Jay Lemke

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Jay Lemke (born 1946) is an American physicist, and professor of education at the University of Michigan.


  • If you ask most teachers of science what their main goal is, they will probably say: for my students to understand the basic concepts of physics, chemistry, biology, or whatever other field is being studied. The critical words here are ‘understand’ and ‘concept’, and both of these terms assume a fundamentally psychological approach to learning... If we see the goals of science education in terms of what students will be able to do, and how they will be able to make sense of the world, rather than in terms of our speculations about what may be going on in their brains, then we need to see scientific learning as the acquisition of cultural tools and practices, as learning to participate in very specific and often specialized forms of human activity
  • The medium of printed scientific text is first of all a visual one.
    • Jay L. Lemke (1998) "Multiplying meaning: Visual and verbal semiotics in scientific text." In J. R. Martin & R. Veel (Eds.), Reading science: Critical and functional perspectives on discourses of science. London: Routledge. p. 95
  • Science does not speak of the world in the language of words alone, and in many cases it simply cannot do so. The natural language of science is a synergistic integration of words, diagrams, pictures, graphs, maps, equations, tables, charts, and other forms of visual and mathematical expression... [Science thus consists of] the languages of visual representation, the languages of mathematical symbolism, and the languages of experimental operations.
    • Jay Lemke (2003), "Teaching all the languages of science: Words , symbols, images and actions," p. 3; as cited in: Scott, Phil, Hilary Asoko, and John Leach. "Student conceptions and conceptual learning in science." Handbook of research on science education (2007): 31-56.
  • A genre is maintained by the conventions of a community, and in most cases serves specific functions within the system of practices of particular institutions of that community.
    • Lemke, J. (2005). "Multimedia genres and transversals." Folia Linguistica, 39(1-2): 45-56. p. 46
  • Multimodal presentations have an inherent critical potential to the extent that we learn how to use the images to deconstruct the viewpoint of the text, and the text to subvert the naturalness of the image.
    • Lemke, J. (2005). "Towards critical multimedia literacy: Technology, research, and politics." In McKenna, M., Reinking, D., Labbo, L. & Kieffer, R. (Eds.), Handbook of literacy and technology. Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum (LEA Publishing). p. 4
  • Ecosocial Dynamics concerns ecosocial systems and networks, i.e. those ecosystems, including all material components, for which semiotic practices are essential to characterizing the dynamics of the material processes which constitute the system through their networks of mutual interdependencies.

Talking Science: Language, Learning, and Values. 1990[edit]

Jay Lemke. Talking Science: Language, Learning, and Values. Ablex Publishing, 1990.

  • The basic point-of-view is that science is a social process.
    • p. xi
  • Learning science means learning to talk science... Talking science means observing, describing, comparing, classifying, analysing, discussing, hypothesizing, theorizing, questioning, challenging, arguing, designing experiments, following procedures, judging, evaluating, deciding, concluding, generalizing, reporting ... in and through the language of science.
    • p. 1; as cited in: Bernard Laplante, "Teaching science to language minority students in elementary classrooms." NYSABE Journal 12 (1997): 62-83.
  • In terms of language, we do know what a scientific theory or conceptual system must be: it is a thematic pattern of semantic relationships in a subject, one that is reconstructed again and again in nearly the same ways by members of a community.
    • p. 99
  • Science has often presented itself, intentionally or unintentionally as a "truer" or even the true way of talking about the world. In science classrooms, except for rare occasions, this is the way science is taught and presented. Not as a way of talking about the world, but as the way the world is.
    • p. 126
  • Scientific language that is correct and serious so far as teachers and students are concerned must follow these stylistic norms:
  1. Be as verbally explicit and universal as possible....The effect is to make `proper' scientific statements seem to talk only about an unchanging universal realm....
  2. Avoid colloquial forms of language and use, even in speech, forms close to those of written language. Certain words mark language as colloquial..., as does use of first and second person...
  3. Use technical terms in place of colloquial synonyms or paraphrases....
  4. Avoid personification and use of specifically or usually human attributes or qualities..., human agents or actors, and human types of action or process...
  5. Avoid metaphoric and figurative language, especially those using emotional, colorful, or value laden words, hyperboles and exaggeration, irony, and humorous or comic expressions.
  6. Be serious and dignified in all expression of scientific content. Avoid sensationalism.
  7. Avoid personalities and reference to individual human beings and their actions, including (for the most part) historical figures and events....
  8. Avoid reference to fiction or fantasy.
  9. Use causal forms of explanation and avoid narrative and dramatic accounts…. Similarly forbidden are dramatic forms, including dialogue, the development of suspense or mystery, the element of surprise, dramatic action, and so on.
  • p. 133-134, as cited in: Mary U. Hanrahan, "Applying CDA to the analysis of productive hybrid discourses in science classrooms." (2002).
  • The mystique of science is an essential tool for technocratic rule. Through it we are all taught that science, as the paradigm of all expert knowledge, has an objective, superior, and special truth that only the superintelligent few can understand. Science education, like it or not, does a great job in foisting these myths on most of us.
    • p. 149
  • It is dangerous to society to have students leave school believing that science is a perfect means to absolute, objective truths, discovered by people of superhuman intelligence. Apart form the danger that scientific “findings” could be used to justify wrong social polices, an impersonal, inhuman view of science alienates many students from the subject. If we are to encourage students of all kinds to take in interest in science, and use it for their own purposes, we need to show it as it really is.
    • p. 175
  • Science teachers have a special responsibility to study the nature of science as a discipline, how it works, how it is described by sociologists, historians, and philosophers from different points of view…. Science education cannot just be about learning science: Its foundation must be learning about the nature of science as a human activity.
    • p. 175; as cited in: Hanuscin, Deborah L., and Michele H. Lee. "Teaching Against the Mystique of Science: Literature Based Approaches in Elementary Teacher Education." Learning, Teaching, and Curriculum presentations (MU) (2010).
  • [Teachers] emphasize the human side of science: real activities by real human beings, both today and in specific periods of history. Personal characteristics of scientists, with which students can identify, should be emphasized rather than making scientists seem superhuman or alien.
    • p. 175-6; as cited in: Hanuscin & Lee (2010)

