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Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

Applying positioning theory to the analysis of classroom

interactions: Mediating micro-identities, macro-kinds,
and ideologies of knowing
Kate T. Anderson
National Institute of Education, 1 Nanyang Walk, Singapore 637 616, Singapore

This study contributes to positioning theory by approaching the discursive and material mediation of classroom positioning from
an integrated micro-, meso-, and macro-social perspective. I propose an analytic framework that unpacks the lived and ideological
resources for positioning and their social and curricular implications for understanding classroom interactions. By highlighting
the always mediated, yet locatable ways we organize meaning and understanding, I demonstrate how acts of positioning construct
ideological categorizations of persons and activity at the macro-scale and lived interactions at the micro-scale. Analyses of smallgroup classroom interactions highlight how teacher formulations of goals and objectives, affordances of curricular tools, and patterns
of participation together mediate opportunities to learn by positioning students as kinds. I specifically take up how these kinds gain
meaning through acts of positioning and mediating resources, influencing how different ways of participating are recognized and
valued across interactions.
2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Positioning theory; Classroom discourse; Micro- and macro-social analysis; Identity; Mediated activity

1. Introduction
I begin this discussion of classroom positioning with an illustrative examplethe notion of failure. Failure can
connote both a process and an attribute. The smallest necessary component for positioning someone as a failure is
naming or orienting to what an individual does (or is) as such. Acts of positioning can be accomplished explicitly or
implicitly, intentionally or otherwise. Regardless of the process, somewhere between one action being deemed failure
and a person being called a failure lies a discursive process that brings named acts of failing close enough to rub up
against the sense of a person as a failureclose enough that it sticks. How many times must a student fail to succeed
at math exercises to be considered a failure at math? It depends on local contextual details such as the teachers past
experiences, the students history relative to the rest of the class, various macro-social features such as sex, race, class,
and age (and what those mean in a given context), and a host of other factors.
Positioning theory highlights ideas of people as characters in storylines, their presumed duties, and the meanings
of their actionsall of which are dynamic, evanescent, and mutually constitutive. How failure sticks to individuals
in classrooms, however, is not entirely explained by positioning theory. The ways that resources for evaluating acts or

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K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

persons as failures actually become shared and used (i.e., how acts come to rub up against ideas of individuals as
certain kinds of people) remain under-theorized and under-researched.
My use of positioning theory here involves the articulation of broadly relevant notions of ways to be a student (e.g.,
competent, a failure) and local acts that contribute to students being positioned according to such notions (e.g., what
counts as success or failure here). To demonstrate my appropriation of positioning theory, I first outline epistemological
concerns related to the use of positioning theory to explain classroom life. I then illuminate an expanded analytic
framework for applying positioning theory to classroom data by way of an empirical example. More specifically, I
investigate how, in one classroom, individuals subjectivities were stitched together (Haraway, 1988) into layers
of participation across interactions via a number of mediating factorstheir teachers formulations of the objectives
and goals for activities, the lived affordances of a particular tool in classroom activities, and a group of students
participation practices and their evaluations of those practices across multiple events. This study therefore attempts to
explicate how learning and identity are mediated by classroom participation, social and textual artifacts, and discursive
processes that cross micro-, meso-, and macro-scale social life.
I use the terms micro, meso, and macro to indicate social processes at different scaleslocal/immediate, institutional/intermediate, and structural/distal, respectively. Like Giddens (1984), I do not propose a dualism between micro
and macro but rather their mutual implication, or double hermeneutic, whereby each is a position by which to appreciate
the other. Neither the local nor the structural is more real or less ephemeral. Structural processes are implicated by what
are perceived as followable norms due to their recurrence and authorization in practice. However, structure is neither
deterministic nor absolute, because even systems and their boundaries are fluid and variable (Giddens, 1984), which is
why attention to their mediation by micro-level practices (e.g., face-to-face interaction) and meso-level factors (e.g.,
institutional categories) are of analytic interest here.
In the next section I discuss theory and research on positioning in classrooms, primarily to argue for how positioning
is a particularly fruitful construct for understanding and explaining (a) what comes to count as learning relative to
teacher formulations of task, (b) the nature and effects of student participation in curricular activities, and (c) the
resulting ideologies that mediate opportunities to participate in learning. The construct of positioning is thus important
for theorizing the relations between learning and identity development, for developing methodological strategies to
examine how students access (or do not access) learning and identity construction resources, and for understanding
(and perhaps redirecting) classroom interactions.
1.1. Positioning theory
Positioning theory (e.g., Davies & Harr, 1990; Harr & van Langenhove, 1999) grew out of social psychology to
illuminate previously unobservable details of interaction that sustain social life. Positioning is comprised of positions
and storylines that together delimit possible actions and the meanings of what is said and done by people who are
positioned in particular ways. Locating positions and their attendant storylines in local interaction conveys the rights,
duties, and responsibilities presumed to be associated with such positions relative to shared cultural repertoires. How
such local interactions and cultural repertoires actually inform each other, however, is not agreed upon across discussions
and critiques of positioning theory. Traditional approaches to positioning theory treat micro-scale constructs like local
interactions (which are experienced) and macro-scale constructs like cultural repertoires (which are ideological) as
simultaneously emergent within interactional moments. This view is akin to conflating a students actions in a single
moment and her membership in a category such as gifted or learning disabled. For example, one act of failing and
the shared notion of what failing is/looks like are constructed discursively as more or less the same thing. According
to this view, there is little distinction between failure (the process) and failure (the state). There is just failure.
Positioning theory has thus typically embodied (and suffered from) an imminentist ontologythe premise that
positioning is contextually tied to the moment of interaction in which it occurs and not across interactions or scales
of activity. In a felicitous adherence to Harr and colleagues imminentist approach, Tirado and Glvez (2007) stated
that there is no need to consider an act of positioning outside of the episode in which it occurs, because its meaning
develops concurrent with the episodes development and feeds off the action in such a display (p. 8). Some scholars
contend that such a view is problematic because constructs like cultural resources and repertoires of positions are of
a larger ontological grain size than the specific acts of positioning by which persons are locally constituted (Jones,
1999; Linehan & McCarthy, 2000; Peters & Appel, 1996). A moments interaction maythrough recursion or when
vested with certain authoritycome to be associated with institutional labels like gifted or learning disabled, but

