue not just for an integrated approach in teaching, but that language abilities are holistically acquired – in helping learners to be better readers one is necessarily enhancing overall knowledge and use. When I say ‘better’, I mean more critical, more powerful users of a language, in this case of a second language. Terms such as ‘powerful’ and ‘critical’ are much used and abused, so I hope that I may be permitted to use them provisionally for the moment, in advance of arguments which I will flesh out in future chapters. 

In short, one of the aims of this book is to present a view of reading as a social, critical and interpretative process rather than as a skill or set of skills. 

The focus on language learning 

The learners whom I have taught, as mainly non-native or L2 speakers of English, are language learners. Of course all learners, both first as well as second language learners, are continuing learners of language. However, the learners of English as a second or foreign language are enrolling in some-thing that they expect to look like a language class. Language classes are generally seen as transmitting knowledge about language in some way. Contemporary approaches are no different in this respect from traditional ones. Attention has shifted methodologically over the years to what is broadly known as the ‘communicative’ approach. However, knowledge about language, in particular about English, tends still to be enshrined in authoritative texts and the – usually native speaker – teacher. Many language classrooms will see growth in knowledge or competence in terms of know-ledge about or mastery of linguistic structure. In my study, the concern is with development of a particular kind of language awareness – CLA. Unlike those in second language acquisition (SLA) studies (e.g. Ellis 1996, 1997), who are interested in language awareness as facilitative of language learning, my interest here is in enhanced language awareness as a goal in itself. This raises issues concerning the second language learners who have enrolled on the kind of reading course I describe here. For, it might be argued, how can they engage in language critique when, even though some of them are very proficient users of English, they are all still in the process of acquiring aspects of the language system? I shall return to this question in the final chapter. 

In language teaching theory and practice, notions of fluency and accuracy have been widely drawn upon since Brumfit’s original conceptualisation of those terms (Brumfit 1984). Here, however, my discussion will centre neither on fluency nor accuracy, which favour the native speaker but on criticality which, I will argue, does not. The notion of criticality cannot be linked to innate linguistic competence but is socially and educationally learned.  

It does not make reference to native speaker norms in the way that fluency and accuracy typically does. Rampton (1990) in an oft-quoted paper favours the term ‘expert user’ of English, over native versus non-native speaker, and I shall follow Rampton and talk about expert speakers and readers. Many have drawn on Rampton’s argument in a liberal spirit, seeing in it the con-sequence that a whole range of users of English can now more readily lay claim to the language. While this is true in principle, the implications are that using English well – as an expert – is achieved only by some effort. It is learned rather than acquired. While the native speaker qua native speaker is no longer seen to be privileged, in order to make serious claim to expertise in the use of English across a range of domains, speakers and writers need to develop the language in cognitively and critically challenging ways. 

The focus on the classroom 

Finally this book centres on the classroom as what I call an ‘interpretative community’. I have adapted the term from Fish (1980) who applies the term to schools of literary critics. But we can use it in a broader sense, as Carter and Walker (1989: 3) do, when they talk of an interpretative community ‘within which readers grow up and are educated’. Extending the term still further, ‘interpretative community’ can refer to the classroom itself, the way in which the respective members of the class, as they come to know each other, make sense of texts and their interpretations of those texts collectively. And, as I note in Wallace (1992a), the longer the class is together, the more of a com-munity it becomes and the more it begins to share and exchange interpret-ative resources. 

Organisation of book 

My book is in two parts: the first section deals with critical reading and critical pedagogy; the second section focuses on a particular Critical Reading course. The issues I address, both in the general discussion and through the account of the specific course, relate to texts, reading and society, and are underpinned by these assumptions namely:

      There is a need, in educational settings, to address social and political issues through text study. 

      Reading is a public and social act as much as it is individual and private. 

      Texts and our readings of those texts relate to the wider society; they do not just reflect but are constitutive of contemporary social life. 

