Chiaroscuro is all very well, but William Blake tells us firmly that wise men see outlines and therefore they draw them.
G. Bateson (1979: 202)

The following is a brief review of the developments in various fields which justify the need to look at the patterning of interaction within the school in the manner chosen here. Much has been written on American schools. We do have a number of adequate ethnographies which tell us much. [ftn 1] But all that this work has told us is set within the traditional vocabulary of the discovery of the "real" (the social organization, what people do) behind the "ideal" (the culture, what people say). More social psychological work exists. It often insists on the centrality of the participants' subjective perception. Such studies easily divorce themselves from action and end up based on little more than reports of individual answers to questions about their feelings, beliefs or impressions. In the process, any sociological consideration of the fact that the whole of the school might be greater than its parts is lost along with any way of understanding how people may respond in situations other than questionaires. For more than a decade now people from many disciplines have been trying to bring together what classical social theory separated. Many names have been suggested for this new way of looking at the world of human action: semiotics or semiology, ethnomethodology, symbolic anthropology, symbolic interactionism, communicational analysis, etc. In every case, the distinguishing feature is the insistence that language is central to action, that language cannot be understood fully outside of action and action outside of language. In most cases this is complemented by the recognition that this reciprocal process is governed by powerful structuring forces that cannot be discovered by looking at what individuals may have internalized through their participation in social life. The structuring arises out of the interaction of individuals. They are primarily social forces, not psychological ones. Another implication of the above which is shared by all the various approaches within the tradition has to do with the fact that language is important for what it does. The functionality of language lies in its power over future action. Anything one says to another has an effect on both participants. The ana- lytic task is to account for this power. It is not to account for the relationship of what is said to an idealized "real world" which language would describe more or less "accurately." Truth, in social life, is less important than persuasion. How does one lie, to others and to oneself? This is the fundamental ques- tion and takes us to the domain of "rhetoric." This introductory chapter briefly reviews the work which, over the years, has confirmed that much more can be learned about human action by looking at it from a "semiotic" point of view than from more tra- ditional points of view--however helpful these may have been in their time. The chapter ends with car siderations on the relevance of what we have learned in semiotics for the process of ethnographic research and reporting.

Saying and Doing

It is common sense to separate what people say about their world from what they do with it. There was a time when such a separation was useful against certain naive assumptions. But such a separation can became dangerous, particularly if one focusses on the daily life of people and their routine interactions. This life is always conducted in an atmosphere of talk. Things get done. But they never get done without an accompanying running commentary. Furthermore, the saying of the doing is not absolutely constrained by the physical properties of the task. A material object may allow but limited possibilities for alternative ways of performing the task efficaciously. But any story about the task is not so limited. It can be embellished. It can be correlated to another activity that has no necessary material linkage with it, and so on. Finally, talk can generate action as the philosophers of the speech act emphasized (Austin, 1962; Searle, 1969).

The division of the said from the done made sense in the "objectivist" traditions where abstract models are presented as functioning mechanically with implacable necessity in a generalized social space removed from the vagaries of everyday life. [ftn 2] Linguists collaborated with this by treating language as a purely formal system divorced from action. This division ceased to make sense when people began to look at the actual unfolding of these processes on the time scale on which they are experienced. People, as they act out their life, cannot rely on mechanical social necessity to achieve their goals. They can prepare themselves for what may happen and then they must wait for time to pass, and pray,-perhaps. what they can and will always also do is talk. They will argue, negotiate, command, rationalize, justify--and indeed pray, offer sacrifices, read, etc. Just as time and uncertainty are at the core of human experience, so is talk, talk that is not divorced from action but, one the contrary, that is intimately tied with it. For heuristic rea- sons, it may be necessary, at times, to separate the symbolic from the practical in order to highlight the specific character of certain concerns of the people. But this useful separation is not to be translated into a theoretical postulate.