K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310


not deterministically so. Instead, classroom interactions, test scores, social alliances, and many other factors contribute
to what a successful student looks like and how various facets of a students battery of positions are oriented to over
time and across multiple, interrelated contexts and perceived social boundaries (Barth, 1969).
The relatively few empirical studies that have used positioning theory robustly to understand and explain classroom
interactions have acknowledged that classroom life (and the effects of classroom life on students learning and identity
construction) are incredibly complex and multi-layered. For example, Davies and Hunt (1994) demonstrated the ways
that teachers often limit the positions available to students (especially students who view themselves as powerless in
classroom interactions) based on their preconceptions of what success and competence look like. Similarly, Ritchie
and Rigano (2001) and Ritchie (2002) enlisted positioning theory to advance multiple interpretations of research on
classroom life. Both studies used positioning theory to go beyond binaries of powerful/powerless by examining different readings of interviews and classroom interactions, respectively. Based on their findings, the authors argued that
positioning theory is a useful tool for showing how positioning practices are experienced differently by individuals
occupying different social and political locations in classrooms and research projects, thus prioritizing a view that had
previously been absent (or at least underprivileged) in the literature. Importantly, these studies adhered to the aforementioned theoretical commitments of positioning theory, whereby positions and storylines co-emerge in particular
face-to-face interactions along with attendant presumptions that limit possible future action and interpretation.
If underprivileged positions and attendant storylines are mutually constituted in constantly unfolding microinteractional moments and are ultimately determined by how they are talked into being as well as by members
cultural knowledge, where do the cultural resources for such talking and shaping begin and end (Linehan & McCarthy,
2000)? In other words, what are the relations between immediate social interactions and larger social structures?
The treatment I suggest foregrounds positioning as a constitutive form of mediation that includes micro-, meso-, and
macro-level activity.
In this regard, Howie and Peters (1996) suggested using the tools of positioning theory to understand how meanings
of positions, storylines, and acts are mediated through other individuals, as people are sites for (and not just agents
or targets of) acts of positioning. Similarly, Leander (2004) suggested examining positioning not only as locally
organized but also as stabilized by a mediating social/individual matrix that links locally situated action to ideological
and seemingly recognizable ways to be (p. 210). Heeding these calls for broadened accounts of positioning theory, I
explore positioning in light of mediating factors in classrooms that cannot be productively considered solely in narrowly
bounded or broadly cultural waysi.e., neither from a solely micro- nor a solely macro-social perspective.
1.2. Interactional resources for constructing kinds in classrooms
In classrooms, we are located culturally and historically as learners who are certain kinds of people within trajectories
of knowing and being. We are situated relative to past, present, and imagined others. Consider a student who is positioned
as quiet in her classroom. Such positioning could shape further interpretations of her actions as respectful, shy, reticent,
or unresponsive; it could afford or limit certain modes of participation; or it could be an irrelevant construct altogether.
Holland and Cole (1995) stated that such subject positions are afforded for and by individuals through mediating
cultural artifactstools that are used in time with uncertain outcomesnot by deterministic schema that exist out
of time or situation (p. 481). Acts of positioning in classrooms, therefore, include students ongoing negotiation of
discursive processes by which broader significance is attributed to persons as kinds due to their ways of knowing and
being with tools and others. By kinds, I mean the coherence of certain forms of mediation over time (e.g., rhetorical
strategies, physical orientation, participation patterns) that link a students actions with characterizations and values
that constitute a recognized way of being (Anderson, 2008; Barth, 1969).
Such kinds of persons (or figured subjects) are not an always-available cast of characters that one selects in microsocial moments of activity; nor are they determined by disembodied, decontextual, macro-social structures. Rather,
the constitution of kinds of persons arises from a combination of (a) the social-historical, discursive structures that
evoke them (i.e., cultural resources shaping interaction), (b) the reflexive construal of what those positions mean here,
now, with particular others (i.e., their local value), and (c) what we as social actors can do with kinds of subjects
(i.e., what we are seen as able to do or allowed to do) (Rampton, 2009). Put simply, in order to behave in a way that
others can recognize as a person of kind X who knows Y in context Z, one must first gain access to resources for
speaking and acting in those ways and then be effectively seen to seem like kind X by others. The question of how
students have or gain access to resources for meaning making about themselves as subjects relative to their relationships


K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

and interactions is an epistemological question related to theories of structure, positioning, and identity, which I now
Prior to the coining of positioning theory as such, Giddens (1984) discussed positioning in terms of (a) bodily
co-presence, (b) seriality of encounters across time/space, and (c) multiplicity of positions relative to identities that
acts of positioning constitute. He claimed that it is not just the physicality of space, but also the chronic, tacit use of
settings (the idea of kinds of spaces for interaction) by which positions gain a degree of recognizable fixity. This fixity
of recognizable kinds of settings (cf. Goffman, 1959) helps constitute genres of social activity and their reproduction
(i.e., cultural repertoires). Classroom life evinces this fixity of settings in its relatively stable history and purpose as
a cultural institution. Rampton (2009) stated that the stability of rhetorical strategies and institutional genres, like
settings, link persons and their situated actions as micro-social constructs to institutions and non-locally resonant
kinds as macro-social constructs. The stability of interactional patterns to which Rampton referred can be powerfully
understood in terms of how these patterns mediate the seeming stability of students as kinds through multiple layers
of social life (i.e., lived, categorized, ideological) in classrooms and over time.
Such a view suggests an epistemological treatment of positioning that accounts for the interpenetration of micro(lived), meso- (categorized), and macro- (ideological) layers of social practices constituting acts of positioning in classrooms. Identity in the moment (i.e., specific acts of positioning) and identity over time (i.e., resources for positioning)
interanimate each other via the recurrence of (a) participants in interaction, (b) artifacts that mediate experience, (c)
situation types, and (d) appeals to stability across discursive characterizations and evaluations of individuals actions
and identities (Lemke, 2008). Thus, social interactions with others and tools in recurring types of settings that are oriented to as common-sensical, recognizable kinds (e.g., classrooms) link acts of positioning to the resources by which
positioning occurs. So the articulation of quiet with smart could occur in one classroom, while quiet could be
articulated with slow in another.
Precisely how an array of people and artifacts positions a student across settings, by various discursive means, and
with varying pragmatic authority can and does have different effects and stickiness (Erickson, 2004). How micro- and
macro-scale social activity affect each other is neither deterministic nor unmotivated. Both are mediated by or connected
through meso-level activity, which Erickson discussed in terms of a situated repository for collecting events and creating
records (e.g., labels, grades, test scores, characterizations of performance). This idea of mediation is also encapsulated
in Latours (1987) notion of immutable mobiles, which are representations that can cross space and/or time and thus
be displaced, but without necessarily changing themselves. As Star (1995) points out, these representations traverse
re-representation paths that convey a tension between mutability and immutability. Erickson offered an apt example
of this type of meso-level mediation: work is a local phenomenon that gets done, but the resources for doing that
work are not all local, and what work is constantly changes and is situated vis a vis different perspectives.
Expanding the imminentist ontology of positioning theory to include a mediational approach to acts of classroom
positioning begins to account for how the different layers of interaction, authority, ideology, and time coalesce to
construct failures and successes not just through the accumulation of moments but through the collection and sedimentation of many other kinds, positions, and outcomes for learners. The need to complexify the relations between
different micro-interactional and macro-structural transactions via meso-level activity in classrooms frames my overarching research questions: How is participation recognized across a set of classroom activities? How are forms of
participation differentially valued? What opportunities to learn are afforded students as a result of negotiating contexts
for participation across activities?
2. Method
2.1. Research context
2.1.1. The project
This study grew from a partnership with one fifth-grade class (1011-year-olds) during the first of a three-year
U.S. National Science Foundation-funded project.1 The research teams classroom visits began midway through

