Figured Worlds

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Theory of Figured Worlds

  • a theory from psychological, cultural, and social anthropology
  • practice and discourse
  • a "figured world" formed through social and situated activities
  • historically situated, socially enacted, and culturally constructed.
  • construct joint meanings and leverage technological, social, and cultural resources.
  • produced in practice through life experiences.
  • social experience and activity
  • participate in activities within particular contexts or "figured worlds"
  • both performances and narratives situated in the "figured world"
  • by developing shared practices, establishing relationships with others, and enacting performances of the self, people construct their selves as learners.
  • embedded in both a collective past ("history-in-system") and a personal subjective history ("history-in-person")
  • shaped by social, cultural, economic factors.
  • enactments of the self as people engage in shared practices and play different roles.
  • how they narrated their activities in the "figured world", and told stories about themselves and their social interactions with other family members.
  • ways in which the people engage or do not engage in the social and educational practices of particular contexts and how they view themselves and view others.
  • A dialogic self that authors and tries to make sense of the world : agency.
  • particular figured worlds are available in specific contexts
  • complex ways in which people, youth, children, and adults, experience and perform their identities and respond to the sociocultural practices in particular contexts.
  • socially and culturally constructed realm
  • possibility of exploring alternative figured identities that challenge, alleviate and transform the constraints that positional identities often seem to impose on people.
  • Figured worlds are not static.
  • participants and roles.
  • identities in figured worlds.

The framework of "figured worlds" developed by Dorothy Holland, William Lachicotte Jr., Debra Skinner, and Carole Cain (1998) can be used in the analysis of the assimilation process, new media practices, and identity construction of Latino/Hispanic youth. Social contexts such as the home, an after school program, and the Social Network Sites (SNS), can be understood as a "figured worlds" formed through social and situated activities. These worlds are historically situated, socially enacted, and culturally constructed. They are collectivities where members "figured out" who they are in relation to each other and through a set of practices. (Holland et al. 1998; Urrieta 2007) Within each "figured world" Latino/Hispanic youth reinvent themselves by enacting different identities and engaging in sociocultural practices.

Identities are acts of self-making. (Holland et al. 1998; McCarthey and Moje 2002; Urrieta 2007) They are produced in practice through life experiences. When people participate in activities within particular contexts or "figured worlds" they engage in identity work. (Holland et al. 1998; McCarthey & Moje, 2002; Urrieta 2007) Hence, by developing shared practices, establishing relationships with others, and enacting performances of the self, young Hispanic/Latino(a)s actively construct their selves. However, because identities are historical phenomena, their construction processes are also embedded in both a collective past ("history-in-system") and a personal subjective history ("history-in-person"). (Holland et al. 1998; Urrieta 2007) The "history-in-system" as Mexican immigrants and position of disadvantage as a non-dominant minority, together with the subjective "history-in-person" (socioeconomic background, educational attainment, generational status, peer groups, etc.) shape the identity construction work and the participation across contexts of the Latino/Hispanic immigrant youth from Mexican origin. When these youngsters enter the "figured worlds" they bring with them a personal subjective history of social life experiences and particular conceptual understandings that establish different possibilities of engagement and participation.

In my dissertation project I understand the multiple identities of immigrant Latino/Hispanic youth as both performances and narratives situated in and across three "figured worlds" (home, an after school program, and the Internet). I intend to analyze the enactments of the self that each of boy and girl developed as they engaged in shared practices and played different roles across contexts. In order to do that, I will analyze how these Latino/Hispanic youths narrated their activities, and told stories about themselves and their social interactions with family members, peers, mentors, and Internet users. Furthermore, I will also take into account their collective past as immigrants from Mexico ("history-in-system") and their individual and subjective "history-in-person" (socioeconomic background, educational attainment, generational status, etc.).


Applied to the analysis of the Home

Analysis of the figured worlds that are narrated inside the home. Figured worlds available within the house. Or just one complex figured world?

Just one could be better for analytical terms. However, each world would be different for the different families.

Figured worlds colliding: the one of the parents, the one of the youth, the one of home ethnic culture, the one of American modern culture, the one of working class and the one of middle class, the one of immigration, the one of becoming assimilated, the one of peers, the one of schooling.

Figured world as parenting styles. Figured worlds as youth engagement with music, with the computer, with games, with entertainment, with cultural consumption, with american pop culture.

Do they conform just one figured world? The world of each home? family? A parodoxical world? A contradictory world? Do the two worlds remain separated within the home? How do they navigate the two worlds inside the home?

The world of the immigrant home and family: is splitted bicultural. Splited between individualized practices and communal practices. Traditional and American. American and middle class, and consuming world: this world is the one that is more appealing to youth. IT is also the world of digital media. The world of media devices networked media landscape within the home.

Figured worlds of the parents vary: working class approach for raising children: natural growth, middle class approach: concerted cultivation. The same with the Mexican traditional family, and the Modern American family.

Parental figured worlds will create certain media environments and regulations. Children will interact within this figured worlds. Assume positions. Play their roles. Do their homework. Work hard.

Figured worlds set up in a relationship between parents, youth, tools, and discourses. Assimilation, American popular culture, education, notions of free time, play, work.

Figured worlds of youth: gaming, music, homework, films and television, entertainment, leisure and free time, work, play.