Think for example about the event [CHILD NOT IN SCHOOL WHEN SCHOOL IS IN SESSION]. Try to think about it from many different angles and in many contexts. Is the child sick? Do the parents know the child is not in school? Did they pull him out for a familial reason (perhaps the household is off to the bedside of a dying grandmother)? Does the school know? Did someone send the child on an errand? Did it suspend the child? Or is the child a truant? Such questions may have yes/no answers that might establish the "truth" in a legal context. What is interesting, in- teractionally, is the process by which this truth might get established. Initially, most of those in- volved (not only the child, but also his parents and many people in the school) will talk about it, evalu- ate possibilities and plausible responses. To do this they will bring to bear a generalized knowledge about the child, the familial environment, rules and regulation. It is probable that, in this search, they will disagree about what is happening. They will pro- bably disagree even more about what is to happen next.

In other words, an event like the absence of a child does not assert its own interpretation. The participants are "free" to do what they wish with it and transform it into something else that may be more favorable to than than the original event was. The absence from school "is" nothing more than that until it has been talked about among the persons responsible and a label has been found. Then only-temporality is of the essence--does it become inexcusable illness, reprehensible truancy or any number of things in between. There may be disagreement. The more time passes, the less the event will impose itself. After a few days most of the protagonists cannot remember what happened, but they can rehearse what they have been saying about it and act in terms of these identifications. At this point they can suspend the child, they can ask him to go see a psychologist, they can "forget about it." As sociologists of education have shown, these outcomes can have massive effects on the children's later careers. The symbolic identification of the act as a certain kind of act (e.g., "truancy") then has became a material event. The distinction between the said and the done has evaporated.

The Ordering of the Saying

The preceding, with its emphasis on the uncertainty of everyday life as it is lived, and on the transforming power of symbolic apprehension, vanes close to the analysis of social life traditionally associated in the United States with the symbolic interactionists (e.g., Blumer, 1969) and, more recently, certain ethnomethodologists (e.g., Mehan and wood, 1975). There is a great variety of approaches among the people that are associated with the American ethnomethodological movement as Gonos (1977) has shown. This is not the place to discuss the various tendencies. I would simply like to mention where my approach differs from the one commonly associated with them, even as it takes into account same of their concerns.

Not only is what is said/done in everyday life steeped in uncertainty, manipulation land coonfict liit is also constantly creative, both as it transforms the world and constructs new situations. For Chomsky, linguistic creativity made necessary the assumption that there are "deep" and immutable "structures" that allow us to produce/understand new sentences. It would seem logical to extend this to interaction and to speak of deep structures allowing us to participate in situations never before encountered. Same who have identified themselves with ethnomethodology have re- jected this argument. They preferred theories that centered on creativity at the expense of dealing with any kind of order. It seemed that all orders were contingent on the immediate situation and then evapo- rated as something new was created. The pendulum is swinging again. There is now a definite tendency to talk about order and to offer sketches of this order (see the work of McDermott and Gospodinoff, 1979; Mehan, 1978, 1982). It may be that the contribution of these critics is less their attacks on structuralist accounts than their demonstration that human life is submitted to many more structures than Durkheim, Saussure, Chomsky or Livi-Strauss ever mentioned--kinesic structures (Birdwhistell, 1970), speaking structures (Hymes, 1974), discourse structures (Sacks, Schegloff and Jefferson, 1974; Labov and Fanshel, 1977), biological structures (Chapple, 1970; Byers, 1976), etc.

We must of course continue the attempts to reach new understandings of the source of structuring so that we do not repeat the same errors. In this res pect, Bateson will prove more useful than Chomky. But we must also preserve the structuralist intuition. If things were not, generally, orderly, we could not be surprised as chaotic creativity would dull our sense of wonder. Analyses of the world that present it as orderly and predictable possible. Naive participants perform such analyses. They offer them to the observer. He may accept or reject them in favor of his own. The order the observer creates may not itself be the ultimate "truth" of the situation, it may be-as Levi-Strauss wrote of his own analyses--but another myth about myths, another variant on an old theme. But whatever the source of the order, whatever the form of the statement of this order, it remains that ordering is a fundamental human activity. Even phenomenological approaches must take this into account.

The order that concerns us consists in the range of possibilities of interpretative expression. In other words, t s not person- or situation-specific since it is concerned in the relationship between persons and between situations. It is concerned with what has actually happened as the realization of a possible in a field of other possibles. Only one event actually occurs. But something else might have occurred. The participants may even try to argue that, "really," something else happened than what "seemed" to happen. In other words, the world, not only the present and the future, but also the past, can be manipulated by people who were not there and do not, in fact, share anything with the original protagonists.

