27 May 2011

The discursive dimension of knowledge and memory

Most of the new knowledge we learnt is by means of discourse practices, i.e. mass media discourse (TV, internet, newspapers, etc) educational discourse, professional discourse, everyday conversation. Hence, situation models also have to enable language users to understand the meaning of discourse in situated communicative interactions. By discourse I mean a form of language use (spoken, written and signed) and multimodal/multimedia forms of communication. The discursive nature of knowledge becomes even more evident when the topic of the communicative situations we participate in is about non-observable/present entities (e.g. the economic downtown), fictional characters (e.g. Superman) as well as beliefs. Thus, discourse practices play a central role in the formation, reproduction, consolidation and change of cultural models on the one hand, and situation models, on the other. As result, they also affect discourse processes of memory-making as it has been demonstrated by many studies in discourse psychology, cognitive social psychology and distributed approaches in cognitive psychology.

Language users reconstruct and update cultural and situation models when engaged in communicative interactions. For instance when yesterday I told my partner who was out working that I had watched on the BBC how rescue teams could save the lives of 33 miners who were trapped for almost 70 days at 622mts below the surface, I as speaker and she as addressee were continuously reconstructing and updating situation models of the events that I was narrating. I had to discursively ‘recreate’ what I had watched (visual images, facial expressions of joy, etc.) and listened to (spoken language, sounds, etc.) and, thereby, reconstructing a situation model of those events. As addressee, she had to update and reconstruct a situation model of the story I was sharing. Naturally, our models of the events were grounded in cultural models based on socially shared knowledge about mines, rescue teams, media coverage, etc., as well as on emotional codes about traumatic situations. At the same time, this interactive process of sharing my individual memories was not only influenced by our situation models of the events and relevant socially-shared knowledge, but also by our representations of the communicative interaction that control how we accommodated our situational models and discourses to the specificities of that context.

No comments: