Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Baroque Philadelphia

When Cathy and I worked on the data that later became Points of View, we experimented with deconstructing the notion of 'the event', partly because we found it hard to define any clear boundaries between different instances of meaning-making in the material we were dealing with, and our multiple readings of the data, the stacking stories we developed, highlighted increasing levels of complexity, rather than coalescing around a single version of what was happening in classroom virtual world play. We struggled to find a word for what we were observing - maybe occurrences or action sequences might work - otherwise just call it the project! Part of the problem with the idea of 'events', which we haven't so far articulated, is the way in which they tend to associate too easily with 'activities' or 'routines' in the world of literacy education. And one thing that is clear about the virtual worlds work is the way in which it challenges just those sorts of boundaries, planned learning sequences, activities, objectives and all the rest. In our AERA presentation, we deepened our baroque reading of the data, using this to critique simple, reductive models of literacy in classrooms. Cathy introduced the notion of a baroque pedagogy, an exuberant expression of free roaming gameplay, one that is hard to describe, hard to understand, but thoroughly absorbing for participants. But we also used baroque techniques to illuminate the heterogeneity of meaning-making in classrooms, and that, I think, will be at the heart of the next paper that we're working on.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Modal aggregates

Norris's work on modal aggregates is a powerful way of conceptualising the iPad data that I've recently been writing about. Although her argument that multimodal perspectives destabilise the primacy of language in social interaction is not exactly new, the focus on action, as a unit of analysis, helps to highlight the shifting dominance of modes - how, in her words, modal hierarchies fluctuate. In the sorts of multiparty interactions that occur between children, adults and iPads, we can see how deictic gestures, at times dominant, give way to spoken language, onscreen visual movements, object-handling and so on. Accepting that overall meanings are always greater than the sum of these modal parts, this perspective helps to incorporate materiality and embodiment into the analysis in useful ways. There are some limitations, though. The analytical work that Norris (2012) engages in places humans as social actors at the centre of the interaction, thus following in the footsteps of earlier sociolinguistic approaches, but in doing this objects are cast as rather mute associates. For example, in Norris's data, a painting is moved (object-handling mode), pointed at (deictic gestural mode), and then talked about. But when scripted material objects - like iPads - are so deeply woven into activity, I think we need a broader perspective, one which shows how things (such as technologies) can generate, initiate, or participate in action. Perhaps it would help to focus on developing accounts of action sequences with different trajectories - the vibrating alert from a mobile phone that heralds an incoming text message, prompting some email checking, a phone call and so on, for example. Thinking about fluctuating hierarchies in modal aggregates might well be a useful way of approaching and understanding the emerging patterns of communication associated with new technologies. This could then lead to a more sophisticated account of how objects participate in social interaction, bringing what we read in Latour to bear upon our discussions of multimodality and discourse analysis.