There is a tendency for people actually to use interpretations, which cynical and sceptical outsiders may see as the most self-serving, in a material or economic sense. But what is striking is that all partipants can manipulate all possibilities. Life is generally complex enough that participants are consecutively, and sometimes at the same time, in dominant and subservient positions and thus get to use the discourse forms particularly appropriate for each position. When participants are with their peers, they may either affirm their equality or play various power games. All participants, and in a high school this includes the students, are fully culturally competent. They do not all have the same resources and interests. When one moves from the adults to the children, goals change radically. But the principles in terms of which. resources are fought for and then used, or in terms of which goals are pursued, remain remarkably stable.

This ability to shift point of view and to understand alternate points of view even when one cannot in fact experience the other position (the principal in Sheffield had been a teacher but no teacher had been principal), and when one is in conflict with the holder of that position, can only be accounted for as a symbolic competence based upon the fact that language, in its form, is divorced from the specific occasions of its uses. It may not be that, in his inner self, a teacher who speaks like the principal actually feels what a principal would feel. The teacher is play-acting. But his very ability to be successful in this acting is of interest. What must he do/say in order to achieve this success? As Eco says (1976), what is fascinating about language (and all other symbolic systems) is the fact that it can be used for lying, for tragic and comic distortion, to imagine the unreal and the not-yet-real, etc.. As many have pointed out, this power is also a power for self deception, false consciousness, confusion as to the real nature of the world. All this suggests, as Tyler argues, that language and the mind must be heuristically separated (1978). What we say and what we are are two different things. one cannot limit the content of a personality to what a person can express. The reality of this person is always more complex than what can be expressed in explicit words. We will see repeatedly that adults and children in Sheffield knew more than they could say. It is part of their tragedy that the actions they take in terms of this intuitive knowledge generally abort as their entourage reinterpret the attempted escape to make it fit the common place. I pursue these matters mostly in the second half of the book in reference to the students' self organization and their evaluation by teachers. As Jules Henry saw with particular lucidity (1963), even very young students in conservative and provincial schools can be aware of what constrains them. Many students in Sheffield were just as self-aware.

And yet, the limits of self-awareness are soon reached. The tools available for its expression are precisely the tools used in routine interactions that are responsible in the first place for the discomfort that produces the awareness. The people are caught and all the solutions they propose make them even more victim of their dilemma in a kind of ideological "involution" (Geertz, 1963).

The School's Language

As should be clear by now, I am not differentiating language from "culture." From Benedict and the Boasians, to Dumont, Geertz or Schneider, to Bourdieu, under different names (culture, ideology, system of symbols, habitus), and in different theoretical climates, an intuition has remained that there is, in the historical specification of ways of life, something that has to be accounted for in its own terms. From the earliest, those for whom this intuition was strongest were fascinated by language even when the subject of their research seemed superficially to have little to do with it. whether they were studying kinship, religion, politics, mythology, or botanical classifications, they came back to language as in some way the prototype of cultural artifacts that best exhibits the specific character of cultural activity. While "social" anthropologists looked at the physical sciences in their search for a scientific foundation (Radcliffe-Brown, 1948), "cultural" anthropologists looked at linguistics (Sapir, 1949).

However, for a long time, and for many still, language was mostly used as a metaphor to highlight characteristics of what remained other types of cultural action. Most researchers did not focus on linguistic matters as they moved from general considerations about their subject matter to their actual work. There are many reasons for this. First, linguistics itself was concerned mostly with matters such as phonology or syntax that are of limited use to anthropo-logists who generally deal with units much broader than words or sentences. Second, both linguistics and anthropology continued to operate within a framework of sharp distinction between the linguistic and the non-linguistic, between words and actions. It is only as American linguists became interested again in matters of meaning and semantics, as they became interested in the social use of language, as philosophers and literary critics began to look systematically at literary and not so literary texts as linguistic constructions, and as anthropologists redefined the concept of culture to make it center around human symbolic activities, that it became evident that language is at the very core of what always interested anthropologists.

This interest in language can take many forms. One common form is the formal semantic analysis of limited vocabularies as it has been systematized in componential analysis with roots both in anthropology and linguistics. Another form has been the word by word and movement by movement analysis of relatively short texts. While not quite so systematized as componential analysis, this form is rather well specified methodologically.