Later chapters link these issues to readers in the classroom, in particular within language teaching, where my discussion is largely located. But I aim too to draw some wider implications for readings beyond the classroom context.

6      Critical Reading in Language Education 

My overall question is: what does it mean to be a critical reader in a foreign language, both within and beyond the language classroom? Connected to this broad question is: how can we, as teachers or researchers, look critically not just at texts in the classroom but at the classroom itself? For CDA lends itself to two types of analysis, as Pennycook (2001: 81) points out: analysis of texts and, secondly, analysis of interactions between participants. In the research reported here, which was originally part of my PhD thesis (Wallace 1998), I aimed to investigate the classroom discourse within which text analysis was embedded. I also wanted to gain a view of how students inter-preted the value of critical language study beyond the classroom. More specifically my questions were:

       What ways of reading texts can be described as critical?

       How far is it possible or desirable to address social and political issues in the language classroom through text analysis?

       What kinds of language analysis procedures promote critical reading?

       What sense do students make of CDA approaches in the classroom context?

Different parts of the book address these questions from different angles. Thus, Chapter 1 considers reading as a social process, and argues that inter-pretations are negotiated within communities of readers. Chapter 2 looks more specifically at views of text and reading within a CDA perspective, and at how this perspective might be realised in a teaching sequence. Chapter 3 locates the discussion of texts and reading within critical pedagogy more widely. The overriding principle here is that critical language study addresses social and political issues, is transformative, is interventive in outcome and dialogic in process or means towards outcome. Chapter 4 describes the methodology of the empirical classroom-based part of my study. Chapter 5 offers an account of the particular Critical Reading class and thus, together with Chapter 6, aims to address the issue of how one addresses social and political issues within pedagogic practice. Finally Chapter 7 turns to the students themselves, to determine what they make of the experience of attending the course, and what themes emerge from their narratives.

It should be emphasised that the study I present here is not offered as a model of good practice. It is exploratory rather than explanatory; raising issues as opposed to settling them. Also, because this is a retrospective study, it should be emphasised that some views and underlying principles I acknowledged to myself at the start. Others became more available to me as the study progressed. Yet other perspectives came into view later, when I analysed the classroom data. Indeed at each revisiting of the material new insights and adjustments to previous interpretations have emerged.



Reading as a Social Process 

Reading in a social context 

The reading process has tended to be characterised primarily as psychological, cognitive and individual. Baynham presents this understanding of literacy as typified by ‘the solitary writer struggling to create meanings . . . which can be recreated by the solitary reader’ (Baynham 1995: 4). This is a view which I aim to challenge in this book, through examination of the ways in which readers collaborate to derive meaning from text. We see the mediation of social and cultural factors, not just at the micro level of negotiated inter-pretation of texts but more widely. First, at a macro-societal level there are culturally different understandings of what it means to ‘do schooling’, of which literacy instruction is a major part. Alexander (2000) in his extensive study of schooling in five countries, talks of the ‘web of inherited ideas and values, habits and customs, institutions and world views which make one country, or one region or one group, distinct from another’ (Alexander 2000: 5). There are also, more specifically, differing understandings of what it means to be a reader and writer, as Brice-Heath’s famous (1983) study of two socioeconomically different communities in the United States showed. Brice-Heath describes the different ‘ways with words’ of a black and white working class community, Trackton and Roadville, respectively. In addition she compares the verbal repertoires and styles of these groups with a third group, the ‘mainstreamers’, or middle-class townspeople. ‘Ways with words’ are linked to a whole range of identities. I recall recently talking to Jamila, a nine-year-old Muslim girl, whose family came from Afghanistan, about the books she read at home. When I asked if she could bring something in Arabic to read the following week she replied, clearly alluding to the Koran: ‘You’re supposed to take lots of care of it. It’s supposed to be above you, above your legs. I have to go somewhere else to read. I go to this lady’s house.’ Further conversations confirmed that Jamila’s ways of reading were context specific and closely linked to the salience of different identities in different social settings. She felt it inappropriate to bring religious texts to school.     