The class was one of two Midwestern U.S. public school classes that participated in the first year of the project. This focal class was in a school
comprised of students residing both on the edge of a suburban town and in the outlying rural area, serving a mixed population in terms of SES,

K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310


the school year and occurred five times over a span of 14 weeks. I refer to each of the five times we worked
with the class as events. Each event lasted about 90 min during which time the class worked through a cycle
of activitiesindividually completed mathematics problem sets, small-group discussions about the problems, selfevaluation of group discussion, and whole-class wrap-up.2 The teacher, Ms. Sampson (all names are pseudonyms),
organized the class into groups of three to six students each, and groups remained the same across the five events
(but not during regular class instruction). We collected written artifacts from all groups and video recorded the activities of two groups, whom we chose based on their informed consent and Ms. Sampsons judgment of their varied
personalities (e.g., how vocal or introspective different students were and their varying styles of participation). I
chose to focus on one video-recorded group for this studyAlexa, Nate, Jill, and Dandue to their animated discussions and contested evaluations of participation. This particular focus afforded unique insights about student and
teacher negotiation of collaborative activity structures in a context where collaborative learning was not a usual
2.1.2. Cycle of activities
The activities that comprised each event differed drastically from this class usual math lessons, especially in
the types of participation we attempted to foster. These activities encouraged students (a) to talk about math, (b)
with their peers, and (c) to explicitly evaluate their participation together. These differences afforded (and in some
ways required) new ways of being in this classroom on event days. A typical math lesson outside of our teams
involvement consisted of students working individually through math problems from the book, constructing and
using manipulatives from the workbook, or working out problems with the teacher on the board in a fairly typical I-R-E fashion. To begin the cycle of activities for each event, students individually completed a set of three
math problems using pencil and paper. Each problem set focused on concepts highlighted in one recently covered chapter of their mathematics text. Students usually completed the problem set within 20 min, after which
they discussed their answers in their groups (seated at a cluster of desks that faced each other) for another 20 min
or so. In these discussions, group members were expected to share the reasoning for their answers, to come to a
shared understanding of each others reasoning, and to revise their solutions or agree to disagree. Ms. Sampson discussed these expectations at the start of each event, which we supported through regular meetings and discussions
with her.
Ms. Sampsons formulation of these guidelines for small-group math discussions were of course ideologically
motivated by various assumptions about learning and participation as well as her interpretations of our project goals.
Judging by her teaching style and our interactions with her, these assumptions included a focus on correct answers (as
opposed to multiple processes), the importance of behavioral compliance, and a static view of ability. Additionally, the
historical trajectory of this class prior to our involvement and the histories of individual participants school experiences
contributed to shaping their negotiation of the classroom norms that operated before and after our teams involvement.
Ms. Sampsons formulations of tasks and objectives for participation and learning (i.e., the official curriculum
[Castanheira, Crawford, Dixon, & Green, 2001]) sometimes varied considerably from the students interactions and
positionings of these formulations (i.e., the lived curriculum [Gutirrez, 2008]) and is one focus in the analyses
below. To better frame these analyses, I now discuss one of the main mediating tools used by Ms. Sampson and the
students to negotiate and evaluate student participation.

race, and achievement on state and national tests. This school was identified as at risk due to low achievement scores school-wide and had been
involved in state-mandated efforts to reverse this trend. The focal classroom teacher had been at this particular school for over 10 years and teaching
for over 20 years. She served as these students teacher for most or all of each school day (except for special instruction or services). The local
research team supported the class throughout the project and also worked with remote members of the research team who provided math content
and pedagogical expertise and initial designs for curricular activities.
2 While activities in a math classroom provide the context for this study, I do not speak to the mathematics content, per se, or make claims about
pedagogies specific to math. Rather, I use this context as a backdrop to investigate opportunities for participation and learning as afforded by the
participants, tools, and interactions in this class as well as afforded by the analytic framework I present.
3 This school, like many others, tended toward teacher-centered approaches to instruction, not only in math but other subject areas like language
arts as well. Walking through the halls of this K-6 school, we saw many classrooms with desks in neat rows and teachers delivering content from
the front of the room. The projects overarching intention was to inculcate students and teachers into ways of doing math that fostered appreciation
for multiple ways to arrive at reasonable answers, not a one-way route to getting the correct answer.


K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

2.1.3. Conversation rubric as mediating tool

Following the small-group math discussions of the problem sets, each group evaluated their discussion using a
pencil and paper conversation rubric (CR) that they filled out together in their groups (see Fig. 1). The research team
designed the CR to help students develop a reflexive appreciation of four elements of group discussionargumentation,
engagement, turn taking, and understanding. Our intent was to foster groups explicit reflection on their participation
in recent math discussions and points for improvement. Each group rated the four elements of their discourse on a
scale of one to five according to descriptions provided for each element. This rubrics affordances for discussion and
reflection provided a stark contrast to the usual, highly teacher-centered texture of math in this class and opportunities
for participation with forms of discourse therein.
The CR deliberately structured group participation in both forward- and backward-looking ways. It highlighted
prior participation and shaped goals for subsequent participation, as groups reviewed the prior CR at the start of each
event. The CR therefore linked participants interactions across time both intertextually (Bloome & Egan-Robertson,
1993) and intercontextually (Floriani, 1994) because it not only evoked past discussions in light of present and future
ones, but it also evoked prior contexts for establishing past and present values of participation in the current discussion.
When group members did not agree on how to evaluate their participation using the CR, ensuing negotiations often
led to an ideologically driven defining of participation and which/whose contributions mattered. The structure of the
CR as a mediating tool in activities and the teacher and students orientations to how it should be used thus resulted in
explicit characterizations of accountability and competencea crucial concern for considering classroom positioning
from a mediational perspective.

Fig. 1. Conversation rubric.