Still another form of interest in language as the corner stone of all cultural activity exists. It has not been quite systematized. The researchers in this tradition have chosen to stay at a more general level. Often this has been at the risk of loosing sight of the exact place of language. The sympathetic criticism C. Wright Mills once addressed to Benedict's work on motivation often continues to apply:

Among the ethnologists, Ruth Benedict has came up to the edge of a genuinely sociological view of motivation. Her view resins vague because she has not seen clearly the identity of differing "motivations" in differing cultures with the varied extent and approved vocabularies of motive... If she would attempt constructively to observe such vocabularies which precipitate acts to perform, implement programs, and furnish approved motives for them in circumscribed situations, she would be better able to ... answer them by further observation. (Mills, 1940: 911fn)

In other words, Mills sees Benedict as having lost sight of what she was dealing with. A native, before it is an emotional event, is a word,. a part of a vocabulary or language. In recent years, much has been done that begins to fulfill the program Mills sketched. Geertz (1973) and Singer (1978), talk of creating a "semiotic" anthropology. Schneider (1976) emphasizes the importance of symbols and their meaning. Frake repeatedly demonstrates the close relationship of language and cognition (1980). Becker talks about the need for a modern "philology" (1979). All stress the need for detailed, deliberate recording of actual symbolic behavior in action. Another interesting attempt is Wieder's study of the "convict code" in a half-way house (1974). In it he directly confronts the fact that ethnographic investigation is primarily a linguistic event in which the investigator arrives with a certain language to deal with a situation. He begins by talking to the participants using this language. Then, hopefully, he becomes somewhat competent in the various languages the participants use in their response to him. Finally, he reports on this language.

This work is extremely diverse. It is rent by many divisions. It is also driven by the same fundamental intuition, the intuition that linguistic (symbolic) matters are at the core of the processes which introduce "cultural" variation within the human species. The next frontier is the development of modes of analyses which preserve this intuition. For this to be done, the notion of language obviously has to be broadened to include many matters that have never found their way into traditional grammars. To talk about the language of Sheffield High School is not to be talking about the fact that all participants speak English there. It is not either to be looking for dialectal variation. It is to talk about the participants' way of symbolizing themselves and their environment to each other. It is to look both at what they "say" in words and what they "do" through whole body movements, in so far as it can be shown that the latter, like the former, are constructed, symbolic statements.

The school's language, then, consists in the particular organization of the school as an intelligible object, that is as an object that can be symbolically manipulated by human beings. It consists in a particular discourse about the world in general, and about the organization of that aspect of child socialization which the modern world assigns to schools. This discourse does not consist in a set of issues traditionally handled by schools; nor does it consist in a set of politico-ideological choices which participants may make. This discourse consists, rather, in the range of definition of choices that can be made among ways of handling school life, the mutual organization of these choices and their inner logic. It consists most essentially in the type of relationships that can be established between various events and the grounds on which two things can be made the sane or be made different.

Most importantly, and most controversially perhaps, this discourse is the discourse of the school. It is not the discourse of any one participant though it is realized in the speech of many individuals. Individual participants may make many choices, but to the extent that fate has placed them in the school, they must make their choices and fight for them within the parameters and constraints offered by the school.

The School's Rhetoric

In a recent review, Tyler has written: "The shift from 'language' to 'language-in-the-world' is thus a movement away from logic towards rhetoric"(1980: 837). This movement is well on its way and the word itself is used more and more frequently in anthropological writing (Bilmes, 1976; Bloch, 1975; Sapir and Crocker, 1977). It is probably to Kenneth Burke that we owe an inspiration which he himself, as a literary critic, refers back to the comparative work of anthropologists. He inspires us to look at language not from the point of view of its scientific accuracy as a (bad) descriptor of the world, but rather from the point of view of its social efficacy as a means of "inducing cooperation in beings that by nature respond to symbols"(1969: 143). What is fundamental to symbolic expression is evidence of persuasion; it is not evidence of accuracy. It is not truth that is to be achieved in everyday language, it is verisimilitude. As Burke also mentioned, "rhetoric," "mere" rhetoric . as it is sometimes ( and rhetorically!) referred to, has many negative connotations. In rhetoric, it is said, words are made to mean something else than they should mean, events are twisted around, truth is corrupted. The obvious power of rhetorical speech over many listeners is often seen as a quasi-magical power, a survival of primitive sensitivities to be counteracted by the civilized use of scientific, objective, neutral and accurate language. But Burke, wham I am paraphrasing here, insists that rhetoric is in fact an "essential function of language itself." "The basic function of rhetoric," he writes, "the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents, is certainly not 'magical.' if you are in trouble, and call for help, you are no practitioner of primitive magic. You are using the primary resource of human speech in a thoroughly realistic way." (1969:41) If you call for help, then, you must evoke in the mind of your audience a picture of your plight and the desire to initiate some sort of action on your behalf. Furthermore this effort, to be successful, must involve operations that take into account the objective reality of the communication process, viz. its subjectivity.

