Saturday, April 30, 2011

Advantageous practice

In an article co-written with my colleague Cathy Burnett we've been problematising the notion of critical literacy - particularly in the context of social media. We've drawn on Greenhow and Robelia's notion of 'advantageous practice' which raises all sorts of interesting issues. One thing we're keen to avoid is the idea of teachers telling students what they think is best - a pitfall, as we see it, of some critical approaches. They end up by being uncritical to the extent that they try to force particular ways of reading texts, and particular ways of seeing the world. So advantageous practice is perhaps best seen as a dialectical process, based in an enquiry into how one is positioned in and positioned by social context, with a view to seeking ways in which these positions can be influenced in a positive and worthwhile way - one that is likely to benefit the communities and social networks of affiliation. Advantageous practices are then likely to be situated and often localised in character, although they may well relate to larger national and transnational concerns.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Books smell

I borrowed this wonderful advert for 'The Smell of Books' from Angela Thomas as an illustration for my keynote at the recent BAAL seminar on language and disadvantage. My point was to illustrate important changes in the communication economy (ie: the rise of self-sponsored writing; of new conventions, new relationships and ideas of appropriacy as well as the usual suspects: multimodal, multilingual and multiscriptual texts) that prompt us to reconceptualize disadvantage and to recontextualize public discourse about 'bad language', and to point out how all this takes place against a backcloth of persistant nostalgia for the book and other fixed forms of print literacy. For me it was a return to some key debates in sociolinguistics and with a title like 'The Trashmaster: popular culture, bad language and writing online', a return to form in grabbing attention. The nub of the question settles on old language prejudices - those that so readily associate with class, although as the seminar discussion uncovered, class is far more fragmented than it was when these debates last headlined in the late 1960s. Same same; different different.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nostalgia for the future

Most visions of the future just flesh out the present - or even re-imagine the past. John Banville describes this effect extremely well when his narrator explores the 'outmoded atmosphere that pervaded ...[his]...dream of what was to come.' So here goes: ' So what I foresaw for the future was in fact, if fact comes into it, a picture of what could only be an imagined past. I was, one might say, not much anticipating the future as nostalgic for it, since what in my imaginings was to come was in reality already gone.' (The Sea: 71)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Looking back

window by on-the-run window, a photo by on-the-run on Flickr.

September 1994 should be regarded as a landmark in the recent history of literacy studies. Or maybe it should be spring 1996. Either will do, because the autumn of 1994 was when the New London Group first met, and 1996 the date when their jointly authored paper ‘A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies’ was first published in the Harvard Education Review. To explain: New London is the name of the place in the US where the group met, where Courtney Cazden, Bill Cope, Norman Fairclough, Jim Gee and Mary Kalantzis, joined forces with Gunther Kress, Allan Luke, Carmen Luke, Sarah Michaels, Martin Nakata and Joseph Lo Bianco to discuss how literacy pedagogy might adapt to suit the changing context of the late twentieth century. Despite the impressive range of expertise it was an ambitious undertaking, but one that was nothing if not generative and, with the benefit of hindsight, highly influential. By the time the book Multiliteracies was published, the project had gathered momentum, had attracted new voices and was beginning to influence debate amongst literacy educators in much of the English-speaking world, and elsewhere too. At this year's AERA conference the group re-formed -well not all of them - but it was an impressive line-up. There was a fair dose of nostalgia, some great photos of New London in which they all (surprise, surprise) looked much younger and plenty of evidence that they all have more to contribute. Maybe the multiliteracies banner is a little jaded, but it's influence is still felt.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Street Piano 2 by on-the-run
Street Piano 2, a photo by on-the-run on Flickr.
Constance Steinkuehler talks about her work as migratory ethnography, and this description conjures two possible descriptions of research in digital worlds. One is practice- (or text-) focused and would turn the lens on how particular literacies and textual formations migrate across sites and between communities, whereas a second interpretation would look at how people migrate across sites over a period of time. They both have some relevance to what I've been thinking about Flickr lately - sparked by the fact that my subscription is up for renewal. Basically I started thinking about whether my subscription is justified by my usage and my level of participation in the Flickr community. Funnily enough just after my renewal reminder when I was wondering whether Flickr had had its day, I got Flickr mail from someone who was interested in the Street Piano photographs - wanted to initiate something similar at an arts festival and was asking for permission to use my pictures. This fascinated me - I'd already written about how the Street Piano became a 'slippery narrative' weaving its way between the real and the digital - and here it was again entering a new phase of migration! And this just at the point when I was considering leaving Flickr. I've now reconsidered; but it does make me think how Web 2.0 does produce rather transitory audiences/producers. Bloggers come and go, I deserted Last.FM in favour of Blip.FM and I find I've lost interest in Twitter. It would be interesting to trace people's migrations, to understand why they move and which practices they take with them into new environments. At least people continue to tickle the ivories!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Identity blues

Dorothy Holland and William Lachicotte have a great chapter in the 2007 Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky. They identify two tracks in identity theory, one is organised around the idea of a coherent sense of self and can be traced back to Erikson - with obvious connections to notions of psychological well-being. The other runs back to Mead, the formations that take place through social interaction and symbolic communication and suggests the possibility of plural identities. This allows the crafting of identities that may be a sort of bricolage of different social roles, a more creative way of inhabiting the various postions and roles afforded us by society. I don't know how far that confers us with agency, but it makes me quite happy to be a 50-something academic who attends conferences and loves live music. The video of Little Freddie King was taken at the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans on my Blackberry as I went (?) from one meeting to the next.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Orleans!

I haven't been posting for a few days - that is since I became a temporary resident at the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans, the location for this year's AERA conference. It's been a great event, with some very good keynotes and papers. I really enjoyed being discussant at Sarah's symposium on digital literacies in higher education, and the event I shared with Rebecca Black, Julia Gillen and Jackie Marsh went really well. Constance Steinkhueller was an excellent discussant. I've met lots of good people - too many to list - and enjoyed everything I attended. This morning I was wowed by the digital dome and the possibilities it presents (here's one). Jeffrey Jacobson's paper was thought-provoking and I found myself much in agreement with his comments about 'augmented' and virtual reality. The conference reality was helpfully augmented by the French Quarter Festival which was a musical extravaganza, with excellent Zydeco music (Donna Angello for one) and the full-on exuberance that seems to be the soul of New Orleans. Would you believe it, but I forgot to pack my camera!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Crowdsourced music

Imogen Heap's latest composition has a creative take on music in the digital age. Making extensive use of social media she has encouraged audience involvement in her latest work 'Lifeline' by incorporating the sounds and words sent to her. Now you could be picky and say that this is just a sophisticated marketing ploy, an easy way of gathering material and highly dependent on free contribution rather than open participation - but that would be unfair. The whole process springs from a different way of looking at the world, and one that reminds me of Colin and Michele's idea of mindset 2.0. In essence there's a distinctively new relationship between producer and consumer here, and a radically different take on where ideas come from and who owns them. Crowdsourcing is an interesting way of describing this because it leads us to ask for more precision in determining who the crowd is in the first place. The crowd here isn't 'the public' but it is 'a public'. It's not everyone, but it could be anyone. Similarly the crowd is not the audience but it may be part of the audience. No, the crowd is composed of a fluid coming and going of people who are part of a transient and distributed network - inhabitants of what Gee calls an 'affinity space'. There are clearly some resonances with other emerging social and political groupings, but I suppose the distinctiveness is around leadership and authorship (or ownership). Heap's achievement is, after all, still hers albeit with a little help from her friends, but it's framed by new ways of thinking about things, new practices and shifting networks of connection. Sell our sounds back to us, Imogen, or set them free: that's the question.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Getting mobile

In his careful exploration of the role of the mobile phone in contemporary life, Gergen (2003) uses the metaphor of the ‘floating world’. Historically-speaking the floating world refers to the urban lifestyle associated with the Japanese Edo period – an unregulated social world devoted to everyday pleasures and pastimes. The similarities between this informal social world and the floating world of mobile phone users is carefully sketched out, but the contrast lies in the conceptions of space and place that are involved. Geography is clearly less significant for networked communities and as Gergen poetically suggests these communities are ‘elevated from the physical terrain’ and each mobile ‘is a sign of a significant nucleus, stretching in all directions, amorphous and protean.’ It’s a vivid image of a pealing apart of place and space, and it also suggests that those who really count aren’t there. They are the ones that you left behind, because in the final analysis a mobile device presumes a mobile user. And in this way we are positioned as people on the move dependent on our phones for navigation, for orientation and most of all for connection. That seems strange when only ten years ago we thought that technology would allow us to travel anywhere without even leaving our terminal.