Saturday, July 31, 2010

Discourses in time

I like the idea of 'retired' signs and sometimes show them on my Flickr stream. One of the good things about Scollon and Scollon's 'Discourses in Place' is the detailed attention given to the context of everyday environmental signs. They suggest that 'there is a major aspect of [...]meaning that is produced only through the placement of that sign in the real world in contiguity with other objects in that world.' (Scollon & Scollon, 2003:30). But of course place cannot be properly discussed without time. This No Parking sign has, I assume, lost its authority through the passage of time. How do we know that a sign's meaning is still current?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Selective attention

This video caught my attention partly because it so clearly states its intention. I suppose it could be seen as a good example of getting public engagement in research using YouTube. But I was also interested in the whole phenomenon of ‘inattentional blindness’ or the idea that if you're not focusing attention on something you can hardly be said to perceive it. Not only did it remind me of Goffman’s idea of ‘civil inattention’ in which we notice but don’t stare (codified as politeness) but on a deeper level it made me think of the cultural scripts or ideologies which we are more often than not blind to. These implicit ideologies frame our view of the world; masquerading as common sense they are experienced as ‘the way things are’. Gramsci has a great way of describing these ideologies as ‘a product of the historical process...which has deposited in you an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory.’ (Gramsci, 1995:324). The work involved in seeing the gorilla is slight in comparison, but the underlying principle of focus, or should I say critical focus, seems to me to be analogous.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mapping place

The map is not to be confused with the territory but it does nevertheless produce a virtual representation of it. Early aerial photography seems to have provided an interesting interruption to this distinction. As Hauser observes, ‘The most familiar of things.... were all made unfamiliar from the air. The aerial view flattened out the landscape, pictured it like a map, and with such resolution, such detail...but unlike maps they were records as well as diagrams, containing photographic information that was sometimes unexpected and always up-to-date.’ (Hauser 2007:105). Enter Google Maps and Streetview; and as I noted here, there is often the element of the unexpected even though it may not necessarily be up-to-date! But maps are a very useful way of knowing your place, where you started from and how to get to where you want to go, and Google has again begun to blur the boundaries between representation and view. Traditional maps reduce the excess of information through the application of measurement and symbolisation, and so become a material representation of space and of those objects in it that are seen as significant. A spatial map becomes a coded text. ‘Looking at a contour map, the student sees lines on paper, the cartographer a picture of a terrain.’ (Kuhn, 1970:111). The geographer’s map is always selective, drawing attention to certain aspects of place to the exclusion of others, and in this way it maps the relationship between significant objects. And I suppose it is this selectivity that tempted Borges to suggest the 1:1 map in his fast fiction ‘On rigour in science’ in which ‘the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it’ (Borges, 1998:325). Borges’ fictional map is subsequently deemed useless; in contrast, Google seems to have a very useful product.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Changing place

Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

I'm intrigued and slightly disturbed by our first glimpses of what augmented reality might look like. In a comment in an earlier post I posed the question of what happens to theories of place-based practice when virtual space overlaps or annotates a physical space. The video above - which Karen Wohlwend showed at the UKLA conference suggests how this might play out. The Junaio app for the iphone provides a foretaste of AR, but I'm not particularly attracted to the idea of staring at the world through a smartphone. Nevertheless the idea of being able to access deeper levels of information about real world places is attractive, but as the video suggests it could provide all sorts of information that we might wish to filter out. Maybe here's yet another reason for returning to the critical?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The future of critique

Gunther Kress, in his latest book, argues for a shift from critique to the ethics of design. I won't rehearse all of his arguments here - but merely point to some important themes. Most of these relate to what has been called the condition of late modernity. In short we have witnessed a shift from a society in which workers produced and then consumed in their remaining free time, to a one in which consumers have become producers and sometimes work in their free time - and all of this in a globalised and heavily marketised economy in which the old stabilities of a social order have fragmented. Lifestyle becomes more important than social position and design or re-design becomes the available arena of agency and even resistance. Kress argues that design is prospective; critique retrospective. But there seems to be something awry when the discourse of the market starts to erase or at least re-write critical or emancipatory positions. It seems to me that one thing that the New Literacy Studies has in its favour is a foundational recognition that power structures practices. This strengthens its application to different socio-cultural settings and the particularities of place. It can therefore be applied to textual practices that seem to embody or live in the condition of late modernity - sketched out above - as well as in contexts where older and more familiar forms of social order persist. In literacy and media studies there is this tendency to stop short of spelling out what a new critical practice might look like, but I think it is well overdue.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


It's happened before, but not in such an extreme way. At Winchester I met someone for the first time that knew lots and lots about me. My work, my house move, my family events, my sadness, interests, pets....lots of things! This blogger has followed mine (without me knowing it) for quite some time. And unlike before that hasn't been reciprocated. I've been followed without following. It was - and I must admit to it - quite a surprise, not that I mind at all, after all that's part and parcel of life online. I suppose I've embraced the blurring of private and public, and as the previous post shows, I'm not particuarly upset believing that I have nothing particular to hide. I remember in fact when working with Julia Davies on this project that we thought of blogs as being like a window onto the street. You looked out, but passers-by also looked in. You controlled what they saw, but you couldn't completely obstruct their gaze. At least if you did there would be no blog. Like all metaphors the street window goes only so far in capturing what goes on. When Colin and Michele put something different 'in their window', it still works. Somehow keeping blogging seems to be the main point, and if there are readers, even if you don't know who they are, that's got to be a good thing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Literacies in place

