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Literature Discussions as Mangles of Practice: Sociological Theories of Emergence and/in Dialogic Learning Events

Kamberelis, George McGinley, William Welker, Alyson
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    In this report, we argue that some of the most productive and edifying kinds of literature discussions among certain ages/grade levels may be best understood as “mangles of practice” (Pickering, 1995). Mangles of practice involve the coalescence of planned and contingent forces, and they produce emergent or self-organizing transformations of ongoing social activities, as well as unpredictable outcomes or products. Indeed, the discussions we studied had these characteristics. They often involved both planned and contingent actions and reactions by individual, social, cultural, and material agents and agencies. As such, they were emergent phenomena about which we could seldom predict what precise collections, collisions, and collusions of actions and reactions would occur within them or what the effects of these collections, collisions, and collusions would be. In spite of (or more likely because of) their unpredictability, these discussions were extremely dynamic knowledge-producing activities. Given this social fact, we think our findings contribute significantly to understanding the lineaments and potentials of dialogic pedagogy, which deepens students' learning and development. More specifically, when teachers successfully prompt and engage students in more robustly dialogic talk that promotes text-to-life connections, life-to text connections, linkages to non-school knowledge (like that of popular culture), etc., then students often reap a wide variety of benefits with respect to their abilities to engage in genuine inquiry, to reason and argue for particular interpretations, to evaluate complex human actions and decisions, and to develop principled social, cultural, and moral equipment for living their own lives.


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