Jamila’s case recalls Street’s well-known conceptualisation of literacy as autonomous or ideological (Street 1984). The autonomous model assumes a universal-skills basis to literacy, while the ideological model sees literacy as inherently variable and culturally mediated. Street’s emphasis on literacy as situated social and cultural practice, reflected in its typically favoured pluralisation as ‘literacies’, set the scene for rich debate about the variability and culture dependency of literacy and has evolved into extensive studies of literacy practices cross-culturally, under the auspices of the New Literacies Studies (e.g. Street 1995; Barton and Hamilton 1998; Barton et al. 2000). In these studies there is a preference for the study of vernacular literacies which move beyond the confines of schooling, although notable exceptions to this tendency are seen in the work of Baynham (1995), Gregory (1996), Gregory and Williams (2000) and Baker and Freebody (2001), all of whom in different ways, locate their accounts of reading behaviour within class-room studies of literacy instruction or report the interrelationships of home and school. 

My aim here is to look less at practices than processes, or rather to point to the ways in which they interact. I will also focus largely on print literacy and the continued value of sustained reading of linear text. This is in the light of a current preference for the new modalities, where the emphasis is rather on multimodality and the increasing importance of visual literacy and the new technologies, which involve different, non-linear ways, of drawing from text (cf. e.g. Cope and Kalantzis 2000). My plea however, is that orthodox reading and writing should maintain its place centre stage in literacy instruction for a number of reasons. First, many of the new modal-ities are to a large extent parasitic on the old. Arguably, for instance, using e-mail communication means carefully balancing the features which make it a mixture of spoken and written discourse. Skill in orthodox writing and reading is a prerequisite for effective handling of this relatively new medium. Second, there are clear advantages in terms of critical language study for maintaining a place for print literacy. One is that knowledge of the grammar of written language, best gained from extensive exposure to print, constitutes a resource not only to analyse texts but, as Halliday points out (1996: 350), is ‘a critical resource for asking questions about (texts): why is the grammar organized as it is? Why has written language evolved in this way?’ As a more stable medium than ephemeral modalities such as bodily communication or visual signalling systems, it makes aspects of the grammar more accessible to learners. Moreover, the new literacy has not seen the demise of the old: within Britain, more books are published than ever before. Along with a whole range of other printed material they remain easily obtainable, reproducible, relatively cheap, and, uniquely, pleasurable. So, in their different ways, are newspapers and magazines. We need not scorn the modest, familiar and accessible world of print, at the same time as we welcome the worlds of hypernet, e-mail and text messaging. 

Whether we are talking of the new literacies or the longer established ones, we need to hold to the overall view of reading as social: social in the sense that readers and writers enact their roles as members of communities; social in that it unfolds in a social context, both an immediate and wider social context. The kind of social process I want to argue for here is one which posits a shifting and dynamic relationship between text producers, text receivers and the text itself. Any one of the participants in this inter-action may assert greater power, depending on a number of variables in the reading situation. Within classrooms it involves, in addition, the teacher as mediator between text producer or author, the text and the students. Whether in a public setting like a classroom or alone, reading is a three way interaction between the writer, the text and the reader, each of which, I wish to argue, is socially constrained and directed if not socially constructed. Below, I set out ways in which authors, texts and readers can be seen as social phenomena. 

