29 April 2014
Self Identity through Secondary Discourses
Crowds have been cheering since the beginning of sports teams, but it was not until the late 1800’s that organized cheerleading came into play. When most people hear the word “cheerleading”, they automatically think of girls in short skirts but, in fact, men started the sport. It was not until 1923 that women finally joined the world of cheerleading and began dominating the sport during World War II when the men were out fighting for their country. It was during this time that cheerleading began to incorporate tumbling, stunting, and props like megaphones and pom-poms. Today, a hundred years after its start, the sport of cheerleading has become all-American and continues to grow. People off all ages and all genders from all over the world participate. Although started by males and then transitioning to females, cheerleading is now embraced by both sexes. Cheerleading continues to make its way into the sports work, a well as the world of popular culture.
In terms of academia, all reports on cheerleading have been done on gender and gender equality. Works such as “Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport” and “Hands on Hips, Smiles and Lips!” by Laura Grindstaff of the University of California and Emily West of the University of Massachusetts focus on the gender issues within the cheerleading world. Unlike the works of Grindstaff and West, my study will show how the role of cheerleading reflects a person’s self image and the importance of relationships within a tightly bonded team. The study will ultimately differ from others, aside from the topic, because it is written by an inside source rather than an observer not from the field. The interviews and observations are done from a peer-to-peer perspective rather than a stranger to cheerleader one. My study will negotiate, through observations and an interview, the way the cheerleaders think about themselves as well as part of their team. This will in turn, complicate the moves the cheerleaders make to come up with a story on who they are as individuals.
Thinking of Discourse as a “Way of Being”
In “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics,” Author James Paul Gee attempts to explain “a way of thinking about literacy” and “literacy studies” (Gee, 525). He describes how a Discourse, with a capital “D”, is not the same as discourse, with a lower case “d”. His overall claim within his paper is that “the focus of literacy studies or applied linguistics should not be language, or literacy, but, social practices.” Throughout the work, James Gee makes note to detail the different types of Discourses and introduces several new terms to strengthen and make clear his argument.
James Gee starts off by explaining that “language” is not particularly grammar but, “what you say, how you say it, and what you are and do when you say it “ (Gee, 525). To demonstrate this first claim, he describes two responses by women in an interview that show different dialect. James Gee writes, “At any moment we are using language we must say or write the right thing in the right way while playing the right social role and hold right values, beliefs, and attitudes. Thus, what it important is not language, and surely not grammar, but saying (writing)-doing-being-valuing-believing combinations” (Gee, 526). Here, to help understand his claim, Gee describes that a Discourse, with a capital “D” is almost like an “identity kit” and people have many of them.
To acquire a Discourse, Gee states that a person cannot learn by instruction but by apprenticeship. Apprenticeship is one of Gee’s terms that simply apply to the social practice of that particular discourse to become familiar with it. Next, Gee explains how there is tension and conflict among one’s Discourse. What this means is that the ways of one Discourse may interfere with the ways of another, and a person is ultimately who they are based on a combination effect. Gee uses several terms to go in depth about Discourses.
Gee then goes into Primary socialization, or the acquisition of a person’s Primary Discourse, is what they obtain from their families and growing up. Primary Discourse can affect a person’s world-view the most. Secondary Discourses are acquires by apprenticeship in the community or social institutions. Dominant discourses are secondary discourses that bring fourth the social goods. Non-dominant discourses are secondary discourse that being solidarity within a particular social network. Gee’s definition of literacy is, “the master of or fluent control over a secondary Discourse” (Gee, 528). In his argument, literacy is plural since everyone has more than one. Literacy can be liberating in the sense that bring about a meta-language that can be beneficial.
Another one of Gee’s claims is that a dominant discourse, such as a social institution, could be used as a test. This test could be for for natives and a gate for non-natives or, it could be looked at as fluent users versus newcomers. James Gee also goes into great detail about how primary and secondary discourse acquisition is similar to learning a new language. The first and second language can interfere with each other, but learning the second can strengthen the primary.
Furthermore, Gee present two theorems to his argument. The first, Gee argues, that someone cannot engage in a Discourse in a less fluent manner. The second is that Primary Discourses cannot be liberating literacies. Finally, Gee ties all of his terms together with an example of a story created by a five year old. The story is written in lines and stanzas, demonstrating the filtering and transferring, and of course, showing practices of a Discourse. James Gee gives detail about the child’s primary Discourse and how it is affected, and how it affects their literacies, just as he did for his entire paper. It is apparent that Gee covered a lot of ground in his paper but he covered everything there is to know about defining the terms of Discourse and discourse. James Paul Gee provided great foundation and understanding for the study I have conducted.