2.2. Analytic framework: Levels of mediation

I looked across five observed events as a bounded data set to understand how the sociality of activity (identification
with practices) and the local history of participation (histories of practices) were mediated by the systems of relations
in which practices and participation (and belonging or not belonging) have meaning (Bourdieu, 1977; Hodges, 1998).
Central questions in this regard were: How does this having meaning come to be, here? What are the discursive
practices that organize positions and relations in activity? What are the relationships, meanings, and struggles that
erupt or persist? How are discourses evoked in this context as resources for and entry points into practices? Lastly,
how are positions and practices mediated by what is said and done with others and tools in situations that lead to a

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perceived persistence of kinds of person and setting? The mediation matrix presented in Fig. 2 outlines the analytic
framework I used to address these questions.
The mediation matrix draws out interwoven relations among micro-, meso-, and macro-level scales of social life
by positing strata for investigating classroom positioning and organizing these strata according to increasingly broader
timescales and contexts. The matrix specifies different scales of social practice that contribute to positioning (column
1), different ways to frame these positioning practices as discursively mediated (column 2), and corresponding forms
of interactional evidence by which to examine these practices (column 3). This matrix facilitates analysis of positioning
as the product of patterns of activity that operate at various levels from the recursion of classroom micro-interactions
to the ideological, macro-level structures and forces that lend them significance via progressively broader scales of
time and context, or strata (from top to bottom).
In contrast to the imminentist ontology of traditional accounts of positioning theory, the mediated perspective that
underlies the matrix looks beyond the immediate context of each act of positioning for the construction of more
general kinds of positions and settings, as well as the opportunities to participate in learning that different positions
and settings afford. Importantly, each cell in the mediation matrix is not entirely distinct from adjacent ones. Rather,
the rows and columns form heuristic boundaries between and among complementary, but different, grain sizes of
activitycontinua that result in the construction of kinds across, not just within moments of interaction. This analytic
strategy helped produce previously unavailable interpretations, because most analyses of classroom positioning have
not considered how interactions build contexts across different timescales. I now explain each column of the mediation
2.2.1. Scales of social practice
The four scales of social practice in column 1 distinguish different layers of activity that go from more- to lessisolatable in particular moments of interaction (from top to bottom). These include: (a) moment-to-moment practices
(i.e., doing), (b) characterizations of practice (i.e., talking about doing), (c) patterns of participation (i.e., recurring
ways of doing), and (d) acts of positioning (i.e., identifying kinds of people who do things in certain ways).
2.2.2. Framing discursive mediation
The four layers of discursive mediation in column 2 complement the four scales of practice in column 1 and frame
social practice in terms of increasingly more encompassing cycles of activity, or loops. I identify these layers using
a series of key questions. Layer 1: How do participants interact with tools and others, or how do they use texts to
shape who says what to whom for what purpose and with what outcome (Kelly, Crawford, & Green, 2001)? Layer
2: How are micro-level interactions related to sedimented practices, or how are interactions linked to construction of
whats happening here and now and how participants fit within the here and now? Layer 3: What counts as valuable
membership criteria, or what are the recognizable ways to be students here (relative to an alluded to there and then)?
Layer 4: How are kinds of people defined and identified through the recursion of actions, artifacts, settings, access to
opportunities to participate, and outcomes of practices? Together, these four layers of discursive mediation frame the
scales of social practice (in column 1) to show how positioning draws on both local and non-local resources, as well
as immediate and persistent meanings, values, and discourses.

Fig. 2. Mediation matrix.


K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

2.2.3. Forms of evidence

Column 3 summarizes the four types of interactional evidence I drew on to elucidate how each of the scales of
practice and layers of discursive mediation in the first two columns contributed to the construction of kinds in classroom
2.2.4. Stratascales of time and context
Lastly, looking horizontally across the rows of the matrix, I categorize each row by the relative breadth of timescales
and contextuality represented. The first stratum is synchronicmoments of interactions (the purview of positioning
theory traditionally). The second stratum is intertextualexplicit and implicit links made between and among moments
of interaction and normative practices and texts. The third stratum is intercontextualhow moments of interaction
become contexts for understanding past, present, and future readings of behavior in light of normative texts and
practices. Lastly, the fourth stratum is diachroniclooking at trajectories across specified spans of time and scales of
The mediation matrix thus separates out gradient distinctions between local and structural processes for the sake
of momentarily crystallizing what each stratum affords analyses with respect to understanding and explaining classroom interactions and classroom lifewhat I will refer to as planes of analysis. For example, looking horizontally
across, the first plane entails zooming in at the scale of moment-to-moment interactions to appreciate what gets
said and done in an activity. The second plane foregrounds meta-commentary on what gets done in order to appreciate how doing and doers get evaluated in practice. The third plane simultaneously captures multiple moments
of activity to identify the burgeoning contexts that afford the recognizable reoccurrence of specific kinds of saying and doing (and their evaluations) that result in orientations to practice and the surfacing of what counts as
legitimate kinds of saying and doing. Finally, the fourth plane looks across an entire researcher-bounded set of
events to unpack the building up of resources for positioning across moments, timescales, and contexts to get at
the construction of kinds. Using this analytic framework I was able to examine how acts of positioning are not hermetically sealed within a vacuum of momentary illumination and determination, but rather are ongoing processes that
come from and lead to circulating and sedimenting understandings in specific classrooms, schools, time frames, and
2.3. Analytic procedures
Members of the research team reviewed video recordings and broadly transcribed them for verbatim content,
including significant non-verbal interaction and long pauses. I then reviewed the transcripts numerous times, becoming
intimately familiar with them, and re-watched the video recordings. I tabulated participants actions, moves, patterns
of uptake, and outcomes of these as well as the affective and epistemic tenor of the interactions, noting how these were
continuous or discontinuous across events. I also chronologically tabulated Ms, Sampsons formulations and students
uptake of these formulations (or lack thereof) for how they oriented to activities and each other. In addition, I paid
specific attention to the role of the CR in discussions. Lastly, I crafted narrative descriptions of each event. These
dozens of pages of tables and notes allowed me strategically to construct and align different but equally faithful ways
to represent the data.
More specifically, I created three different representations of the data, each of which allowed me a different perspective on the nature and function of activity in the classroom over time. I refer to these three representations as (a)
the official/lived curriculum, (b) the event map, and (c) the micro-interactional event. Together, these representations
facilitated my analysis of classroom positioning across the bounded set of five events that comprised our interactions
with this class over 14 weeks. I now describe each of these representations before moving on to the findings of the
2.3.1. Ofcial/lived curriculum
The official/lived curriculum representation included Ms. Sampsons verbatim formulations of the goals and procedures for activities and students orientations to those formulations across the five events. This representation
focused on the discursive practices surrounding the math discussions and students ensuing characterizations of
practice in the CR discussions, with particular attention to sites of struggle where identifications and participation
practices seemed at odds. The official/lived curriculum representation is particularly relevant to the first and sec-

