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AUTHORS: Hasan, Ruqaiya; Webster, Jonathan J TITLE: Language, Society and Consciousness SERIES: The Collected Works of Ruqaiya Hasan, Volume 1 PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd. YEAR: 2005
Andy Van Drom, Department of Language, Linguistics and Translation, Laval University, Quebec
In this first volume of her Collected Works, Ruqaiya Hasan lays the theoretical foundation for what follows in a series of seven volumes presenting a selection of unpublished and previously published papers. Therein, Hasan advocates a transdisciplinary theory designed to address three interconnected domains: language, society and consciousness. Indeed, the human story is as much told through language as it is about language and any viable explicatory theory should span the biological, the sociological and the linguistic. It is clear that Hasan’s work has been greatly influenced by the ideas of three thinkers: Bernstein’s semiotic sociology, Halliday’s sociological linguistics and Vygotsky’s sociogenetic psychology. She comes to the conclusion that linguistic theory – which is evaluated by some as impoverished, hollow and socially irrelevant - can acquire a more socially relevant voice when it’s enriched through interconnections with other fields of study.
Hasan explores the true nature of what she describes as “a dialectic between the social and the semiotic by which the outside becomes the inside, and the inside reveals itself.” (p. 1) In her opinion, this study cannot be adequately completed by a single scholar, as specialisation has reduced researchers to produce ‘legitimate’ discourse in only one single domain. In other words, ‘endotropic’ theories, which “carve out a unitary area of human interest and turn it into a universe sufficient unto itself” (p. 9) pale before ‘exotropic” approaches that view “the object of study as a component in a dynamic open system.” (p. 10-11) Moreover, this theory should be ‘transdisciplinary’ (allowing the domains concerned to interpenetrate each other) rather than ‘interdisciplinary’ (simply stringing together these different viewpoints).
In the first part of the book under review, Hasan presents in greater detail the three aforementioned theories by Bernstein, Halliday and Vygotsky, which fulfill her criteria for endotropic approaches. The first chapter in this section, “Basil Bernstein: an exceptional 1924-2000”, combines three papers published between 2000 and 2002, and elaborates on Bernstein’s theory of the social, which demonstrates how consciousness and language are intertwined. At the same time, it is an ‘open’ theory which allows other relevant domains to elaborate the “canvas [of which] sociology is [the] point of departure”. (p. 18)
Next, Hasan compares Bernstein’s theory with Halliday’s systemic functional linguistics (SFL). She acknowledges that there are important differences between both approaches, although these do not prevent metadialogue - “the ability and willingness of scholars pursuing […] theories to cross the barriers of distinct languages of description”. (p. 11) Hasan notes a shortcoming in SFL, as it fails to “problematise the speaker’s recognition of contexts in the way that Bernstein’s theory [does]”. (p. 19) The findings presented in chapter three contribute to the discussion which expresses the desire of SFL to be a “trans-disciplinary theory, which is located at the intersection of semiology, sociology, and psychology”. (p. 69)
Chapter four, “On social conditions for semiotic mediation: the genesis of mind in society” (1995), demonstrates how Vygotsky’s genetic theory of mind is compatible with the visions of Bernstein and Halliday. Chapter five finally summarises the relation that these theories have: “Vygotsky contributes to the understanding of our mental life by revealing its deep connection to semiosis; in so doing he anticipates the literature on the dialectic of language and mind: it is this dialectic that is responsible for their co-evolution in the human species. Halliday contributes to the understanding of our semiotic life by revealing its deep connection with society; in so doing, he elaborates on the dialectic of language and society which underlies their co-genesis. Bernstein contributes to the understanding of our social life in modern societies by revealing its inherent connection with consciousness created in semiosis in the contexts of communal living; in so doing , he makes us realise how minds need societies and societies need semiosis to survive, to develop, and to change.” (p. 156)
In section two of the book, Ruqaiya Hasan enters the sphere of sociolinguistics and presents her basic thesis, which is that “ways of saying and meaning cannot be separated from ways of living”. (p. 157) In chapter six, “Code, register and social dialect’ (1973), she emphasises that “Language is used to live, just as social structure is used to live. This introduces a complexity in the description of language and argues for a weakening of boundaries between various systems for communication. The exhaustive description of language is an ideal, which may perhaps never be achieved, but there will certainly be much less chance of its being achieved if language is separated from the living of life totally.” (p. 191) In order to solve this problem, Hasan suggests applying Bernstein’s code theory, which maps social elements onto semantic ones and thus helps to bridge the gap between linguistic and social components.
Chapter seven, “Semiotic mediation and mental development in pluralistic societies: some implications for tomorrow’s schooling” (2002), extends this theme to the educational environment. Chapter eight picks up on this as well, and focuses more specifically on the “complex interplay of the factors active in the formation of consciousness and the unequal distribution of knowledge”. (p. 158) Hassan points out that, although learning does not begin at school, it is at school where “the business of learning is institutionalised, and there develops a particular kind of discursive experience, a particular form of consciousness”. (p. 227)
Inferring from analysis of teacher-pupil and mother-child talk respectively, Hasan studies the ontogenesis of ideology in chapters nine (“Reading picture reading”, 2004) and ten (“The ontogenesis of ideology”, 1986). She concludes that the mechanisms for this ontogenesis are “the habitual forms of communication, wherein the taken-for-granted nature of the social world is transmitted”. (p. 159)
The third and last section of the book consists of two chapters, which discuss the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s view of language. Chapter eleven opens the debate with Hasan’s 1998 article “The disempowerment game: Bourdieu on language” which was criticised by several scholars. The response to these critiques is found in the final chapter “Bourdieu on linguistics and language: a response to my commentators” (2002). Her rationale focuses on four arguments (p. 275): - Bourdieu’s view of linguistics and his reading of Saussure’s text would be “monocular” - Bourdieu’s view of language as a semiotic “ would fail to appreciate crucial features” - His concept of “spontaneous socio/linguistics” would fail to present a convincing model of the relations of language and society - If his view of language was accepted as the point of departure for pedagogic action, its deficiencies would result in an unsatisfactory educational programme
Studies on the interaction between language and society aren’t exactly new phenomena. However, the array of different approaches that exists, suggests that there is still a lot to say on this matter. The contributions of Ruqaiya Hasan in this volume, which span the period of 1964 – 2004, offer a powerful, daring and sometimes provocative viewpoint. Hassan demonstrates that she is very well aware of the limits of research, whether it be ‘endotropic’ or ‘exotropic’, ‘interdisciplinary’ or ‘transdisciplinary’. She delivers an enlightening presentation of Bernstein’s theory and compares it critically to Halliday’s and Vygotsky’s approaches, drawing also on the writings of Bakhtin and Whorf, amongst others. The articles brought together in the second part apply this theoretical stance to some concrete examples of discourse analysis, convincingly showing how this approach is more successful in accounting for certain extralinguistic factors than traditional sociolinguistic theory. In the last part, Hasan shows that she doesn’t shy away from some controversy as she defends her critique of Pierre Bourdieu. This collection of (mostly) previously published papers makes for a surprisingly coherent whole, presenting a balanced combination of theoretical reflections, practical applications and motivated criticism.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andy Van Drom is a PhD candidate in Linguistics at Laval University, Quebec, Canada. His research focuses on the linguistic expression of identity in political discourse from a Critical Discourse Analysis perspective. He is also attached to the ‘Trésor de la langue française au Québec’ as a research assistant.