Wednesday, December 04, 2013
The act of writing has held my interest for a long time. It's partly because of its openness: the fact that possibility exists. There may be an idea that you hadn't quite thought through yet, but somehow it can come out in the process of writing. Writing, it seems, is a tool for thinking. Perhaps that's simply because writing is an imagined conversation with another and the presence of that imagined reader confers upon it a dialogic character. That conversation, it seems, is very attractive - almost to the point of addiction. Despite that, I completely forgot the tenth anniversary of this blog (here's my first post
), but what surprises me when I look back is that even then I was preoccupied with trying to make sense of writing. A lot has happened in the intervening time, but that fascination certainly hasn't dimmed. Blogging for me now is about condensing my reflections into something that's about the size of an average paragraph and then finding a still or moving image that can sit alongside it. The post may be more or less complete in its own right, or it may simply be work in progress. But always it's what Rosenblatt describes as a transactional process: '....always an event in time, occurring at a particular moment in the writer's biography, in particular circumstances, and under particular external and internal pressures. In short, the writer is always transacting with a personal, social and cultural environment.' (1989:163). And in posting on the blog, at times it forms the basis of something I'll write more about, extend in some way, but more often than not it's just a sketch, complete in itself. The piece of writing that I started the first blog with actually turned into a book chapter entitled 'Barbie meets Bob the Builder at the Workstation', but many subsequent posts have been of the moment, a passing observation or a whimsical thought. Nevertheless they all form an important expression of writing as exploration, as a transactional process.
Labels: digital literacy; writing; education
Monday, December 02, 2013
The grassy knoll
Visiting Dallas 50 years after the Kennedy assassination could be a significant experience. After all, the shooting was a defining moment in contemporary life, wasn't it? But today looking down on that rather familiar-looking stretch of road, standing on the grassy knoll, gazing up at the box-like structure of the book depository, up to the sixth floor, it all seems rather flat and clean. Sterile, you might say. The memorial fountains are bathed in full sunshine. The sky is a deep blue. It's so neat and clean it's hyper-real. Museum staff are on the streets selling facsimiles of the Dallas newspaper of 22/11/63, but those events have already been swallowed up by history, they are long gone. So, how is it that we can best relate to recent historical events? The most familiar way, I suppose, is to think about what we were doing on that particular day. That helps to pinpoint it, to remember, to tie it to our experience in order to make it more real. In this case I can remember it well. We had been walking in Bradgate Park. It was a cold day, and my father had the gas fire on full when he tuned in the radio for the six o'clock news. That was how he kept up, it was like a religious ritual - listening to the BBC on the wireless (and that's what he called it, the wireless). He was shocked by the headlines, nodding his head saying 'Crikey',or something like that. But my mother's reaction made a much stronger impact on me, because when she came in the room, the rest of the news was playing. Aldous Huxley had died, and that upset her more, and I think she made the mistake of saying so. My father ridiculed her, as he often did. But Huxley was one of her literary heroes, and there was no denying that. Huxley was a towering figure, in more ways than one, and his death was inevitably rather overshadowed by Kennedy's, which is a shame. But they weren't the only newsworthy deaths that day. C.S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia books, which I had read, and loved, also died that day. And in my still impressionable young mind, I understood my mother's viewpoint completely. Narnia was brilliant; Kennedy was just someone on the news. I'd never been to Dallas, but I had been to Narnia. That was a strange day then: Huxley first, then about 10 minutes later Lewis, followed an hour later by Kennedy. Each died in a very different way, each left a distinctive legacy. I'd very much like to return to Narnia in the same way that I first did, slipping between the fur coats into that snowy landscape, but the warm Texas sunshine seems to place it far out of reach. In some ways it's all in the past.