The role of the author 

Writers have different relationships to the texts they produce. Casual ephemeral notes suggest a lower degree of investment than carefully reworked and crafted texts, which may lay claim to aesthetic or intellectual significance; notions of authorship are crucial both for learners entering literacy worlds and for critical reading in particular. Good young readers read authors not just books: they are likely to have favourite writers even though the notion of authorship is still insecure. Any curious or critical reader will seek out the author: who wrote this, where is it from? As a reader, who perhaps eccentrically often plunges into the middle of texts such as magazine or news articles, I usually eventually turn to the beginning of the article to confirm my sense of its authorship, especially in terms of gender and ethnicity. Some texts are authorless. Olson (1977) refers to the necessarily decontextualised nature of written language, the very fact that it can stand on its own, as a strength of written language. However, some years later Olson (1990) comes to question his earlier stance on authorship, noting that the autonomy of texts is an assertion of unwarranted power rather than legitimate authority. The anonymity of formal written texts, such as for instance, school textbooks, may deny readers the space to ques-tion the grounds or sources of statements, effectively precluding challenge. The deletion of the author, as Olson puts it, ‘hides the fact that statements are, after all, only someone’s beliefs, which, like all beliefs, are open to ques-tion’ (Olson 1990: 21). 

Of course, a named author may be a smokescreen and the idea of author-ial ownership, an illusion. Barthes (1977) famously talked of ‘the death of the author’. Those who argue for a diminished role for the individual author will tend to question the extent to which authors can claim any ownership at all of the meanings of their texts; they will challenge the view that any dispute over a text’s meaning can be resolved by reference to the author’s communicative intent (Lodge 1987). Or texts may be abandoned, disowned by their authors. Bourdieu scholar Derek Robbins observed to me that his exegesis of Bourdieu’s texts was made more difficult by the fact that Bourdieu claimed that he no longer remembered what he meant by what were considered to be key passages in the work, and seemed to care even less! And of course with his recent death, further opportunities to establish authentic authorial intent are lost. Other writers will reluctantly acknowl-edge that in spite of their original intentions when writing a piece, counter-interpretations will be made of their work by new generations of readers. This is the case with Herman Hesse’s ‘author’s note’ which was added to the second edition of his famous novel Steppenwolf, where he challenges the interpretations made by younger readers of his book. He says: ‘of all my books Steppenwolf is the one that was more often and more violently misunderstood than any other, and frequently it is actually the affirmative and enthusiastic readers . . . who have reacted to it oddly’ (Hesse 1965). Hesse’s attempt to assert some intentionality would be dismissed by those, such as Pennycook (1994a), who take the Foucauldian inspired view that all social subjects, whether writers or readers, have their positions largely determined for them, through the prevailing dominant discourses which circulate below the level of individual consciousness. They doubt the feasibility of consciously executed authorial choices, on the grounds that ‘the discourse speaks us’. Such is the effect, claims Eagleton (1991: 219), of the views of those who elide all distinctions between material reality and discourse so that discourse becomes all. 

In spite of the fragility of the notion of authorship, authorial intentionality is frequently invoked in discussions of reading and especially in comprehen-sion tests for learner or apprentice readers; it continues to be assumed that writers have fixed sets of beliefs and views, and that these are clearly con-ceptualised and articulated, and for all time. On a comprehension model of reading at least, our task as readers is ‘to know what the writer really meant’.

 Social authorship 

Just how then does the author fit into the picture, whether we see author-ship in terms of actual, named individuals or are concerned with the principle of authorship more generally? While some kinds of commun-ication are readily seen to be personally authored, such as simple requests, far more are socially mediated in complex ways. ‘Each utterance is filled with echoes and reverberations of other utterances’ (Bakhtin 1986: 91). This is why talk of the ownership of texts, especially in the case of novice writers, can be naive. All our texts contain echoes of other texts, raising the issue alluded to by Pennycook: ‘on what grounds do we see certain acts of textual borrowing as acceptable and others as unacceptable?’ Pennycook (1998: 266). In the case of public texts which have passed through many hands, it is particularly difficult to attribute individual responsibility. Insti-tutional texts such as official documents are likely to be multiply produced, with a frequent absence of named authors. However, even apparently single authored texts are jointly constructed both in a literal sense, as texts – certainly published texts go through editing processes which may involve participation by many different individuals – and also because we inevitably plagiarise; the voices heard in our texts are the influential social and personal forces in our lives, some consciously appropriated, the majority unconsciously so, in what Bakhtin calls a more or less creative process of assimilation (Bakhtin 1986: 89). 