In general, as Burke wrote:

The fact that an activity is capable of reduction to intrinsic, autonomous principles does not argue that it is free from identification with other orders of motivation extrinsic to it. Such orders are extrinsic to it, as considered from the point of view of the specialized activity alone. But they are not extrinsic to the field of moral action as such, considered from the point of view of human activity in general. (1969:27)

In other words a building may be, from the point of view of its own substance, outside of any human activity, nothing more than an assemblage of brick, cement, steel and glass. It is also either a school or a prison, a day care center or a rehabilitation agency depending upon how it fits within a human context. Any activity where two human beings try to change each other may be treated as a mother's "loving," a teacher's "teaching," a politican's "propagandizing," a missionary's "proselytizing" or an administrator's administering, depending upon the way the act is symbolically expressed and deliberately placed in a semiotic context.

There is no stable vocabulary available to gloss the various aspects of this phenomenon. I talk of "language" to mark the articulated, systematic, sym bolic nature of the phenomenon. I talk of "discourse" to mark that the focus is on whole texts rather than single words or sentences. I talk of discourse in the singular to mark that we are, in fact, interested in one single complex text produced by various people in various settings rather than about the local texts which they produce in any one locale at any one time with certain interlocutors. I talk of "rhetoric" to mark that this discourse is a discourse for persuasion (manipulation).

Persuasion, however, has to be achieved. A text is persuasive only to the extent that it manipulates us into adopting its point of view. It is all the more successful when we are less aware that we are being manipulated. But, in any event, persuasive success through rhetorical power depends on some very concrete things happening in the text itself, both in its content and in the way t relates itself to its situation. To use a rather pessimistic illustration, the function of a gun in a mugging is obviously to get the victim to submit. But this does not explain why the gun is efficacious and can function in this manner. This can only be understood in terms of the inner nature of the gun, which includes the knowledge the victim has of what guns are all about. This very knowledge can in fact be used by the mugger and allows him to use a fake gun, or simply to say "I have a gun" and still be successful. The nature of the gun, and the knowledge of guns and of the symbols that can stand for them, all exist independently of the situations in which they can be used and, indeed, of the situation for which they may have been designed to be used.[ftn 3] Situations do not reflect themselves directly in the symbols used in them. If they did, there would be no need to persuade. One could not manipulate or lie. The false and the true are both constituted by the symbols used. They do not constitute the symbols. As Eco argued (1976), it is the fact that symbols allow for lying that is the most revealing of their nature. This does not mean, of course, that they are only used for lying. The contrary is probably true. But it suggests particularly starkly that symbols, in their form, are divorced from the objects they can be used to refer to and yet are organized enough in relation to the world that they can appear, and indeed are adequate. The use is not mechanically determined for the act of relating a symbol to a situation is also symbolic. Thus, to look at use as manipulation for persuasion, to move from logic to rhetoric, is not to move away from order, it is to see it.

The last statement goes against the grain of the recent statements about rhetoric. Traditional functionalism is so strong that many still cannot see any order in language except the order that is imposed on its use by external forces. Thus, most often, analyses of rhetorical language are oriented to a demonstration of the way the social position of the speaker shapes what he is saying. I would rather reverse the equation and say that the forms used constitute the social position of the speaker (or the position which he, as he lies, wants to persuade his audience he is occupying). Given this history, it might have been better for me not to use a word like "rhetoric" that is so overloaded with functionalist connotations. However, the word also evokes same other things that correspond closely to what I want to say. Rhetoric, in common parlance, is a special language, one that has a special form that produces special effects in special settings. It is a particular language rather than a universal one. It is a cultural language.