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In a previous post I wrote about the emphasis on place and space that characterised the CSNL conference, and this thread continued through the UKLA International Conference in Winchester. In the Focus Day, which addressed multilingual/plurilingual issues it was an everpresent theme right from Christine Helot's explorations of language politics and pedagogy in Alsace to Dina Mehmedbegovic's nuanced look at place-referenced autobiographical writing in London schools. Although the International Conference keynotes didn't directly reference the significance of location, Barbara Comber returned to the theme with a delightful exploration of place-based pedagogies. The critical literacies symposium which included Hilary Janks and Helen Nixon provided more illustrations of the significance of place and its interconnections across time and space through the stories of the cameleers - the Afgani migrants to Adelaide. Since I've been thinking about what happens to geosemiotic approaches when virtual space overlaps or annotates a physical space, this provided me with an alternative perspective in the sense that the particularity of place is always infused with stories from elsewhere whether in terms of personal/family narratives or other texts. And so Margaret Mackey's poignant auto-bibliography, her own multimodal literacy history, illustrated this in another way. Part of her experience growing up in Newfoundland was simply about family, that most personal space, but then the influence of books and TV with a distinctly North American feel showed how that took 'place' in a wider socio-historical context. But Roy Rogers (and Trigger), the Lone Ranger (and Silver) had a much wider currency. I was struck by the way in which these TV narratives with their proto-global distribution became loaclised. As Margaret was crawling through wet grass of semi-rural Canada, I was riding the arms of a sofa in urban England - both of us embodying those cowboy narratives of the 1950s in different ways and anchoring them to the spaces we variously inhabited using, of course, the materials at hand to make our different meanings. In a rather different way, Dylan Yamada-Rice had already pointed us to the specifics of place-as-text through her fascinating visual explorations of London and Tokyo. Google StreetView makes the particularity of place instantly and globally available as the image above shows. Here I'm captured pruning the holly tree at home last summer - virtual space overlaps and annotates physical space!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Generation re-wind

This little video's gone viral with its easy-to-digest dystopia/utopia message. It's an interesting example of how the affordances of the moving image can subvert the linearity that is usually associated with the written word. Maybe calling it a palindrome-poem is a bit of a stretch...but what's really interesting is the way the Lost Generation meme moves from parody to critique as the Lost Generation Sucks illustrates pretty well.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

CSNL summer conference

I did the final plenary for the CSNL Summer Conference yesterday so I thought I'd show a fuller version of that here today. I was struck, after over ten years of work, how the new literacies remain hard to describe - a bit like the exotic lands visited by old-school ethnographers. In 1957, Raymond Firth wrote of one such trip saying 'I wondered how such turbulent human material could ever be induced to submit to scientific study.' It sometimes seems that we are dealing with equally turbulent material, albeit much closer to home. And so there is an almost restless searching for descriptive and analytical frameworks through which we might make sense of new practices (if indeed they are new). Media studies, new literacy studies and multimodality have all informed our work and there is a call for still wider interdisciplinarity. In the CSNL conference we heard more of the geosemiotic turn in literacy studies. Scollon & Scollon's (2003) notion of discources in place was evoked on a number of occasions, most notably by Karen Wohlwend who used this and the earlier nexus analysis to explore representations of children and technology. She illustrated how discourses of childhood circulated on YouTube and how these were renewed or revived through processes of participation. Participation subsequently became a major theme in the conference. The Jenkins White Paper was much cited, but with rather scant reference to 2 key issues that are often missed. One is the issue of the participation gap and the other is the idea of critical media literacy which is often referred to but seldom fleshed out. (For a critique of the concept of 'participation', this may help). Another weighty concept that was frequently evoked was that of identity. Jennifer Rowsell drew our attention to the producers in TV, game design, and on the web - those who are often hidden from view or erased by our romanticised views of participation and user-generated content. Producers are important if we believe that particlular identity positions are made available through the meaning-making resources that children and young people use. (Perhaps there is some kind of notion of identity affordances here - possibilities for certain kinds of performance.) We also learnt about multimodality as a counternarrative, a way of destabilising taken-for granted notions of curriculum and pedagogy and again, and perhaps in a similar way, how the relationship between formal and non-formal practices raises new questions for educators. Scott Bulfin argued that we needed to move beyond the simple recognition of new and complex meaning-making practices and suggested that it might also be fruitful to look at what happens inside schools but outside classrooms. This had a number of resonances with Julia Bishop's excellent presentation on children's playground rhymes in which she illustrated a different kind of complex-meaning making - in texts which are inhabited and embodied in interstitial spaces in children's free time. That brought me full circle to a consideration of analytical models, since the use of space, the identity affordances and the challenge of describing texts that are chanted to subtle rhythmic patterns and simultaneously enacted corporeally and gesturally have a number of similarities with what we see on YouTube, in virtual worlds and in other digital texts.