The loss – or at least equivocality – of the notion of individual owner-ship of texts is liberating but also problematic for critical reading. It is liber-ating in the sense that the text once created becomes a resource for the construction of fresh interpretations for all readers including a text’s original author or authors. The text’s natural parent need not feel the burden of responsibility too keenly. However, a weakening of individual authorial agency means that writers can, disingenuously some would say, disclaim responsibility for the discourse they have produced. Critical Discourse Analysts would not wish to exclude authorial agency from the whole process of text production. It is particularly important, as Olson (op. cit.) notes, to identify authorial sources in powerful public texts, whose very anonymity masks responsibility and enhances the collective and complex power of invisible text producers. 

The role of the text 

Historically the text was seen as a self-contained macrostructure consisting of sequences of sentences (cf. e.g. Van Dijk 1977: 4) viewed propositionally and frequently represented by abstract networks. More recently, social theories of language and literacy have conceptualised text in social rather than cognitive ways. A contemporary view of text and text production emphasises the functioning of the text in a societal whole. This needs to include an adequate understanding of the conditions in which a text is produced and consumed. These conditions can be captured by the general term context. And context must be understood as more than the imme-diate and visible circumstances of production and consumption. Implicit conditions can be understood only if we take account of the wider perspective of social power. This view resonates with that of Fairclough who accounts for ‘text in context’ by proposing three layers of context, the immediate, the institutional and wider societal context (Fairclough 1989). These contextual layers interact with each other and are mutually influential and reinforcing, with, for instance, the recurrence of certain texts and text types continually bolstering institutional and wider social orders. The notion of ‘text in context’ is central to critical reading, as will be demonstrated in the course of this book. 

In spite of earlier work in cognitive psychology, such as that by Van Dijk noted above, recent conceptualisations of reading in the cognitive psychology literature pay scant attention to the role of text in reading instruction. There tends to be a preoccupation with micro elements of textual patterning, mainly at word level (cf. e.g. Adams 1990; Gough 1995). Issues of textual variability of style, content or structure are little addressed. As Meek (1988: 5) puts it: ‘The reading experts, for all their understanding about “the reading process” treat all text as the neutral substance on which the process works.’ On the other hand, reading educators such as Meek herself and Kenneth and Yetta Goodman (e.g. Goodman 1984; Goodman 1996) give a central role to texts on the grounds that linguistic and sociolinguistic features of texts can frustrate or facilitate reading acquisition. This is particu-larly the case with second language readers (hereafter L2 readers), who by definition have fewer resources to predict their way through texts. If we draw on the Vygotskyan principle of the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky 1986), just as teachers can support learners to achieve what, unaided, would elude them, so can texts perform a comparable scaffolding role, where they are selected so as to be just in advance of the second language learners’ (L2 learners) current proficiency. 

While texts are largely ignored by researchers with a cognitive psycho-logical bias, linguists and applied linguists place the text centre stage. Halliday, as a grammarian, takes the text as the starting point for his func-tional grammar, seeing it both as product and process. It is a product as an output, something that can be ‘recorded and studied’ (cf. Halliday and Hasan 1985: 10), but with the social semiotic perspective which Halliday simultaneously adopts, the text is also process, as an interactive event, a social exchange of meanings. He links text to situation through a concep-tual framework which uses the terms ‘field’, ‘tenor’ and ‘mode’. For Halliday these are components of the context of situation, looked at semiotically as the construction of meanings and serve to interpret the social context of a text. The field of discourse refers to what is happening, the nature of the social action that is taking place; the tenor refers to the participants in the action and the nature of their relationship, and the mode of discourse to the part played by language, how stretches of language have cohesion as socially recognisable texts, such as a lecture or a lesson (cf. Halliday and Hasan 1985).



