Thursday, March 18, 2010

Decentring the text

The study of literacy has given pride of place to the text for much of its recent history. Whether in the social construction of meaning through the study of genre or in the shift in focus from the author's design to the role of the reader in literature, the central point of interest is still the text. The NLS perspective with its emphasis on how textual practices are embedded in social events has offered a richer understanding of how literacy works in everyday life, often describing events in which texts are more peripheral to action and interaction than in the more formal contexts of literacy education and literary study. Reflecting on this has made wonder what happens when we decentre the text in the description of literacy events. I imagine that this leaves us with situated interaction, the negotation of meaning, relationships with material objects and actions, and Discourse (in Gee's sense of the word). Two examples may serve to flesh this out a bit. In studying SNSs as a particularly topical site for digital literacy, my academic background predisposes me to examine the actual 'texture' of Facebook pages - features such as the organisational layout, their multimodality, the languages used, the interactive patterning and so on. But I find myself stepping back from that to gain a sense of what Facebook means to teens, what they are doing and what they think they are doing, and its significance in their lives. That's a subtle shift of emphasis which begins to reveal how the textual space has a leavening effect on friendships and wider social relationships. In a second example I imagine what a study of classroom literacy might look like if we turned our attention away from the text. Perhaps we would describe interactions differently - for example the configurations of adults and children in classroom spaces, their actions and activities around significant objects (boards, screens, paper, books and so on), the way they are positioned and the positions they adopt. Would we begin to see how literacy practices help to reify social relationships and suggest possible identity performances more clearly? I'm not suggesting that the attention given to the text is wrong or misguided but just considering how shifting our gaze may bring other things into sharper focus.


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