An analytic vocabulary

Before we move on, a brief review of the vocabulary we need to conduct this analysis is in order.

Rhetoric: The word is intended to mark the general orientation of a research that focusses on the performance of "un-natural" language in its persuasive, manipulative, constructive power. [ftn 4] In rhetoric, the world is de-naturalized through various processes all involving human activity. I talk of this activity as involving rhetorical "operations." These operations consist essentially in rhetorical "identifications." I am borrowing the word "identification" from Burke (1969: 19-27) who uses it to talk about the paradox of classification when looked at in its "partisan aspects," i.e., when it is used by men to do something:

A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined, A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so. (1969:20)

A and B can be two persons, they can be two activities, or one can be an activity and the other a person. For example, Staffer and Taylor were identified in the school as being the same, as "teachers" (though they were also made different in that one was a man and the other a woman, one belonged to a certain clique and the other to another); "observing teachers closely" and "letting the reins loose" are two different ways of doing the same thing, "administering"; a certain person could be identified as performing these kinds of things legitimately and be referred to as an "administrator."

Performance: To the extent that identification is an active process, it is dependent on certain things getting done. It is dependent on rhetorical "performances." The performances are the acts themselves done by the people. They are physical events in the world, disruptions in the historical flow. They are marks "written" (Derrida, 1967) on the world. As physical marks these objects of my own analytic performance have a direct presence immediately observable. If one of the arguments against the relevance of semantic analysis has been that its subject matter, "meaning," is a phenomenon that only belongs to a world of "ideas," an "ideal" world that cannot be observed directly and about which nothing can be said that can be validated observationally, this study should not be considered to fall within the boundaries of the criticism. We only analyse observable events.

Distinguishing Features: the goal of the research is in the identification of those features of a performance that makes it the same or different from another one. Performances, particularly on the scale on which we are working, always differ profoundly from each other in many ways. Certain sets of performances are considered identical from the point of view of their overall rhetorical signification. This allows a search for what it is, in the flow of the performance, which signals this signification. This process is similar to the one followed by phonologists in their search within a phonetic stream for the distinguishing features that typify the various phonemes that make possible a certain level of signification.

Modes: I label the rhetorical units through which performances came to signify themselves (i.e., place themselves within a signifying, meaningful universe) rhetorical "modes." A mode, according to the oxford dictionary, is a way of doing something. It is a rather weak word with little analytical connotation in the anthropological literature. It is essentially a "free" symbol whose common sense connotations (the dictionary definition) make it a useful tool for my purposes.

Structure: I talk of rhetorical "structure" to refer to the ensemble of the modes in their relationship as they constitute the specific discourse of the school.

A Note on the Analytic Process.

Given the limitations of the technology which was at our disposal in the course of the fieldwork, the performances we are looking at are essentially of three types: the fieldworkers' written reports of observations they made and statements that were made to them, transcripts of interviews in which the transcription process was limited to a rendering of purely verbal cues (no attention being paid to paraverbal cues, in contrast, for example, to Labov and Fanshel's work, 1977), written pamphlets, memos or books of rules and regulations as they were produced by and available to the participants. It was not possible to videotape. No attempt will be made to conduct the type of analysis associated with the work of Scheflen (1973), Erikson (1975), or McDermott (1977).

The main emphasis of this research is on the verbal aspects of rhetorical performing. i regularly use gestural (or architectural or choreographical) events in my analysis, particularly in relation to massive movements (such as leaving a room when someone else enters it, preventing certain persons from entering a room, identifying a space with a particular type of person,etc., all matters that can be accurately recorded without the help of photographic equipment). I refer to such performances where massive movements are involved as "dramatistic" performances.

