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Personal Lived Experience

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    Traditional psychological schema theory (cf. Bartlett, 1932) holds that readers relate the incoming data they receive from the text to existing mental representations of situations or events. These are, as Widdowson (1983: 34) points out, primarily cognitive constructs which aid the organization of information.

    However, information is always located within a social context (Wallace, 2003: 22). This is the context of reception, the context in which the information is received, which is located within the wider context of culture, i.e. the views, ideas, knowledge, and discourses which the reader is surrounded with or has encountered.

    The previous knowledge and experiences which readers use to interpret the text relate to areas of academic as well as social experience; what they have read, learnt, or heard about the topic, whether in formal education or through the media or everyday life. Moreover, readers also relate the text they read to their ‘lived experience’ of their relationships and encounters with other people which include power relationships. In short, we interpret texts by relating them, frequently unconsciously, to the discourses we have been exposed to ourselves. These unconscious understandings take on a taken-for-granted assumption of the world.

    The resonances people hear are relevant and indeed give meaning to the text, but interpretations are never complete. They are dependent on the frameworks people use, the situation they are in, their experiences and interests, their lifeworld knowledge (cf. Habermas, 1984). In short we see texts from our own ethnocentricity. We also have, as said before, our own ‘blindspots’. In order to deal with these and to try and take a position ‘outside’ the text, readers need to be reflexive about their own position.

    Asking students to ‘map’ the discourses in a text, as I do in my ‘cultuurtekst’ pedagogy, brings to the fore two things: firstly, you need to take a position outside its discourses in order to critique a text, otherwise, the discourses will seem ‘natural’. Discourses are, after all, resistant to internal criticism, as Gee has said (2009 (1990): 161). Conversely, students may not be familiar with the discursive fields that gave rise to the text, as they would not share the knowledge inherent to which the text implicitly refers, in which case it may also be hard for them to ‘problematize’ the text or they may be half-conscious of the discursive fields, but cannot quite ‘put their finger on it’. To access the cultural meanings through discourses on which the texts draw then, we can, I suggest take the position of an ethnographer; an ethnographer of text, which includes the notion of reflexivity. I will turn to this next.

    This page titled Personal Lived Experience is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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