K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310


ond strata in the meditation matrixsynchronic moment-to-moment practices and intertextual characterizations of
2.3.2. Event map
The event map representation (Castanheira et al., 2001; Kelly et al., 2001) documented ways of making meaning
of activities and participation therein. By looking chronologically across events as the accumulation of shared history,
the event map highlighted how salient ways of being were established in this classroom, including constructions of
accountability and relevant ways to participate (e.g., working towards group understanding, establishing validity of
answers, negotiating group compliance with understood objectives). This data representation relates most relevantly
to the second and third strata of the matrixintertextual characterizations of practice and intercontextual patterns of
2.3.3. Micro-interactional event
The micro-interactional event representation isolated specific excerpts that included particularly insightful moments
and unpacked them line-by-line to illuminate acts of positioning across the groups trajectory. This representation
looks across the planes of analysis organized by the mediation matrix (and as partially fleshed out by the official/lived
curriculum and event map) by zooming in at the closest timescale possible in order to then contextualize these microsocial moments in light of the broader timescales and contexts accrued across the first three rows of the mediation
2.3.4. Summary
These three different ways to represent the data illustrated how the participants in this classroom drew upon and
jointly constructed kinds of students and alignments to what counted as legitimate participation in activities, culminating
in the fourth stratum in the matrixdiachronic acts of positioning and the construction of kinds. These complementary
data representations thus relate to the mediation matrixs four scales of social practice (column 1) and their discursive
framing (column 2) to examine positioning beyond turn-by-turn analysis alone using forms of evidence (column 3) that
are unpacked across timescales and contexts (encompassing all four strata and constituting the four planes of analysis).
This multi-planed analysis brings actions and characterizations of practice together within recurring elements of setting
and use of tools so as to illuminate how the recursion of actions, contexts, and kinds shape acts of positioning. I now
discuss the findings I constructed using this analytic framework to elucidate how one student, Nate, was positioned as
a kind of learner with limited his opportunities to learn.
3. Findings
3.1. Excerpt oneEvent Three
The following exchange (depicted in Fig. 3) occurred during the third event, 8 weeks into our intervention, while
the group was discussing engagement on the CR (following their small-group discussion of the problem set). An
argument ensued over whether the group deserved a score of four or five based on how focused they were as a group
during the small-group discussion of the problem set. A contention emerged in the form of conflicting evaluations of
group dynamics, of which Nate was the focus. The following excerpt began after the group had been debating their
scores on the rubric for over 3 min. Alexa suggested that they deserved a score of four for engagement because, Nate
had hardly talked.
On the surface, this disagreement appeared to be as much about different views of integrity for evaluating group
members engagement as it was about Nates participation. However, when Nate became the central focus of this
argument, his participation and competence were variably positioned both in this interaction and in light of interactions
and activities leading up to and following from it. Therefore, this argument constituted a momentary struggle between
(a) Nates participation with tools and others in moment-to-moment practice (first plane of analysis), (b) how his
participation was characterized in terms of evolving normative practices mediated by the CR and negotiated by the
group (second plane of analysis), and (c) how the pattern of participation surfaced what counted in the groups
discussions as authoring meaning (third plane of analysis). This micro-interactional event illustrated a point along a
trajectory whereby the groups recognition of practice and emerging opportunities to participate were grounded in an
evolving orientation to kinds and settings as stabilized (culminating in the fourth plane of analysis). Analyzing these


K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

Fig. 3. Excerpt One, Event Three (March 31).

different layers of mediation helped illuminate how Nates participation was recognized and valued through outcomes
of activity, orientation to kinds, and acts of positioning, which I now characterize according to the first three planes of
analysis (leaving the fourth until we have considered another micro-interactional event so as to chart a trajectory rather
than a single point).
3.1.1. First plane of analysis: Moment-to-moment practices
In the 26 turns of talk depicted in excerpt one, Nate was the focus of the discussion even though he only contributed
five turns (3, 6, 8, 16, 22), only one of which was overtly acknowledged, by Alexa (7). Nates turns were latched by
Dans persistent pleas (4, 9), a snort from Jill (17), and a lack of acknowledgement from Alexa (23), none of which
really constituted uptake of what Nate was contributing to the conversation.
3.1.2. Second plane of analysis: Characterizations of practice
Nate became the focus of this interaction, and the recognition of his participation was at stake. Jill and Alexa
chastised him, and Dan, although defending him, commented that even Nate was engaged (4), insinuating that this
was a noteworthy occurrence. Jill also made a joke at Nates expense (15, 19), implicating a seemingly relevant, yet
negative characterization of his engagement.

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3.1.3. Third plane of analysis: Patterns of participation

Despite the girls assertion that Nate had not been paying attention (and allusions to the regularity of this occurrence),
Nate was able to summarize Alexas previously articulated mathematical reasoning, suggesting that he had indeed been
paying attention some 25 min earlier. However, the others did not take up Nates provision of evidence for his prior
attentiveness. As a result, his prior engagement was delegitimized; his participation was devalued; and he was denied
the right to contribute meanings to the conversation.
The groups evaluations of ongoing practice provided a textured view into how their participation was not just a
turn-by-turn evolution of a context in the moment. What came before (teachers formulations, prior group discussions,
and texts produced therein) pointed to what happened now and what came after, which helps to illuminate the fourth
plane of analysis. Through appeals to how the first three planes of analysis highlight relevant actions, evaluations, and
contexts in the groups various acts of positioning, I frame them in the larger context of the official/lived curriculum
and event map. Evidence across the four planes of analysis thus helps to illuminate how this excerpt was a point in a
larger trajectory or history of positioning and not just a point to be taken as a unit of activity by itself.
With regard to meso-level formulations of practice highlighted in the official/lived curriculum and event map, Ms.
Sampson had discussed engagement at the beginning of this event in terms of paying attention, staying with your
group, and being able to state one anothers reasons (see Figs. 4 and 5). What makes this point in the groups trajectory
illuminative is the ways that engagement, understanding, and other forms of accountability surfaced in the discussion
of the CR and how Ms. Sampsons formulations mediated the opportunities afforded in this classopportunities to
author statements of understanding, opportunities to be heard, and opportunities to participate legitimately in what
came to count as learning here.
If only taken as an isolated slice analyzed line-by-line in terms of sequential organization and interactional moves,
I could claim that the CR afforded a context for contesting what counts as participation. If I analyzed this interaction
according to the imminentist ontological perspective of traditional positioning theory, I could speak to Nates position
relative to the storyline of participation established here and the duties presumed to go along with his position in that
storyline. However, taking account of the many mediating strata involved here provides a multi-perspectival view of how
these particular actions fit withnot just synchronically but intertextually, intercontextually, and diachronicallythe
larger set of structures and forces that constituted small-group mathematics activities in this classroom. This confluence
of views illuminates the groups negotiation of presuppositions about what duties go along with the new classroom
practice of collaborative meaning making. This multi-perspectival view also allows me to trace the discursive processes
that brought Nates actions and the groups characterizations of his practice together within recurring elements of
setting and the recurrent use of tools. These recursions shaped positions relative to opportunities to learn and to
produce different kinds of students. Insights about how this context developed to support opportunities are not possible
without considering all four planes of analysis afforded by the mediation matrix. I now discuss a micro-interactional
event from the very first event our research team observed to illustrate further the unfolding trajectory of positioning
Nates opportunities to participate and to author texts, highlighting what came to count as competence for the group.