Labels: ideas, maps; social issues, random
Like many cities that prospered in late Victorian times, the centre of Nottingham still has those imposing multi-storey buildings or chambers that served as the office blocks of that era. In my youth, these were the premises of solicitors, surveyors, small businesses and suppliers, and they were often half hidden behind anonymous-looking doors set in between the shops, banks and department stores of the city centre, accessed through a labyrinth of winding corridors and dim stairwells. They were, in some way at least, the private areas of that urban environment. And in my teen years, when the city seemed like a playground, my friend and I filled many an exciting afternoon exploring these spaces. Sneaking down passageways, tip-toeing up linoleum-covered stairs, opening creaking unlabelled doors, the unexpected and unannounced thrilled us in the very moment, at every turn. We would never wittingly take the same route twice. Our exploits were halfway between playful investigation and trespass. One moment blundering into a typing pool, a reception desk, the back room of a shop, an office workers' tea station, a stationery cupboard; another stumbling into a jumble of brooms, mops, cans of cleaning fluid and tin buckets.These spaces weren't exactly private, but neither were they public. What's more we had no good reason for being there in the first place. Part of the fun lay in that. We might get caught, or challenged (and sometimes we were - and that, of course, was half the fun), but at the same time we would be rewarded by a different view of the city, some novel connection, some unexpected learning, spilling out onto a different street. But after all where were we in this city in our youth? Too young for pubs, sometimes too noisy, too raucous for the cafés and tea shops, and still unqualified and woefully ill-equipped for the world of work. Nothing bad came of it. And it gave us the taste of freedom, as we worked our way between and outside the lines of what was expected; it filled time that was otherwise unaccounted for, school having become too tedious, too regimented, altogether too much. That youthful diversion now has a name: it's called urban exploration. In fact, it was reading about urban exploration (or place hacking), in Bradley Garrett
's excellent ethnography 'Explore Everything', that brought all this back to me. In a strange sort of way it offered me an intelligent rationale for something that had seemed like a half-forgotten, and somewhat quirky adolescent pursuit. At that time, I am sure that we didn't know quite what we were doing or why we were doing it, we certainly didn't discuss it, we just did it. It was fun. Yet we were 'reclaiming the city', blissfully unaware of Debord
, or the situationists, or any guiding theory or politic, for that matter. If it was covered in the underground press of the time, I certainly missed it and so did my friend. And so all this makes me think how we may often do quite reasonable, intelligent things without exactly knowing why - at least at the time. Either that or we have an astonishing capacity to make sense out of the most random of things, thereby dignifying our seemingly unending acts of human foolishness. But once something like this is given a name, explored in a thoughtful way, it seems to articulate the motive - or at least part of the motive that propelled it in the first place. That journey of reading and recalling urban exploring reminded me of how my longstanding interest in visiting and sometimes photographing ignored, dilapidated and abandoned buildings took on new meaning when I read about the ideas of 'ruin porn
' and bunkerology
, how my regular and random zigzag walks around Sheffield looked and felt different when they were rethought as psychogeography
. Now, or so it seems, I know why it interested me in the first place. Did a name, a theory, bestow new meaning upon it? Or was the meaning there, already awaiting its later discovery - in some way immanent? Did the incoherent blind interest simply gain respectability through a post-hoc rationalisation? Or more likely, or at least more attractively to me as an academic, did the act of reflection, in a dialogic relationship with others who have done and thought about similar things, help in bringing into being new experiences, and new perspectives on old experiences? A new way of looking. And does all this - this process of re-thinking, help us in imagining possible future actions, experiences, diversions or misdemeanours? I don't know, but either way one thing is certain, I will continue to explore, in my own way, buoyed up by what I have read, what I have talked about and what I have thought. Perhaps, just perhaps, that constitutes an invitation, too. After all, those old Victorian buildings are still there somewhere, as are both our current and our remembered experiences and actions!
Labels: ideas, materiality, social issues
Sunday, November 24, 2013
makes a useful contribution to the problem with affect when he says:' There seems to be a growing feeling within media, literary and art theory that affect is central to an understanding of our information- and image-based late capitalist culture, in which so-called master narratives are perceived to have foundered....belief has waned for many but not affect. If anything,our condition is characterized by a surfeit of it. The problem is that there is no cultural-theoretical vocabulary specific to affect. Our entire vocabulary has derived from theories of signification...' (Parables for the Virtual,
2002:27). Good point, well made. Still confusing affect with emotion? I found that this
helped to unscramble the two (and 'feeling' at the same time).