The discourses, practices, tools of the figured world of the immigrant family are not only set up by the parents. It is a more porous world, because the tools are connected to other worlds, and also because the world of the host society, the culture, economy, and other discourses are also welcomed, are part of the immigrant world.

This is why the immigrant homes are complex, contradictory, splitted, divided, and uneven. Relations of power change. Practices are not homogenous. Roles can change easily.

Maybe havign just one figured world of the immigrant home could be enough. This world could be related to the process of acculturation described by immigration theorists as: consonant, selective, or disonant. Depending of the kind of figured world the believes will collide or not. As well as the different degrees of assimilation of the members of the family.

Agency within the home. What are the kind of activities these youth do. How do they imagine themselves as part of a figured world: the world of music production, the world of music consumption, the worlds of gaming, the world of television and film, the worlds of homework, the world of homework and internet research.

Are all the members of the family part of the figured world.

Immigrant home family worlds in the 21st Century. LAtino/Hispanic immigrant family in the digital edge.


Applied to the analysis of the After School Program

I have decided to use the framework of "figured worlds" elaborated by Holland et al. (1998) in my analysis of the experiences, learning, and identity construction that the members of the CAP developed. I argue that the CAP can be understood as a "figured world" formed through social and situated activities. This world was historically situated, socially enacted, and culturally constructed. It was a collectivity where members "figured out" who they were in relation to each other and through a set of practices. (Holland et al. 1998; Urrieta 2007) At the CAP after school program, students came together to construct joint meanings and leveraged technological, social, and cultural resources. Within this "figured world" youth reinvented themselves as filmmakers.


Learning and identity are strongly related. As much as learning is a process of becoming (Wenger 1998), so is identity an act of self-making. (Holland et al. 1998; McCarthey and Moje 2002; Urrieta 2007) Both, identity and learning are produced in practice through life experiences. The theory of "figured worlds" is aligned with the situated perspective on learning which understands it as a social experience and activity. (Lave and Wenger 1991) When people participate in activities within particular contexts or "figured worlds" they engage in both a learning process and an identity work. (Holland et al. 1998; McCarthey & Moje, 2002; Urrieta 2007) Hence, by developing shared practices, establishing relationships with others, and enacting performances of the self, people construct their selves as learners. However, because identity and learning are historical phenomena, their processes are also embedded in both a collective past ("history-in-system") and a personal subjective history ("history-in-person"). (Holland et al. 1998; Urrieta 2007) When people enter "figured worlds" they bring with them a personal subjective history of social life experiences and conceptual understandings that establish different possibilities of engagement.

In my analysis I understand the learning identities of two Latino/Hispanic boys from Mexican origin as both performances and narratives situated in the "figured world" of the CAP. On the one hand, I analyze the enactments of the self that these boys developed as they engaged in shared practices and played different roles. On the other, I analyze how they narrated their activities in the CAP, and told stories about themselves and their social interactions with peers, mentors, and the local community. Furthermore, I review briefly the individual and subjective "history-in-person" of each of them highlighting their family socioeconomic backgrounds, educational attainment, generational status, and the formal schooling tracks they were in. However, before discussing the learning and identity processes of these three Latino/Hispanic boys, I provide a brief analysis of the space, tools, and discourse that characterized the CAP and how they were initially set up by Mr. Lopez, the FHS video technology teacher and one of the co-founders of the after school program.


Applied to the analysis of the Internet

The figured worlds of the internet are mostly readable for these youth. Except the one of FB. The other sites are not imagined as changeable, re-writable, remixable. Even if they are aware of some of that potential.

Different practices according to different worlds: the world of google and the search practice. The world of FB is the one of peers, it is not searchable, but it is a world to share. The world of youtube as the world of music and audiovisual content. The world of netflix as a database and library of television and film content. The world of pandora. The world of 9gag. The worlds of Perfect World and Minecraft. Several worlds.

JP Gee on Figured Worlds as a tool for Discourse Analysis =

"Figured worlds are narratives and images that different social and cultural groups of people use to make sense of the world. They function as simplified models of how things work when they are ‘‘normal’’ and ‘‘natural’’ from the perspective of a particular social and cultural group. They are meant to help people get on with the business of living and communicating without having to reflect explicitly on everything before acting."

"We use words based, as well, on stories, theories, or models in our minds about what is ‘‘normal’’ or ‘‘typical.’’"

"typical stories"

"This is good for getting things done, but sometimes bad in the ways in which such typical stories can marginalize people and things that are not taken as ‘‘normal’’ or ‘‘typical’’ in the story." 169


"What counts as a typical story for people differs by their social and culture groups." 169 >>> accept a typical story like this...

"simplified theories of the world"

"are meant to help people go on about the business of life when one is not allowed the time to think through and research everything before acting."169-170


"help scientist (people) cope, without having to deal with the full complexity of the world all at once."

"These typical stories have been given many different names. They have been called ‘‘folk theories,’’ ‘‘frames,’’ ‘‘scenarios,’’ ‘‘scripts,’’ ‘‘mental models,’’ ‘‘cultural models,’’ ‘‘Discourse models,’’ and ‘‘figured worlds,’’ and each of these terms has its own nuances. Such typical stories are stored in our heads (and we will see in a moment that they are not always only in our heads) in the form of images, metaphors, and narratives." 170


"A figured world is a picture of a simplified world that captures what is taken to be typical or normal."170


"What is taken to be typical or normal, as we have said, varies by context and by people’s social and cultural group"