Herndl: “Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture: A Critique of Research and Pedagogy in Professional and Non-Academic Writing”

Herndl, Carl G. “Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture: A Critique of Research and Pedagogy in Professional and Non-Academic Writing.” Central works in technical communication. Ed. Johndan Johnson-Eilola & Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 220-231. Print.


originally published as: "Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture." College Composition and Communication. 44.3 (1993): 349-63.





Calls for recognition of "the relation of discourse and teaching to ideological and cultural production" (222). Major claim: "if we are uncritical in our research and teaching, however, we contribute to the tyranny of the "real"; our pedagogical practice will produce students who are ignorant of the ideological development of discourse and who cannot perceive the cultural consequences of a dominant discourse or the alternate understandings it excludes" (222).


Teaching and Theories of Cultural Agency:


Most previous research "describes the production of meaning but not the social, political, and economic sources of power which authorize this production or the cultural work such discourse performs" (222). References Freire. Cites Giroux-- education does not merely reproduce culture, it produces culture (223). These views, still in Herndl''s view, do not include resistance, "an essential concept for any pedagogy aimed at political and cultural self-consciousness and liberation" (223). Giddens-- dialectical relationship between structure and agency. Crux: when we claim it''s the "real world" we''re reinforcing it and making it beyond our efforts to change. Must "abandon the current traditional rhetoric''s notion of writing as a neutral, apolitical skill" (224). Discouse is tied to institutions, organizational structures, etc. (Bakhtin-ian!).


Connecting Discourse to Material Conditions:


Social constructivism/ Power structures. "need to understand discourse not just as epistemic and recursively tied to communities, but also as connected to material and institutional practices" (224). Help students away from "culture of silence" in which assume that there is a "''reality'' of discourse" (225). Problem is that we often overlook "the discourse of contesting positions" (225). We don''t investigate the differences between discourses, the conflicts (think of so-called independent standards and norms of English; discourse of engineering; etc.). Cites Lucille McCarthy''s work in rhetorically analyzing DSM III. Seems to be a very Foucauldian approach as to the construction of power and knowledge.Competing models of mental illness: now privileged/institutionalized biomedical (biological factor cured using specific drugs) vs. interpretive model (symptom of conflict within the unconscious) (226). How presented-- objective, empirical biomedical view reduces the authority of the patient. Diagnosis is a quick function. Interpretive "recognizes the patient''s integrity" (226) etc. Discusses how material conditions affect the rhetorical features (introduction of psychoactive drugs in the 1950s, etc.; desire for reliability and universal standards). Text/scholarship production "legitimize and naturalize the discourse and its institutional power" (227). However, some do contest, though it''s unclear how far psychiatrists can diverge from DSM standards and procedures.


The Problems of Confrontational Classrooms:


Often resistance/ideology dogmatic and structure course as confrontation between oversimplified positions. Warns against just exploring the opposition, because then students bank in the teacher''s resistant view, not really engaging, considering, etc. Or sets up "us/them" binary in which little is honestly explored. May not encourage "cultural resistance" but simply opposition (not very productive). How then to set up in tech writing classroom?


Herndl argues "the difficulty...lies in getting students to recognize the connections between discourse and structural properties, and, further, to see how this relationship conditions their rhetorical choices" (228). Argues that key to doing this is showing how discourse directly affects student''s lives. Trimbur''s "rhetoric of dissensus" (229)-- how ppl differ, where differences come from, whether can work and live together with differences (paraphrase Trimbur 610 qtd in Herndl 229).




Reiterates need. Argues we need continued research like McCarthy''s. Last lines: "Working from such reinterpreted and reconceived research, students and teachers can begin to explore the sources of power and authority which condition their disciplinary and professional discourse. When it is successful, this pedagogy will allow students to participate in these professional discourses with a degree of self-reflexivity and ideological awareness necessary to resistance and cultural criticism" (229).