In looking at Halliday’s second, dynamic sense of text as process, we perhaps need to consider where that leaves the status of the text qua text, as product. The notion of the indeterminacy of the text is strong in literary theory. For instance, Iser claims ‘the study of a literary work should concern not only the actual text but the actions involved in responding to the text’ (Iser 1978: 21). In many conceptualisations of reading, however, the notion that texts might be, in some manner or other, recreated by readers is barely acknowledged. The text is seen exclusively as artefact or product, often, as noted earlier, being elided with the author. Certainly in comprehension tests for children, ‘what does the author/text mean’ tend to be indiscriminate questions. Can we ultimately divorce the text from writer intention or reader interpretation? If we wish to challenge the view of texts as mere products or containers of meaning and we prefer, as has now become commonplace, to talk of ‘negotiating meaning’, we still need to ask: where exactly is meaning initially located, where does our search begin? In general, as Lodge (1987: 90) notes, there is scepticism about ‘the possibility of recuperating a fixed or stable meaning from discourse’. Lodge is talking of literary texts but the same point might be made of non-literary discourse. 

Eco (1992) appears to wish to hold to some kind of stable meaning in texts, talking of the ‘transparent intention of the text’ (Eco 1992: 78), which may be different from the intention of the author and which it is perverse to disregard. Others such as Rorty (cf. Collini in Eco et al. 1992: 11) urge us to forget the quest to discover ‘what the text is really like’ – to use it merely for our own purposes. Rorty’s sanguine disregard for any inherent meaning or value within texts, whether intended by authors or not or whether ideo-logically, conceptually or aesthetically based, may seem to take an extreme deconstructionist position. In principle, his is a position which is available for classroom teachers and students and indeed is widely accepted in reader response views. My view, however, is closer to Eco’s, namely that the text in itself does carry meanings, apart from writer intention (and indeed apart from reader interpretation), at a number of levels signalled, in complex ways, by the nature and combining of the formal features selected. In other words, texts carry significance in and for themselves. Eco (ibid.) gives the example of the text in a bottle found at sea. Not knowing who sent it, or where it came from, we are nonetheless likely to be able to make some sort of sense of it, provided we know the language. It can be very important in some instances to return to the text qua text. This is what two British Muslim women did, forced into marriages, by family members in the name of cultural and religious tradition. They found that the Koran was unequivocal in its condemnation of forced marriages, that indeed such marriages were invalid. 

In short, we can retrace and recreate a sense of the production of the text, and these contextual roots must be part of its meaning. Nonetheless the text must be allowed some autonomy as a product. The text retains its status as an artefact. At the least texts serve as documents of their time and place. Some, such as religious texts have longer term and, as the example of the Koran shows, potentially emancipatory as well as conservative effects. 

The social text 

The view that texts are social constructs is a key principle of the group of genre theorists, such as Martin et al. (1987), which strongly influenced by Hallidayan systemic functional grammar, arose as an educational movement in the mid-eighties in Australia, although much earlier, social theorists such as Bakhtin drew extensively on the term. Indeed Bakhtin introduces the notion, adapted by others such as Gee (1990), of primary and secondary genres. Primary or everyday speech genres may evolve into secondary genres such as novels, or scientific works which arise out of more complex and relatively highly developed cultural communica-tion (Bakhtin 1986: 62). While the notion of primary and secondary genre types has not been widely followed by the contemporary genre theorists, what they share with Bakhtin is the view that genres are socially and culturally recognisable language events, both spoken and written. Examples might be medical consultation, poem, joke or cartoon. Swales similarly emphasises the socially determined nature of genres, describing them as ‘communicative events which are socioculturally recognisable’ (1990: 53). On this definition, genres are social categories rather than rhetorical types of texts such as exposition, narrative or argument (cf. Urquhart 1996: 29). However, the conceptualisation of genre is open to some confusion as the categories tend to look more rhetorical than social when translated into educational practice. Thus Deriawianka (1990), closely following Martin’s (1989) categories, talks of recounts, narratives and instructions and exposition which cut across socially recognisable categories such as personal letter, editorial, recipe. For foreign language learners, it may be helpful to note how the links between the rhetorical shape of texts and their social function is culturally variable. For instance, in British newspaper editorials a typical rhetorical move is for a concession to precede the major argument of the piece, not the case it seems with newspaper editorials in other cultural con-texts, at least as observed by students of mine (cf. Wallace 1992a). 

