Introduction to literacy and society, culture, media and education

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Date: Sept. 2013
Publisher: Purdue University Press
Document Type: Report
Length: 5,065 words
Lexile Measure: 1450L

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In an age of digitality and mass media, perceptions about and practices of culture, the production and consumption of culture and thus also pedagogy and educational systems are undergoing changes and debate. Among other issues and developments, the impact of digitality results in new perspectives on literacy(ies). In the thematic issue Literacy and Society, Culture, Media and Education of CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.3 (2013): <> guest edited by Kris Rutten and Geert Vandermeersche, authors explore theories, practices, methodologies, and applications for the study of the interrelations of digitality and contemporary society, culture, and pedagogy including topics such as media and society, media and culture, media and education, digital humanities, and media and (information) literacy.

In Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourse, James Paul Gee describes literacy as a whole way of being in the world. People have to learn to use different kinds of literacies in society and so become members of different language and discourse communities. From this perspective, literacy is said to be constructed or negotiated in interactions framed in cultural models or schemata. Gee refers to this as the "social turn" within literacy studies whereby literacy is no longer described as a neutral and individual cognitive or technical skill, but as a "socially situated" practice (155). With the concept of (multi)literacies the New London Group aims to connect technological developments with the "social turn" in literacy studies emphasizing not only a multitude of cultures, but also a multitude of text forms, discourses, and media. New Literacy Studies are about literacy as an engagement with language in specific contexts (see Graff; Lee and Street; Willinsky). From this perspective, the acquisition of literacy is approached as a process of socialization situated in the context of the power structures of society and institutions. This led to a large corpus of scholarship on the situated nature of literacy from sociological (Barton and Hamilton), ethnographic (Lillis and Scott), and linguistic (Hyland) perspectives (see also Rutten; Rutten and van Dienderen). Situating literacy in the context of the power structures raises important questions: Whose literacies are dominant? Why are some literacies marginalized? What should we teach our students? What exactly do we mean by "we"? And thus the concept of literacy implies a focus on how human beings use symbols to construct and negotiate meaning (see Rutten, Rodman, Wright, Soetaert).

As Peter Mortensen argues, there is "a tendency in literacy studies--call it a disciplinary 'disposition' or 'attitude'--to claim ownership of the question: Does literacy have consequences, and if so, what are they?" (770). Of course, there is nothing intrinsically negative about asserting disciplinary expertise, "except when we fail to see that others outside of [these] disciplinary and institutional spaces are also engaged in discerning, even theorizing, what literacy is and what it does" (771). Authors in the thematic issue at hand aim to approach literacy from the perspective of (comparative) literature and (comparative) cultural studies. Donna Alverman clearly shows there has been a growing body of work that can be situated...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A349722098