Fig. 4. Official/lived curriculum, Event Three (March 31).


K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

Fig. 5. Event map.

3.2. Excerpt twoEvent One

The exchange considered here occurred 8 weeks prior to the exchange captured in the last excerpt (Event Three) and
during the first day of our intervention. It was the groups first math discussion within the context of the intervention,
and it followed a lecture by Ms. Sampson on the goals of discussion. Dan had left school early that day, so the other three
group members discussed the first problem of the set.4 During this eight-and-a-half minute discussion (spanning 200
lines of broad transcript, key portions of which are shown in Fig. 6), there were competingalbeit implicitgoals and
contexts for discussing this problem. This was the first time the group had engaged in small-group math discussions,
so they were just establishing the lived curriculum in terms of goals and consequences for this activity, presumably
based on Ms. Sampsons official curriculum (see Fig. 7 for the official/lived curriculum representation for this event).
Nate conveyed a misunderstanding that, despite being inaccurate, raised an important feature of fraction equivalence
(the focus of the problem)it is the relation between two or more fractions, not between the numerator and denominator
of one fraction. The ensuing negotiations of competing goals for discussion (being correct vs. probing understandings)
led to the constitution of what counted as participation, which I discuss at length in terms of the first three planes
of analysis followed by a discussion of the fourth plane in light of the constitutive connections that appear to exist
between Event One and Event Three.
3.2.1. First plane of analysis: Moment-to-moment practices
In excerpt 2a, Alexa focused on Jills failure to follow the problems directions (7, 9, 11, 13), and she explained her
own reasoning (15, 19). Jill, in turn, focused on the fact that Nate did not seem to understand how to solve the problem
but not on the reasons behind his misunderstanding (4, 6). Neither of the girls responded to Nates six contributions
directly, with the exception of Jills interruption of Nate at the outset to correct him (4). Throughout these exchanges,
Alexa was sitting across from Jill and maintained a visual focus on her almost exclusively and did not visibly attend
to Nate when he spoke.
The conversation continued for 25 more turns in similar fashion until Ms. Sampson approached the group (excerpt
2b). Ms. Sampson referred to Nate in the third person. Jill and Alexa answered for him (48, 49) and did not take up his
explanations (50, 52). Nine of the 19 turns in Excerpt 2b are talk about Nate (4649, 5660), while Nate only spoke

This open-ended item prompted students to use provided pictures depicting the fractions 3/5 and 6/10 to determine whether they are equivalent

K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

Fig. 6. Excerpt Two, Event One (February 9).



K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

Fig. 6. (Continued ).

K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310


for himself in three turns (50, 52, 61). Again, Alexa and Jill maintained eye contact and physical orientation towards
each other or Ms. Sampson and rarely attended to Nate visibly. After Ms. Sampson walked away, Nate was finally
able to gain the floor to explain his own reasoning and to rephrase the reasoning of others (excerpt 2c). It seemed
as though Alexa was beginning to understand his explanations at this point. However, Ms. Sampson called a halt to
small-group discussions and began a whole-class discussion that crystallized the ways of positioning Nate that had
been accumulating on this day (excerpt 2d).
3.2.2. Second plane of analysis: Characterizations of practice
Despite the density of Nates constructive contributions relative to his group mates, when Ms. Sampson checked
in on the groups progress (excerpt 2b) Alexa and Jill denied that Nate had an explanation at all (46, 48, 49), which
was not the case (3, 5). Ms. Sampsons reminder to focus on reasoning and not answers (54) led to a renewed focus
on the seeming incoherence of Nates reasoning. Alexa constructed Nates misunderstanding as a problem (7274).
She and Jill also claimed that he was speaking alienese (81) and asked him to talk English (83).
3.2.3. Third plane of analysis: Patterns of participation
Ms. Sampsons interaction with the group (excerpt 2b) constructed a new context where they were not just accountable to each other but now displayed for her what they had accomplished in this discussion so far. Ms. Sampson and
Nates group members did not take up Nates lack of accuracy in explaining equivalence as an opportunity to explore
his reasoning but rather as an opportunity to point out what he lacked (understanding, explanation, sense-making,
During the whole-class discussion (excerpt 2d), Jill claimed that she and Alexa understood the reasons for their
answers but not Nates reasons (121), even though Alexa had claimed to understand where Nate was coming from earlier
(99). Ms. Sampson revoiced Nates statement by saying that there was a problem (i.e., that he was confused [125]),
to which Nate assented (126). She then generalized the groups experience as a lesson for the class (127), suggesting
that Nate had not finished the problem. He clarified that he had (128). She then suggested that he had not generated
an explanation (130, referring to 4649), to which he replied that he did not have a very good explanation (131).
Ms. Sampson continued constructing this parable-like narrative of incompetence (or at least inadequate performance),
positioning Nate as the main character (133). In this narrative, Nate was confused. He started a problem that he
could not finish due to his trouble with the problem (which contradicts what he said in turn 128). This confusion,
in turn, supposedly diminished the quality and outcomes of the group discussion (makes the discussion a little hard
[133]). Howeverand here ended Nates sacrificial lamb-nesshe was not the only one who was confused, but he
was the only one willing to be honest. Although Ms. Sampsons storyline ended on a somewhat positive note, it still
functioned to position Nate as a problem, and it implicitly authorized the salience of group members initial, individual
understandings, and not understandings achieved through group discussion.5
This excerpt illustrated the multiple resources for positioning Nate that had begun to accumulate in Event One and
could be seen to continue playing out in Event Three (excerpt 1) and beyond (see Fig. 5). Ms. Sampsons initially
articulated goals for discussions understanding and being able to restate your own and others reasoning were
transformed and adapted to showcase a probleman inability to understand Nate because he lacked both understanding
and the ability to communicate effectively. Yet this inability to understand Nate seemed related less to his efforts to
make sense of the problem and articulate his sense-making and more to a collective failure to engage his efforts
productively. Ms. Sampsons partial perspective of the groups interactions and focus on accomplishing the competing
goals of a complex classroom activity may have rushed her into filling gaps with her own preconceptions (Erickson et
al., 2008).
With respect to meso-level forces operating in Event Onewhich are salient in the official/lived curriculum and
event mapthe context for participating in and evaluating practice in discussions was jointly constructed through Ms.
Sampsons formulations, group uptake of these formulations, and multiple burgeoning forms of accountability and
what-counts-as-ability (see Fig. 7).
5 It bears noting that this was Ms. Sampsons first day being videotaped and orchestrating math discussions with her class. Understandably, she
was likely a bit nervous and focused on the structure and goals of the discussions rather than addressing the finer points of the mathematics or
awareness of her positioning.