Labels: media, research, writing
Thursday, November 21, 2013
The relationship between academic and everyday life is a fascinating area, best typified I guess by blurred boundaries. Yesterday, for example, we were celebrating two 'new doctorates' - or perhaps I should say two people whose lives had, in different ways, been entangled with doctoral study. In the course of this celebration I got talking to a researcher who I haven't had much previous contact with, and through our conversation I learned that she was a parent of two teenage boys. Perhaps inevitably the conversation turned on literacy. What she said in a few minutes seemed to me to sum up, perhaps even to validate, what I've been writing about over the last ten years or so. It was, if you like, an everyday validation of my research pre-occupations. Perhaps it's easiest just to list the themes that came up in her observations, grounded, as they were, in her everyday life as a parent. Of course, inevitably, this is my summary:
1. Teenagers are reading as much, if not more than they have in previous generations.
2. Very little of the material they read is in print books.
3. They make good use of a very wide range of online sources.
4. Their level of informal learning, understanding and knowledge is impressive.
5. They find (perhaps as a consequence) that what's on offer in schools is uninspiring.
6. They are developing social skills, literacy and learning through online gaming and social networking.
7. Parental concerns about regulating the frequency and duration of screen-time and the suitability of online content are persistent and under continual review and renegotiation.
Labels: digital literacy new literacy education
Sunday, November 17, 2013
At the moment I'm writing about textual toys and the commodification of early literacy. I've noted before how a wide range of games and activity centres designed for young babies now have digital components - as do baby walkers, play mats and plush toys. Embedded in these toys are digitally-reproduced nursery rhymes, counting games and alphabet songs providing ‘edutainment’ for infants and toddlers. Although toys and toy manufacturers have always played an important part in early childhood, their role in young children’s learning is ill-defined,and under-theorised. This is especially true for early literacy in which everything from alphabet building blocks and jigsaw puzzles to educational tablets like,the LeapPad
, carries an implicit message about what literacy is, how it develops, and what roles adults, care-givers and children themselves should adopt. What is more, these implied roles blend in with current conceptions of parenting, defined by ‘social investment’ initiatives that reach into the relationship between children and adults to underscore the significance of what is done with
as well as what is provided for
the very young. Scollon's idea of a nexus of practice is proving to be a useful way of articulating the confluence of play practices involving literacy that are singular and situated, whilst at the same time acknowledging that play objects themselves are part of a political economy located in a global mediascape.
Labels: digital literacy; education, play, popular culture
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Ways of knowing
It has been argued that the aesthetic is a distinctive ‘way of knowing’ that integrates the cognitive and the affective. In school systems, cultivating this way of knowing has traditionally been the province of literature study. As a result literary fiction has occupied a central position in the liberal arts curriculum but, until recently, less attention has been given to newer forms of narrative. Students participation in digital culture brings challenges in description since their responses often involve them ‘playing the text’, producing meaning through both text and embodied action in ways that draw on narratives and themes in other forms and on other platforms, constituting part of the wider mediascape . But this is suggestive of the need for a literacy curriculum that can: help students to articulate transmedia connections; foster understandings of how texts draw on the affordances of different modes; provide a metalanguage that is helpful in the appreciation of how texts work and how texts and related materials position readers, players and consumers - not one that makes the study of narrative an option.
Labels: digital literacy new literacy education
Sunday, November 03, 2013
New technology means different things in different places as we can see in the variety of ways in which hardware and software are taken up and integrated into existing and emerging social practices. Mastin Prinsloo
's concept of 'placed resources', and the way in which he uses this in documenting practices in South Africa is particularly useful in this respect. I'm also interested in how the resources themselves are adapted and this is illustrated in Glenn Auld
's work with the Kunibidji community in Maningrida in Australia's Northern Territory. Central to this work is the adaptation of old-style iMacs so that they can be operated as touchscreens, and this is described in non-technical detail here
. It's a fascinating account, strengthen by the description of how the adaptation supported literacy practices that were embedded in the everyday social practices of the Kunibidji. This sort of approach could be a template for the next wave of iPad developments.
Labels: digital literacy; education, materiality, tablets