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Language, Culture, and Learning by Heath and Street - Essay Example

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Name: Class: Summary of Heath and Street (2008) Essay. This paper is a summary of an essay entitled “Language, Culture and Learning: Ethnographic Approaches” by Shirley Brice Heath and Brian V. Street which was published in 2008 as the first chapter of a book entitled Ethnography: Approaches to Language, Literacy and Research…
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Language, Culture, and Learning by Heath and Street
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Language, Culture, and Learning by Heath and Street

The authors make a distinction between organizations such as clubs and companies which come into being and fade away as required within society, and institutions like governments and education systems which are a much more permanent fixture in society (Heath and Street 5). These entities are important for ethnographers because they reflect the fundamental norms of each society. A person’s use of language, or in many cases of several languages, can reflect a whole range of cultural norms and patterns and so this, too, is an area of interest for those who wish to study and understand human behaviour in all kinds of settings. The authors make the point that identity and roles arise largely from learning which is gained through language and then expressed also through linguistic means, including such details as accent and hand gestures which vary quite considerably between different groups (Heath and Street 4). The authors underpin their essay with some standard definitions of linguistic features such as language and grammar and they emphasize the symbolic aspects of communication as well as its systematic patterns. There is a more critical discussion, however, about the definition of another key concept in this essay: the concept of culture. In this matter there is a clear rejection of standard definitions of culture as one of those nouns which “lead people to believe in fixed boundaries around things and events as well as beliefs and values” (Heath and Street 8). It is proposed that culture should be understood as a verb, or in other words, the focus should be on what people do rather than what they are imagined to be. An ethnographer must appreciate the difference between the rather rigid “meta-narratives” (Heath and Street 9) which organizations and institutions develop in order to sustain and promote themselves and the much more fluid way in which individuals move between different patterns and learn to express a range of cultures in their actions and their language. The metaphor of the juggler illustrates how an individual acquires new abilities through selecting his or her own goals and seeking out opportunities to learn both overt knowledge and tacit knowledge. Students in learn overtly from books and lectures, for example, but a juggler learns also through using his or her body in an intuitive way which may not be fully understood by the conscious mind. This tacit knowledge is acquired only by doing the chosen activity again and again, and letting the body find its own way of accomplishing desired feats remembering how to do this effectively. An interesting example based on the work of Hutchins (1995) is used to show how groups of people can develop this adaptive kind of learning also, through a combination of relying on earlier representations of similar groups and situations, and forming identities and patterns in the present time. People interact with tools and objects, and with each other, in very complex ways in order to complete difficult tasks such as ocean navigation, for example. The ethnographer observing such interactions must therefore be aware of the systemic qualities of culture as well as the ways that individuals perform that culture in both conscious and intuitive ways. The example of canoes being navigated without scientific instruments contrasts with the way that students learn in formal education, however, because the latter process concentrates on the ... Read More
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