Rhetorical performance is a whole. Each performance is meaningful in relation to another performance to the extent that this other performance is possible or is, in fact, being performed concurrently (thus we will see how important in the school were the bureaucratic performances typified by the Policies and By Laws, even though very few people participate in writing them, or ever even read them, or directly referred to them. They just had to be there). However, it is impossible to display such a whole. It would not even be possible to display a single performance in its entirety, particularly on the scale I have chosen where certain performances ran for several days and involved many individuals. The unit of ana lysis here is what I label a "text." I use the word for two main reasons;: 1) It is becoming common practice in cultural anthropology to conceive of both the participants' actions and observers' notes as quasiliterary productions; 2) I believe that it is helpful to conceive of human symbolic action as possessing the attributes traditionally associated with the written word. This is an expansion of Derrida's argument in De la Grammatologie. These texts look like the following (quote marks indicate verbatim reproduction):

Text 30

Text x

The principal walked into the Teachers' Room and those who were sitting around the center table suddenly stopped talking.

Text y

"Memo to: F'AC Re: Teacher Surplus"

Text z

George told me: "Harvey is a real pain."

Such texts are excerpts from a complete performance, whether the field notes for a day (Tx), a document (Ty), or a transcript of an interview (Tz). They are used as:

1) Handy summary of incidents which are thereby segregated from-the analyses; 2) Ways for the reader to get access to the data base; 3) Reminders of the transformative nature of ethnographic research; 4) Reminders of the concreteness of the participants concerns.

The texts are the primary data to be accounted for. we will constantly be asking of ourselves "How come this got written here?" "what is implied for this to make sense?" etc. The texts were sampled from the notes so as to maximize contrast among them in terms of content, point of view and with an eye to covering the whole range of possible performances by actual or potential participants in the school. The text, it must be emphasized, is not the original [EVENT] which the fieldworker participated in. It is only by a kind of fiction that ethnographers can claim to be reporting such events. As Ochs (1979) mentioned in relation to research in language acquisition, the analyst never works on actual occurences as they happen but only on transcriptions of utterances which cannot help but be shaped by the transcribing conventions. Similarly, ethnographers only work from their fieldnotes (or their memory). We must accept the fact that these are shaped by the, generally unformulated, literary conventions which guided the writing of the notes.

An Ethnography of American Rhetorical Performances

The goal of this book is, first, to draw the lines that organize the particular language, or rhetoric, that the participants in Sheffield High School have at their disposal to conduct their everyday life. The second goal is to suggest the kind of effects the nature of this language has on the people who use it. These goals are complementary and so closely intertwined that it will not always be possible to separate them. But it is possible and necessary to shift focusses so as to highlight the contribution of the overall method to an understanding of action in an environment like the school.

These two goals have been the traditional goals of all ethnographic work in anthropology. The work of the early ethnographers often mixed the two even when the emphasis was on description of order or on the impact of this order. As Mehan has argued (1978), it is now necessary to write what he calls "constitutive ethnographies" in which the posited order is more sharply delineated than has usually been done, and where the tie between the data and the analysis is more sharply preserved. This is what I try to do here, particularly in the first half of the book. And yet, the human interest aspect of ethnography cannot be ignored either. It is people that interest us, and it is to people that I have dedicated the second half of the work. However, the decision to separate the search for order from an account of the effect of this order has led to the production of a text that is somewhat outside the boundaries of the usual monograph. This requires some justification.

The book as a whole does what all ethnographies do. The picture that emerges is one of a school "in the round." I do not pretend, however, to reach any kind of closure. The school is not a finite event in time or space. The set of participants is in constant movement and it would be hopeless to try and account for every single person in the population. once the structuring lines have been drawn, and after it has been shown that these lines help us understand the daily life of the people, the task is complete.

Until recently, few writers of ethnographies seriously considered the fact they are, indeed, writers, creators of a text which they, with the help of Ul tors and colleagues who read their manuscripts, construct according to certain rules or schemas about the proper form of such documents. Few authors examine the origin of the schemas they use and their appropriateness. In recent years the situation has changed. It is not to belabor the obvious to say that ethnography is writing. It is rather to bring to consciousness of the situation of one's own behavior. If the people we-as observers--study are submitted to the constitutive power of their symbolic environment, so are we. The words we use, the organization of the books we read, all have a power independent of our own wishes. What we produce in this manner makes impressions in the mind of a reader. It is also likely that these impressions will not correspond to the author's intention. This may have the result of robbing the people reported upon of whatever it is the anthropologist has tried to capture of their difference.

