“Identity Kits” – James Paul Gee

Identities are fluid in my opinion. Wear the mask, then take it off. “Fake it till you make it.” We’ve all heard this slogan numerous times it feels a bit archaic. Like someone come up with something new already! Although the phrase is outdated, its message is universal. It’s easy to assume that most of us have experience a situation or multiple situations where we had to take on many roles. We’ve been a part of many “discourses” throughout our lives – some permanent while others are temporary.

James Paul Gee’s journal article: “Literacy, Discourse and Linguistics,” explores the concept of creating an “identity kit.” An identity kit or discourse “are ways of being in the world, they are forms of life which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes and social identities as well as gestures, glance, body positions and clothes.” How we find ourselves in different discourses taking on multiple identity kits is dependent on the culture of the community we are entering.

Let me share my experience with you.

During undergrad I majored in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Physical Therapy. I was determined to finish my education and be prepared to start graduate school upon graduation. However, my road map had a glitch and re-routed me down a different path. Before college, I worked for my parents in their franchise businesses on and off througout high school. It was senior year in college where I realized I didn’t have real-world experience. *It was scary intimidating, to be honest.* When I was getting close to applying to graduate schools I realized that I didn’t completely understand the field/career I was so passionate about. I had no work experience in physical therapy besides accumulating a plethora of observation hours over the period of 4 years.

Then it all changed. I interviewed for my first job the spring of my junoir year, was hired and my 3 month training period began. My excitement levels sky-rocketed and suppressed any anxiety-provoking thoughts at the time.

Learning a new discourse was tough. It was similar to learning a new language. I couldn’t just act the act, I had to walk the walk too. Simply understanding concepts and theories like we did in school and regurgitating them on exams was not going to cut it anymore. “Welcome to the real world,” they said.

This job was an opportunity for me to be human again. Have emotions and develop connections with the patients I worked so closely with. Like my favorite author Seth Godin says in his book Linchpin: “you can’t be another cog in the machine, you have to bring value and humanness to the workforce.” My days of regurgitating knowledge based on memory were over.

“You can’t be let into the game after missing the apprenticeship and be expected to have a fair shot at playing it.” – (10)

Learning the PT lingo…

After my 3 month training period was over I was thrown into the crossfire at a busy outpatient orthopedic clinic. Patients flocked into the office faster than we could get to them. Practicing my communication and language skills become more dire than ever. Even though I was the new girl on the block, I had to pick up the pace and “mush fake,” my way into acting like I belonged. Patients constantly asked, are you new here? Therapists wondered the same thing. But all along I thought, they hired me, they trained me, but how come I don’t feel part of the team just yet?

I had to vocalize my skills. I had to be part of a new discourse where the language was professional and at times broken up into acronyms. “Ashna, my patient is here for his left hip, we are going to give him his exercise program which consists of active hip ER supine, hip ABD, Flexion, Extension and Adduction on the hip machine (test the resistance), side-steps with RTB, and finish it off with v-pulse and stim to the left greater trochanter.” *Gulps.* “Okay, got it!” Rushing to write everything down in what appeared to be chicken scratch by the end.

However crazy that may have sounded just now, this gibberish became a second language to me. A discourse that I engaged in on a daily basis. And can proudly say for over a year now. One that I turned on at work and turned off as soon as I left the establishment. If I didn’t interact with the therapists, and then relay that information in a concise way to my patients, I wouldn’t be considered part of this discourse community. I had to acquire these new skills through apprenticeship, asking loads of questions, quietly observing and engaging in the conversation. Reading a manual and trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together would no longer suffice.

“We acquire these fluently to the extent that we are given access to these institutions and are allowed apprenticeships within them.” (8) 

After all, practice makes permanent, right?!

– Ashna