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Fig. 7. Official/lived curriculum, Event One (February 9).

The nature and functions of moment-to-moment practices in this excerpt (first plane of analysis) seem to include
the girls defining compliance based on Ms. Sampsons formulations of the goals for the activity differently from how
Nate defined it. For them, coming to understand each others reasoningthe focus of the eventwas about being able
immediately to understand the statements of others as opposed to working together to achieve mutual understandings
(at least as far as Nate was concerned). The ability to be understood readily rather than the process of working out
understandings collaboratively came to the fore both in the official/lived curriculum and as highlighted in the event
maps tracking of accountability and the negotiation of (appropriate) ways to participate.
The groups characterizations of practice (second plane of analysis) began building a context for staging accountability relative to Ms. Sampsons original formulations and in terms of producing evidence of compliance both within
the group and when Ms. Sampson spoke to them and to the whole class about each others (and especially Nates)
participation practices. Alexa focused on Jills failure to follow the directions. Jill focused on Nates supposed lack
of sense-making. And Ms. Sampson held Nate accountable for this lack based on an inaccurate summarization of his
These characterizations of practice are constitutively related to what patterns of participation and what outcomes
came to count here (third plane of analysis). The context in this case was displaying an end state of understanding
or understandability rather than working collaboratively to understand each other and build knowledge together.
Ms. Sampson and the CR, as well as the congealing group norms across the events, mediated available readings of
participation, and opportunities to learn. Group discussions, teacher comments to the group, whole-class discussions,
and the CR all helped to constitute various types of micro- and meso-level activity. Additional forms of meso-level
activity were the other texts created by the research team and the groups, as well as Ms. Sampsons apparent ideological
assumptions about learning and our project goals (discussed above).
An additional meso-level dimension of social practice that mediated the positioning of Nate surfaced in a comment
Ms. Sampson made to members of the research team about halfway through the project. She commented that Nate had
been labeled as having a learning disability. Although not something we should have been told, I could not ignore the
insights into the trajectory of Nates positioning provided by this admission. Being institutionally labeled is exactly
the type of mediating meso-level practice that Erickson (2004) described as collecting second order records of social
actors that then become available for connecting micro-level practices to macro-level structures in consequential ways.
What Ms. Sampsons preconceptions about the relevance and significance of Nates collected label meant for his
ability and participation may have helped the stickiness of the label grow over her year with him, which also seemed
to have had a ripple effect within Nates group.

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So it is not just that the girls treated Nate poorly, but there was also a complex set of micro- and meso-level forces
operating in concert to construct Nate as a particular kind of student. By attending to positioning according not only to
turn-by-turn micro-analyses but also looking across texts and intertextual/contextual, synchronic/diachronic relations
we can see what and how recursions across the planes of analysis began to sediment from Event One (excerpt three)
through Event Three (excerpt one) and beyond. The event map depicted in Fig. 5, which summarizes the five events
spread across 14 weeks of the intervention, succinctly portrays the context for activity that developeda context that
sedimented some of the ways Nates participation was characterized, how these characterizations were used when
evaluating his future participation, and whether and how he was provided opportunities to be heard and to author
meaning in both small-group and whole-class discussions.
More generally, the goals and accountability structures for participation in small-group discussions morphed from
a surface focus on understanding to a concern about doggedly ensuring compliance with the goals for each event and
eventually to being right and having the written work to prove it. As the events accumulated, Ms. Sampson focused
less on understanding and more on having valid reasons and being sure to discuss them. In a class unaccustomed to
math discussions, it is not surprising that, despite the goals of the intervention, participation typically gravitated back
toward a more traditional approach to mathhaving the right answers and inscriptions. It is the unfortunate case
that in the work of having to renegotiate what counted as participation (the only option when faced with an unfamiliar
type of activity), Nate became inscribed as a kind of student who seldom (if ever) engaged in valid reasoning or could
articulate his reasoning to others, even though he could and did.
4. Culmination: Fourth plane of analysis
The analyses I have presented so far unpacked the trajectory of constituting the interactional, intertextual, and
intercontextual grounds for what counted as participation for this group. How the features of the CR and goals for
activity were taken up and made relevant led students to position one another as accountable and assessable based upon
formulations of these activities.
In Event Four (see Fig. 5), Nate was blamed for not giving valid reasons for his problem solving and was constructed
as the reason the group gave themselves a low argumentation score on the CR. Also, his lack of engagement last
time (Event Three, excerpt one) was highlighted. The others claimed that Nate had not provided mathematically
valid reasons, which was not the case, especially since he was the only student who provided a conceptually driven
explanation rather than simply reciting a formula for the item in question. They also cited Nate as a point for improvement
for next time (Event Five). In their discussions during Event Five, although the group all agreed they deserved scores of
five for all features on the CR, Alexa again brought up the fact that Nate was not engaged last time. Although given
the timeline of events, one would think that last time meant Event Four, it was actually a reference to Event Three
(excerpt one). By looking across the groups CR discussions, we can thus track the persistence of positioning Nate as not
participating despite his increasingly active engagement and participationan interesting disjunction. As the negative
evaluations of Nate traversed intertextual references to activity and intercontextual constructions of what counts
(due to their non-contested or not-even-discussed status by Events Four and Five) his supposed non-participation from
almost 2 months ago still counted in the present context.
The acts of positioning what counts as participation in the above excerpts from Event One and Event Three cross
the four aforementioned scales of social practice: (a) Nates participation in moment-to-moment practices during group
discussions; (b) characterizations of Nates participation, largely mediated by the CR; (c) patterns of participation that
afforded and constrained salient ways of making sense, being heard, and being seen as participating coherently; and
(d) acts of positioning Nate as not participating relative to the official curriculum and not competent relative to the
lived curriculum. Positioning Nate as a problemsomeone who did not participate appropriately and who did not
make sensecan be best understood as mediated by the recurring interactions, tools (especially the CR), and settings
(intercontextuality of discussions) that traversed increasingly broad temporal and spatial strata across the five events
summarized in Fig. 5 (and beyond when considering the factors influencing Ms. Sampsons beliefs about his ability
and how this might have leaked into her positioning of him across the school year).
The recursion of tools, settings, and patterns of participation increasingly mediated over time across these four
strata and planes of analysis worked to position Nate as a particular kindone whose voice was decreasingly heard
and whose participation was increasingly discouraged despite his increasingly rigorous and frequent contributions. My
mediational analysis of positioning sets Nates limited opportunities to learn into high relief, as learning entails access