Textual politics: Discourse and social dynamics, 1995[edit]

Jay L. Lemke, Textual politics: Discourse and social dynamics. Taylor & Francis, 1995; 2005.

  • The language others speak to us, from childhood, shapes the attitudes and beliefs that ground how we use all our powers of action.
    • p. 1
  • The role of discourse in society is active; it not only re-confirms and re-enacts existing social relationships and patterns of behavior, it also renegotiates social relationships and introduces new meanings and new behaviors.
    • p. 2
  • When I speak about discourse in general, I will usually mean the social activity of making meanings with language and other symbolic systems in some particular kind of situation or setting.
    • p. 6
  • Instead of talking about meaning making as something that is done by minds, I prefer to talk about it as a social practice in a community. It is a kind of doing that is done in ways that are characteristic of a community, and its occurrence is part of what binds the community together and helps to constitute it as a community.
    • p. 9
  • Many people have been taught a social habit, a discourse, for speaking about meaning, which considers only the role of the individual organism, or the individual mind, in the process of making meanings... Mentalistic discourses, by creating a separate realm and locating meanings there, are not useful for understanding the material and social aspects of meaning-making. Mentalistic discourses depend on a common sense view of the separation of mind from body, and individual from society, which has ideological functions in our society. Particular aspects of these discourses deflect attention away from the social, cultural, historical and political dimensions of the meanings we make.
    • p. 9
  • We are constantly reading and listening to, writing and speaking, this text in the context of and against the background of other texts and other discourses.
    • p. 10
  • We need a social theory that sees all social phenomena, including itself, as being partly the product of how people in a community deploy semiotic resources: how we mean, and what we mean, by every meaningful act.
    • p. 15
  • Minds are formed by our social interactions in a community and a culture.
    • p. 16
  • All meaning is intertextual. No text is complete or autonomous in itself; it needs to be read, and it is read, in relation to other texts.
    • p. 35
  • Each community, each discourse tradition, has its own canons of intertextuality, its own principles and customs regarding which texts are most relevant to the interpretation of any one text
    • p. 36
  • We will document a single instance of a widespread and increasingly dominant political strategy in modern society: the transformation of discourses of expert knowledge into discourses of social policy.
    • p. 48
  • The biological organism and the social persona are profoundly different social constructions. The different systems of social practices, including discourse practices, through which these two notions are constituted, have their meanings, and are made use of, are radically incommensurable. The biological notion of a human organism as an identifiable individual unit of analysis depends on the specific scientific practices we use to construct the identity, the boundedness, the integrity, and the continuity across interactions of this unit. The criteria we use to do so: DNA signatures, neural micro-anatomy, organism-environment boundaries, internal physiological interdependence of subsystems, external physical probes of identification at distinct moments of physical time -- all depend on social practices and discourses profoundly different from those in terms of which we define the social person.
The social-biographical person is also an individual insofar as we construct its identity, boundedness, integrity, and continuity. But the social practices and discourses we deploy in these constructions are quite different. We define the social person in terms of social interactions, social roles, socially and culturally meaningful behavior patterns. We construct from these notions of the personal identity of an individual the separateness and independence of that individual from the social environment with which it transacts, the internal unity or integrity of the individual as a consistent persona, and the continuity of that persona across social interactions.
  • p. 68
  • Our visual discrimination is far better than our linguistic system at dealing with complex ratios and continuous variations in space, line, shape, and color.
    • p. 110
  • Meaning is a much more fundamental notion than truth, indeed more fundamental even than the notion of "reality" itself. The basic argument [of the essay] was that claims about truth or reality are meanings made by people according to patterns that they have learned, and that trying to understand how and why people make the meanings they do is more useful than fighting over the truth of their claims.
    • p. 156
  • Human communities are ecosystems. Ecosystems are biological, chemical and physical systems. The physics, chemistry and biology of complex self-organizing systems can tell us much that is useful about human communities: about the conditions necessary for the existence of human communities, about the properties human communities 'inherit' because they are special cases of more general kinds of systems, particularly ecosystems.
    • p. 159
  • A discourse, a way of speaking, is considered less scientific, or even rendered ‘unscientific’ exactly to the extent that it includes elements either of the language of feeling or of the language of action and values.
    • p. 178

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