To gather data, the researcher conducted an interview and observed four practices. For the practice observations, the researcher has spent four inconsecutive days, two (Tuesday/Wednesday) practices in one week and two (Tuesday/Wednesday) practices the following week. Each practice took place at Bayonne Elite Cheerleading’s Gym in Jersey City, New Jersey. At the practices, the researcher closely observed the interaction between five members of the team and the coaches.
The interview was completed with Bayonne Elite Cheers team captain who will be referred to a Kim. This name is not affiliated or even close to the interviewee’s real name. Jane is currently a senior in high school and it is her last year on the team. She was chosen for this interview because she has a lot of cheerleading experience and has been doing it since she was five years old. She is currently the captain of a team that is made up of twenty-two girls and one boy.
The interview took place on a Wednesday night in-between practice and gymnastics. Kim and I did not formally sit down at a desk to conduct the interview. We sat on a quiet side of the gym where Jane could easily be heard and not distracted. Kim felt comfortable in the space provided and the interview almost came natural to both. The questions I asked Kim were based on her experience with cheerleading formulating her self-identity. I wanted to gain insight on cheerleading from another person’s perspective other than myself. The interview lasted twenty minutes and was recorded on an IPhone so, it could be listed to after for reference.
After acquiring the data from the cheerleading team and captain Jane, it was determined that the features identified in “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics,” by James Paul Gee did represent features found in the data. The team and the members certainly represented discourse as “a way of being.”
Individuality As A “Team”
In this excerpt, J asks the interviewee, Kim, what her most memorable experience was with cheerleading. Now, Kim, as stated in the interview, has been cheerleading her whole life.
J It’s amazing how dedicated you are to your team! What is your most memorable experience with cheerleading?
K Wow, this is a hard one like I could go on forever with a list of memories but I would have to say nationals last year in Orlando, Florida was most memorable and one I will always remember. We had such a rough season and it was amazing when we won national champions. Everyone was crying and hugging one another. You know, it was such a bittersweet moment. My team and I worked so hard to become national champions and when we finally did it, the feeling was incredible. It was my first time at a national competition. The arena was huge and the lights on the mat were so bright. The experience as well as the memories made I will never forget. Like we bonded so well. It was great.
As is can be seen, when asked about the most memorable moment, instead of choosing a past memory, a more recent memory like “nationals last year in Orlando, Florida,” is chosen as most memorable. It is here, that readers see Jane switch from talking about herself using “I” (“I could go on forever”) to talking about the team as a whole using “we” (“we had a rough season”). Kim starts off her response by stating her personal, individual statement by stating “her” most memorable experience but shifts her tone of voice when she says it is one she would always remember. Instead of saying that Kim worked hard or had a rough season individually, Kim related to the team as a whole.
It can be pointed out from this direct excerpt that the team is a well working oil machine that succeeds and fails as one. Yes in a team, there is no “I” but the question was directed directly towards the interviewee as an individual and was answered by “we had a rough season” and “My team and I”. It is interesting to see that an individual experience turned into a team experience. It is not the Primary Discourse that has shaped Kim’s self identity but the social practices in which she is involved in.
“In Defense of Cheerleaders”
In excerpt two, J asks Kim if cheerleaders should be treated as athletes. Again, readers see a shift here from “I” to “we”. Also, during the interview, the interviewee got defensive with the topic. Normally, in defense, people would defend themselves but here, Kim defends her team as a whole.
J Great positive response, there is always so much negativity formed around cheerleaders. Don’t you think? Don’t you think cheerleaders should be treated as athletes?
K Oh god, this is my favorite topic! I always enjoy arguing with people why cheerleaders should be treated as athletes! Cheerleader’s train, if not the same, then more than any other sport! We are in the gym for hours perfecting our techniques and our routine. Cheerleading is not just a season, it is a yearly sport, it never ends. We are always thinking and doing something to improve our skills. We have a game plan just like every other sport out there. We train just as hard as every team out there. You have someone try and do back flips and stunts within a 2 minute and 30 second routine and then tell me cheerleading is not athletic! I do not think people know the hard work and dedication that goes into being on a cheerleading team.
Just after reading the first two examples, it becomes obvious that this cheerleading team has most certainly affected Jane’s development of her self-identity just by how the words “I” and “we” are used. It can be directly noted from the data that when one fails, they all go down together.
Kim makes some generalization claims as to cheerleading being a sport because it is all year round but again, when defending skills, technique, and training, Kim uses “we” (“we are always thinking and doing something to improve our skills,” “we train just as hard”). In this section, Kim is answering and defending a cultural story about “all-American” cheerleading not being a sport. Instead of defending cheerleading as a general whole, Jane defends the Secondary discourse, which she belongs too. It is not about the grammar, Like James Paul Gee states, it is about “what you say, how you say it, and what you are and do when you say it.” Kim most certainly fits that phrase throughout her entire interview process.