K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310

to and authorship of ways of knowing and being with discourses and tools, which necessitates being recognized by
others as having these skills and rights (Moje & Lewis, 2007).
Although elements of the process and consequences of Nates positioning could be gleaned from isolated events
or a restricted context (i.e., a slice of interaction), a mediational analysis illuminates how Nate, Ms. Sampson, and
Nates group constituted subjects relative to ideological formulations of recognizable settings (actions, opportunities,
and expectations) and the emergence of jointly constructed contexts. One of the goals that Ms. Sampson repeatedly
stressed in her introductory comments in each of the first three events was restating one anothers reasons, a main
focus of understanding on the CR. For example, during Event One she claimed this was the most important thing for
students to do, as opposed to choosing the right answer. Nates group focused on this goal during the first event, as
evidenced by what they oriented to as relevant and how they framed accountability. However, the groups interactions
decreasingly focused on this goal across the events of the intervention until, by Event Four, they were almost entirely
focused on being right and complying with procedure. Indeed, this trend was reinforced by Ms. Sampsons formulations
for participation hinging on the CR during the final two events summarized in Fig. 5.
While the frequency and depth of Nates displays of participation and understanding increased across the five events,
Ms. Sampson and the groups focus on joint accountability and working to understand each others thinking decreased,
and a focus on getting the right answer and trying to display mathematically valid reasons increased. Across the five
events we observed, the way the group oriented to the CR as a mediator of what counted as participation revealed an
increasingly obvious disconnect between the official and the lived curriculum. What went on record as their goals
(as formulated by Ms. Sampson and the CR) and what was actually lived out in practice were static and separate rather
than dynamic and interconnected. The intertextual affordances of the CR came to be used for evaluating compliance
rather than for building shared understanding. For example, in Event Three Nate appeared to some group members as
if he was not paying attention at certain points. This perception really stuck and came to count more in constructing
Nate as a particular kind of student than either his actual ability or his displays of understanding during future events.
The group revivified this evaluation of Nate in CR discussions during events four and five, effectively essentializing
Nates participation practices, rather than recognizing them as dynamic and contextual.
5. Conclusions
By appealing to persons and settings as kinds that span interactions, acts of positioning can be linked to the construct
of identity in ways that positioning theory has not yet attempted, largely due to the constraints of its imminentist
ontology. Iedema and Caldas-Couthard (2008) describe identity as a boundary object that transitions between the here
and now and behavior over time. Positioning can be seen as the discursive constitution of persons as recognizable kinds,
or boundary objects, relative to activities in which they participate. Thus, positioning theory can be reconceived as
dialectically negotiated across multiple feedback loops of enactment and interpretation that criss-cross mediated kinds
of persons, activities, and settings. Analyzing positioning as mediated (i.e., a confluence of multiple forms of mediation)
acknowledges how interactions and social actors construct meanings of practices both in reference to the interactions
themselves (traditional focus of positioning theory) and in terms of how these interactions relate intertextually and
intercontextually to relevant texts, events, practices, and ideologies.
In the analyses above, acts of positioning led to ruptures between Nates practices and his emerging public identity
in the group and the classroom across a set of events. His increasingly active participation, which aligned with the
official curriculum but was not acknowledged in the lived curriculum, was mediated heavily by the groups uptake
of the CR as a tool for authoring accountability in ways that did not recognize Nates contributions. This building
up of increasingly stable settings surfaced a conflict among the official curriculum, the lived curriculum, and sedimented norms of this classroom (norms that preceded our research teams involvement). And this conflict led to an
ontological gap between Nate as a person and Nate as a figured kind. The increasingly mediated view afforded by
conducting and integrating the four planes of analysis summarized in Fig. 2 illustrated the persistent positioning of
Nate as a stable kind of studentnot competentand how this positioning rubbed up against Nate enough that it
Analyzing classroom life using the version of positioning theory I advocate in this article benefits from an expanded
epistemological treatment that reconciles how local acts of positioning rub up against repertoires of meaning, categories
of person, societal systems of belief, and broader sets of discursive conventions. Through my analyses, I demonstrated
the nature and effects of trajectories of participation as evidenced and characterized by participants, as sedimented across

K.T. Anderson / Linguistics and Education 20 (2009) 291310


emerging and recurring contexts, as shaped by opportunities to be seen and heard, and as resulting in constructions of
succeeding at making sense or not. The analytic framework for studying positioning that I illustrated here minimizes
the threat of appealing to shallow macro-level explanations conceived mainly in terms of normative structures or
obvious power in the classroom or to nave micro-level explanations conceived as at once drawing upon resources and
constitutive of such resources or subjects that are spoken into being at the same time that they can act as speaking
According to Fernie, Davies, Kantor, and McMurray (1993), Educators, like researchers, often assume the validity
of discrete categories, roles, and labels, which constrain how we view and therefore understand children (p. 108).
I suggest that a mediational approach to positioning illustrates how different kinds of students or different ways of
participating in activities shape opportunities to identify with practices (or not), to be seen as competent (or not), and
thus to gain access to ways of knowing and being associated with learning (or not). Thus, this study showed, at least
in a partial way, how learning is mediated by participation in micro-social moments using social and textual artifacts
that serve as meso-level forces and structures connecting the micro-social across forward- and backward-looking
trajectories to macro-scale discourses by which kinds can gain meaning in face-to-face interactions and over time.
The data for this study were collected as part of a National Science Foundation Grant (REC 0440261). I would like
to thank the PIs, Dan Hickey, Mitzi Lewison, and Denise Mewborn, as well as the other members of the research team.
I am also indebted to Steve Zuiker, Betsy Rymes, Melissa Gresalfi, Kate Bielaczyc, Manu Kapur, and four anonymous
reviewers for comments on earlier drafts. Lastly, I am especially grateful to George Kamberelis for his thoughtful
editorship. All remaining omissions are my own.
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