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

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George Kamberelis
William McGinley
Alyson Welker


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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How to Cite
Kamberelis, G., McGinley, W., & Welker, A. (2015). Literature Discussions as Mangles of Practice: Sociological Theories of Emergence and/in Dialogic Learning Events. Dialogic Pedagogy: A Journal for Studies of Dialogic Education, 3.
Author Biographies

George Kamberelis, Colorado State University

George Kamberelis is professor and director of the School of Education at Colorado State University.  He received a Ph.D. in Education and Psychology and an M.S. in Psychology from the University of Michigan, an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Bates College. Professor Kamberelis’ research is resolutely interdisciplinary, integrating intellectual perspectives from anthropology, psychology, linguistics, sociology, cultural studies, and literary studies.  His work also embodies a deep commitment to theory (especially critical social theory).  Over the years Professor Kamberelis has conducted research and taught courses on critical social theory, interpretive research methods, theoretical foundations of reading and writing, literacy and society, classroom discourse, and media literacy.

William McGinley, University of Colorado-Boulder

William McGinley is a professor of Literacy Studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He received a Ph.D. in Literacy Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an M.A. in English Education from Idaho State University, and a B.A. in English from St. Joseph’s College. Professor McGinley’s research addresses various issues related to learning and teaching literacy land literature.  He has examined how theories of emotion and sentimentality in democratic politics can inform literary understanding. He has investigated how teachers-in-preparation draw upon improvisational narrative models to organize and understand their initial teaching experiences. And he has conducted research on how middle school students deploy the creative power of writing and visual art to envision a sense of shared community designed to inspire others to act on challenges their communities face.

Alyson Welker, Colorado State University

Alyson Welker is an instructor in the English Department and a doctoral student in the School of Education at Colorado State University.  She received an M.A. in Rhetoric and a B.A. in English from the University of Colorado Denver.  Ms. Welker’s central research interests focus on enhancing learning processes across disciplines and learning-teaching environments.  She has conducted research on the effects of deploying innovative technologies in both online and on-campus courses. Inspired by narrative theories and critical social theories, Ms. Welker is currently investigating multimodal literacy practices designed to promote civic engagement and enact social change.