The genre movement has lain itself open to accusations of rigidity or essen-tialism. The boundaries between genres are not always clearly demarcated and Kress, for instance, as one of the early advocates of the Australian genre movement, was taken to task for proposing a finite number of genres (Kress 1982). Any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another (Kristeva 1986). Kristeva, drawing on Bakhtin, uses the concept of intertextuality to account for the way in which texts need to be read against other texts within or across genres. Intertextuality is used to describe the range of ways in which texts make reference to other texts, to ‘focus on the interdependence between texts rather than their discreteness or uniqueness’ (Montgomery et al. 1992: 174). This kind of interdependence is closely linked to the notion of hybridity, which becomes a theme in the later work of Fairclough and his collaborators (e.g. Chouliaraki and Fairclough 1999). Moreover hybridity has the effect of dissipating the autonomy of genres in the case, for instance, of politically powerful texts, such as advertisements which colonise other fields through appropriation of their characteristic discourses, sometimes with the inten-tion of disguise. It is important, however, for CDA purposes, as Chouliaraki and Fairclough caution, not to see textual hybridity as the loss of all social constraint on the nature of texts and interpretation, and to bear in mind that ‘the concept of intertextuality must be combined with a theory of power’ (Chouliaraki and Fairclough 1999: 119). This means that hybridity should not be seen as innocently playful and inventive, open to a myriad of interpretations but that real and malign forms of power continue to be exerted by certain genres, which need in turn to be responded to in powerful and critical ways. Readers will, of course, come to texts with their own agendas as well as with a whole range of socially and culturally shaped identities and resources which we turn to next, in considering the role of the reader. While wishing to hold to some notion of the autonomy of the text, for reasons argued earlier, texts are nonetheless continually reshaped and reinterpreted by readers in different contexts of use and for different purposes.

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  1. A. Points departure
    On this point we can see there's an explanation about the history of the critical reading process. Start from the group of intermediate foreign language students from various european and far eastern countries in the autumn of 1989. After that in ferbuary 1990, came the release of nelson mandela. He tells about his experiences according to what happened on that time. How he develop frameworks based broadly on the systemic/functional grammar of michael halliday the focus of critical reading. On the first time i read this part i see an explanation more.

  2. critical critical analysis and critical reading makes reading a critical social process addressed to language teachers and researchers, based on the study of reading and reading, and by interactions in the classroom around the text. There are also several critical passages in critical reading between these,the focus on the language learning,the focus on the classroom, the classroom, organization of book,

  3. From this text above i know very we can analyze the purpose of reading,the entire text above by it self we will easily understand the content and meaning of the text above

  4. Social context would be both defining and motivating to read. In an advanced social context, many media notes will motivate the members of the community group to read. In contrast, isolated communities, where no written media should be read, members of the group are not motivated to read.

    Me: muliyati m.karim

  5. This become the role of critical language awareness( hanceforth CLA), more describe in chapter 3,whic Saw ITS goal as raising student'awarnesess of how the uses of language in all its realisation serve to perpatuate dominant discourses and the ideologies they encode.and many models of second language (L2) reading have been ultimately reductive in their effects.for early learnes,reading may be seen as decoding text, pronouncing the world corrrctly or practising language structure.

  6. The explanation above is that reading is a difficult activity, because reading requires a mental process. This mental process can also be called a thought process carried out by an active reader. From the above definition it can be concluded that reading is a process carried out by readers to obtain information and knowledge.

  7. in this reading we know that critical reading is a way of reading that requires a certain place and time so that what we read can be understood more quickly




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