Towards an ecology of context and communication : negotiating meaning and language education
In this thesis I set out to develop a social symbolic approach to context and communication which goes beyond a code-systemic perspective on language, and one of economic exchange in language use. I begin by reviewing relations between linguistics and language teaching, and the dangers to the latter when it becomes preoccupied with linguistic theory and description. I consider the potential of applied linguistics to synthesise key ideas from various language related disciplines in descriptively adequate accounts of communication in social situations. In the remainder of chapter one I examine a number of 'centrifugal' approaches to the analysis of language use, arguing a tendency for them to underestimate the importance of social symbolism in communication. Taking a range of social symbolic structures and processes in educational contexts as the starting point for 'centripetal' investigations, in chapter two I describe salient aspects of social symbolism in contexts of communication. These include contrasting social, educational and economic forces in educational institutions, conceptions of role and role relations between students and teachers, and structural symbolic features such as dominance and dependency within rites of transition. In chapter three I explore further aspects of social symbolism revealed in communication, such as identity and risk-taking. I also discuss criteria for developing and appraising models of 'an ecology of context and communication'. Chapter four deals with the notion of negotiating meaning as a key process in social encounters, and the influence of social symbolic factors on meaning negotiation in dyadic communication. Having explored important dimensions of social symbolism in both context and communication, along with implications for the negotiation of meaning, I argue the value of raising awareness of social symbolism in educational processes in the final chapter of the thesis. I address ways of incorporating major aspects of social symbolism into language education and discuss a range of issues involved in so doing.