Ethnographers encounter their field in an altogether haphazard fashion. They enter the field after events have started, and they leave before they end. As they walk through the halls of a school, they notice things relevant to the students, to the adults, to formal and informal education, to social organization and ritual. It is only later that orders can be imposed and the ordering, however "grounded" (in the sense Glaser and Strauss give to the term, 1967) it may be, is still the product of the observer's activity. Among other things, he has the choice between trying to fit his observations within a plan suggested to him by the tradition in his field-as most ethnographers did, or he may try to create a new plan. Elsewhere (1977), I used a plan that replicated at the level of the whole book, the conclusions I had reached about the organization of cultural expression in a Midwestern town. In this book, I have tried to replicate my discovery procedures. This means that, except for a brief chapter, I am not describing Sheffield High School in the usual fashion. Rather, I follow the linear, historical process that eventually led me to the production of a statement about a generating structure.

The presentation of my argument starts with the analysis of the report of (the "text" of) one incident looked at from one point of view, and moves to the analysis of incidents closely related to it from similar points of view. I first discuss the nature of the record as record (its "reliability"), perform local analyses of the surface forms (i.e. the forms as they appear literally in the records). I then move away from the original incident to other incidents that look superficially very distant in content and form. As we progress, I regularly come back to the original set of incidents to show how they must be seen in the context of the later sets to be fully understood.

The decision to organize this work in terms of a set of incidents from which an analysis is inductively built may render the organization of the book somewhat awkward. But there is a great need for such inductive displays. While most anthropologists would like to say that their conclusions were developed out of something which they observed and analyzed, most published accounts take the form of an argument for the validity of an analysis using single incidents as illustrations of "typical" instances. Many who use this format are uncomfortable with it. It is a format that can easily be criticized for being self-validating. only those incidents that confirm the analysis are reported. This is generally done in a summary and we do not know how the analyst transformed the original event he witnessed into the paragraph long text which is used as illustration. At best we have to accept on trust that all these operations have been performed according to accepted procedures (even though these procedures have never been systematized). At worst, we suspect the field experience to have been nothing more than the occasion when the researcher's uncriticized prejudices realized themselves. As a cultural anthropologist interested in symbolic matters, I am particularly concerned with these criticisms since they have been consistently levelled against the validity of work in the field. I hope this experiment will help answer some of these criticisms and open the way towards more intersubjective systematics.

The book has six parts. The first includes introductory matters. Parts II and III pursue the formalization of the rhetorical structure. Part II ends on a temporary statement written in a loaded vocabulary borrowed from the generalized American discourse about the matters under consideration. Part III yields a more formal statement which should be of more general usefulness even as it deals better with the transformational nature of the structure. Parts IV and V center more directly on the manner participants live the structure, how they use it to deal with each other, how plausible it appears to then as an account of their action, and how it confuses them even as it appears to guide them towards solutions that are impossible to implement. In Part VI, I comment more generally on the analytic process adopted here and on its implications for our understanding of American culture and education.


1) Among the best: Hollingshead (1949), Gordon (1957), Coleman (1961), Henry (1963), Cusik (1973).back to text

2) For good critique of this tendency, see Bourdieu's discussion of "gift" exchanges (1977: 4-6, 8-9, 14-5).back to text

3) The preceding must be understood in the terms of the discussion of uncertainty that came earlier. A symbol may be independent of the situation it is used in. But it is not independent from all use and its meaning is not a transcendent event. The meaning of a symbol arises out of the patterns of expectations that have been built through the ensemble of its historical usages as these usages have been experienced by the people who use it. The expectancy constitutes the power of the symbol over the new situation in which it is used. A particularly astute or sensitive user, politician or poet, is capable and entitled to use the symbol in a way that is completely new, thus adding a new connotation which, in time, may become the dominant one.back to text

4) This research is thus to be sharply differentiated from the apparently closely related work that has dominated the field of sociolinguistics-and indeed same of the anthropological work on rhetoric as far as it has concerned the social uses of rhetoric (Bloch, 1975; Sapir and Crocker, 1977). Most of sociolinguistics has been about the participation of social factors in the realization of language (cf. Labov, 1972). In recent years much attention has been paid to the "indexical" power of language, i.e. the extent to which the extra-linguistic world appears in speech and through it (cf. in particular Mehan and Wood, 1975). While this work is of great importance it does not exhaust what there is to say about language and social action.back to text