Inter- and intraprofessional talk


Agar, M. (1985). Institutional discourse. Text 5, 3, 147-168.

Tannen, D. Talking from 9 to 5: Women and men at work (Presentation).


Lately I’ve been thinking of my main research question as concerning the way teachers talk to their students. Not only is that really the place where the rubber meets the road in education, but it’s also been relevant to my day job. My core intuition is that there’s a difference between, for example, “the language of math” and “whatever language I might use to talk about math topics” — there are discipline-specific oral genres that have yet to be analyzed and described fully.

One term that came up in class that started me thinking in a different direction was “interprofessional talk.” I’ve been thinking so much about teacher-student communication that I haven’t considered teacher-administrator communication. When I was teaching, on the other hand, I used to think about it a lot. I remember saying at one particularly frustrated moment: “It’s a shame that the only management training school administrators have is classroom management, because it means they talk to all their subordinates like unruly teenagers.” Now it occurs to me that this could also be a fruitful research question: Is there any truth in my frustrated comment? How do school administrators talk to teachers?

Tannen’s work might be relevant here because schools tend to be female-dominated workplaces, so the results might be different (for this and other reasons) from what we’d normally expect from boss-supervisee talk. On the other hand, while teachers tend to be women, more principals tend to be men.

Even though Agar says specifically that he is dealing primarily with institution-client talk in medical and legal institutions, his framework might actually be more relevant to teacher-administrator talk than teacher-student talk. I’m thinking here of the whole process of having to make an appointment to ask someone to do something for you.

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Posted in Institutional discourse
One comment on “Inter- and intraprofessional talk
  1. June says:

    Happened to find your wordpress page during my search for Agar’s piece on institutional discourse. Very glad I stopped by to read your stuff.

    Returning to your intuition about “the language of math” and “whatever language [we] might use to talk about math topics”… I do think you’re onto something.

    Some major differences have been found between the discourse typically exchanged among participants (teachers, students) in math classes and the discourse typically exchanged among mathematicians — beyond classroom-management-related talk. Gallas (1985), and perhaps more famously, Lemke (1990) mention this difference between disciplinary science and classroom science. (I see that you’ve already come across Lemke’s work.) In other fields, Wineburg (1991) discusses something similar in history education. In the field of math education, Ruth Parker (1993) distinguishes between ‘the culture of school mathematics’ from ‘the culture of math as a discipline’. Parker doesn’t offer much in the way of empirical evidence to illustrate the many ways that school math differs discursively from disciplinary math, but her distinction is compelling on an intuitive level. Empirical support for Parker’s distinction, however, might be found in Wood et al. (2006).

    Gallas, K. (1985). Talking their way into science: hearing children’s questions and theories, responding with curricula. New York: Teachers College Press.
    Parker, R. E. (1993). Mathematical power. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
    Wineburg, S. S. (1991). On the reading of historical texts: notes on the breach between school and academy. American Educational Research Journal, 28 (3), 495-519.
    Wood, T., Williams, G., & McNeal, B. (2006). Children’s mathematical thinking in different classroom cultures. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 37 (3), 222-255.

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