Exploring the relationship between literature and knowledge in L1 English

Submitted by: Wayne Sawyer
Abstract: Keywords
knowledge, literature, literary knowledge
Literature holds a definite position of value in L1 curricula. In English, it is ‘identified as a measure of excellence …made an index of the health and strength of a people; credited with fostering modes of public reflection crucial to civil society; entrusted with values and forms of experience believed to be at risk in modern life; and held to play a special role in readers’ intellectual, moral, and emotional development’ (Glazener, 2015: 4-5). Knowledge, though, is not usually the default characteristic we associate with literature. Indeed, the Bullock Report went so far as to maintain that English in general, let alone literature ‘does not hold together as a body of knowledge which can be identified, quantified, then transmitted’ (DES, 1975: 5). The difficulty of ‘fitting’ English neatly within a particular epistemological framework means that it has often been ‘the deviant case’ among school subjects (Medway, 1990).
Research question
What characterises the kinds of relationships that exist between the concepts ‘knowledge’ and ‘Literature’?
While it is not difficult to create a taxonomy of what might constitute the kind of knowledge appropriate to Literature, such as knowledge of characters, themes, etc (Marshall, 2014) and to what students might gain from reading Literature, it is impossible to produce an exhaustive list. Where do such taxonomies end? Rather than simply list further possible types of knowledge, we argue that it is more generative to characterise the kinds of relationships that are held to exist between the concepts ‘knowledge’ and ‘Literature’.
Data/ Theoretical framework
We draw on an Australian Research Council Project Investigating Literary Knowledge in the Making of English Teachers to explore the kinds of relationships between ‘knowledge’ and ‘Literature’ from two data sources : a) historical discussion of those relationships and b) the articulations of practice of early career English teachers. While the overarching theoretical framing of the Project is that of literary sociability, we here focus on language-sensitive analysis of the links between knowledge and its object(s).
We suggest a framework for considering such relationships that has implications for practice in L1 teaching.
Department of Education and Science (DES) (1975) A Language for Life: Report of the Committee of Inquiry by the Secretary of State for Education and Science under the Chairmanship of Sir Alan Bullock FBA. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Glazener, N. (2015) Literature in the Making: A History of U.S. Literary Culture in the Long Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press.
Marshall, B. (2014) ‘What does it mean “to know” in English?’, in A. Goodwyn, L. Reid and C. Durrant (eds) International Perspectives on Teaching English in a Globalised World. London and New York: Routledge: 13-24.
Medway, P. (1990). ‘Into the sixties: English and English society at a time of change’, in I. F. Goodson and P. Medway (eds.), Bringing English to Order: The History and Politics of a School Subject. London, New York and Philadelphia : The Falmer Press: 1-46.