Cheerleading As A “Way of Being”
In this excerpt, J asks Kim how cheerleading has positively affected her life. Unlike the first two examples, G speaks as an individual rather than a team. There is a lot more use of the word “I” here and it is most certainly obvious that Kim’s feelings are being projected in the answer. Although Kim is saying her response from an individual standpoint, the thought of her team and life long friends is still present.
J Great! So how has cheerleading affected your life in a positive way?
K Well lets see, cheerleading has opened so many new doors in my life! It has taught me respect and teamwork. I have also made so many new friends from being on the team throughout the years. These friends are lifetime friends; we share a bond that no one else will! Being on a cheerleading team has taught me good sportsmanship and how to be a good team player. The life lesson I have learned and will learn I will carry with me for the rest of my life. My coaches are such great role models and although they yell, I know they are so proud and encouraging. Cheerleading has been a great life lesson and I wish everyone could experience this just like my teammates and I.
By pointing out that the coaches yell (“My coaches are good role models although they yell”) but are at the same time proud and encouraging shows another aspect of the tight niche Discourse. It shows that the team has a friendly level of respect for their coaches and knows they mean no harm when they are mad. It is not until the very end of the excerpt do readers see the phrase “teammates and I”. Kim wishes that people who do not endure in cheerleading still experience the tight bond which the Discourse shares. It can be noted here that cheerleading is not just something Kim does for herself. It is something she does for her team and is a “way of being” to her lifestyle. The lessons Kim learned in her secondary institution are things that were not acquired from home but will be used for the rest of her life.
“Together We Stand, Together We Fall”
During the observations at practice, everything that Kim had stated was affirmed. Each practice runs different depending on different moods. Aside from the moods and attitudes it can be seen that each girl of the five girls treated the team the same way Kim did. They would do anything for one another in a heartbeat. Even during tumbling, an individual aspect of the routine, the five girls made it into a group project. When the girls are finally ready to tumble during practice, each cheerleader observed ran through her part in the routine throwing flip after flip. It is here where they encouraged each other the most. After each cheerleader goes, everyone claps and cheers them on. While a person is warming up their skill, most cheerleaders use phrases such as “come on” or “you can do this” to encourage them to do a great job and finish their skill strong.
Although tumbling is usually from an individual standpoint, the encouragement and cheering makes the skill become teamwork. Through the communication here, girls want to do better and perfect their skill not only for themselves but also for the team. It can be seen that the girls care greatly about one another’s performance and want each other to excel and do well. Just like Kim’s responses in the interview, everything that has to do with the individual turns into the word of “we” and “us”. The team takes the James Paul Gee’s sense of being to a whole new level in discovering exactly who they are as an individual.
To conclude, it is most certain that being a part of a tightly bonded team influences one’s self-identity. The cheerleading team studied exemplifies these characteristics in developing and finding their self-identities through one another. The differences in this study, compared to the other studies done, are vital in understanding the positive aspects of being a part of a cheerleading team. It is obvious that James Paul Gee’s “way of being” shines throughout the entire paper. Although this research is based on a single case study, it can be concluded that there are positive aspects that come out of being a part of a cheerleading team. This research sets a foundation for further understanding about the all-American sport that everyone loves.
In the future, further research should be done on other cheerleading teams about the positive aspects the sport brings to the athletes lives. Besides from the research, most studies show the negative, gender aspects and cultural norms that most people already know about. Unfortunately, the research shown was only concluded on one cheerleading team and there may not be enough information provided to make concrete conclusions about cheerleading as a whole.
Moreover, to better support the claim that what you say, how you say it, and what you are and do when you say it is responsible for the moves made by the participants, data would need to be collected in another context so the proper theory can be made. Nonetheless, the data successfully distinguished the features that were not recognized or done in previous studies, and therefore, future research can apply this data presented to better understand the positivity and self-identity roles within a cheerleading team.
Gee, James P. "Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction and What Is Literacy?" Literacy: A Critical Source Book. New York, New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 525-54. Print.
Grindstaff, Laura, and Emily West. ""Hands on Hips, Smiles on Lips!" Gender, Race, and the Performance of Spirit in Cheerleading." Taylor and Francis. N.p., 13 Apr. 2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
West, Emily, and Laura Grindstaff. "SelectedWorks of Emily E. West." "Cheerleading and the Gendered Politics of Sport" by Laura Grindstaff, Et Al. N.p., 2006. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.