Unformatted text preview: Colin Lankshear, Michele Knobel,
Chris Bigum, and Michael Peters
Vol. 29 PETER LANG New York y Washington, D.C./Baltimore y Bern
Frankfurt am Main y Berlin y Brussels y Vienna y Oxford Edited by Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear PETER LANG New York y Washington, D.C./Baltimore y Bern
Frankfurt am Main y Berlin y Brussels y Vienna y Oxford Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A new literacies sampler / edited by Michele Knobel, Colin Lankshear.
p. cm. — (New literacies and digital epistemologies; vol. 29)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Media literacy. 2. Mass media in education. I. Title.
P96.M4 N59 302.23—dc22 2006037193
ISSN 1523-9543 Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Bibliothek.
Die Deutsche Bibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data is available
on the Internet at . Cover design by Joni Holst
The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability
of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity
of the Council of Library Resources. © 2007 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York
29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006
All rights reserved.
Reprint or reproduction, even partially, in all forms such as microfilm,
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Printed in the United States of America Knobel_FM.qxd 30/11/2006 21:40 Page v To young (and not so young) digital insiders who inspire people like us Knobel_FM.qxd 30/11/2006 21:40 Page vi Knobel_FM.qxd 30/11/2006 21:40 Page vii Table of Contents Acknowledgements ix Chapter 1: Sampling “the New” in New Literacies
Colin Lankshear & Michele Knobel
Chapter 2: “You Won’t Be Needing Your Laptops Today”: Wired Bodies in the
Kevin M. Leander
Chapter 3: Popular Websites in Adolescents’ Out-of-School Lives: Critical Lessons
Jennifer C. Stone
Chapter 4: Agency and Authority in Role-Playing “Texts”
Chapter 5: Pleasure, Learning, Video Games, and Life: The Projective Stance
James Paul Gee
Chapter 6: Digital Design: English Language Learners and Reader Reviews in
Rebecca W. Black
Chapter 7: Blurring and Breaking through the Boundaries of Narrative, Literacy, and
Identity in Adolescent Fan Fiction
Chapter 8: Looking from the Inside Out: Academic Blogging as New Literacy
Julia Davies & Guy Merchant Knobel_FM.qxd VIII | 30/11/2006 21:40 Page viii A NEW LITERACIES SAMPLER Chapter 9: Online Memes, Affinities, and Cultural Production
Michele Knobel & Colin Lankshear
Chapter 10: New Literacies
Cynthia Lewis 199
229 Contributors 239 Subject Index 243 Author Index 249 Knobel_FM.qxd 30/11/2006 21:40 Page ix Acknowledgements The authors wish to thank the following for generously granting
permission for their original work to be used in this book: the faculty and
students at “Ridgeview Academy” (Chapter 2); Liz, Mike, Fran, Bill,
Robert, Charles, Anne, Karl and Cassie for their insights into live action
role-play games (Chapter 4); Nanako Tanako and her fanfic reviewers
(Chapter 6); Tiana and Jandalf for their interview data, images and fanfic writing (Chapter 7); Jandalf for her sketch of Jemaei (Figure 7.3); and
Mohawk/Limbert for permission to use the doll tea image appearing in
Chapter 8 (Figure 8.3).
We would also like to thank the following for their permission to use their
images on the cover of this book: Julia Davies and Guy Merchant for the
screen shot from Blogtrax (blogtrax.blogsome.com); Zack Johnson for the
image of Arwennie from the massively multiplayer online role playing
game, Kingdom of Loathing (kingdomofloathing.com, © Asymmetric
Publications, LLC); Jandalf for her sketch of Jemaei; Jay Maynard for
the image of his Tron cosplay (Tronguy.com); and Rob Lewis for a
webpage screenshot from Stickdeath (stickdeath.com).
The Editors thank the authors of the chapters for being part of this
project. We thank them for being friends and colleagues who sustain, Knobel_FM.qxd X | 30/11/2006 21:40 Page x A NEW LITERACIES SAMPLER inspire, and encourage us and so many others in our collective endeavor
to better understand “new literacies”. We hope each and every one of them
walks long and happily in this world—and all the other worlds they
variously inhabit. We also thank everyone at Peter Lang Publishing for
being so easy to work with on this project, and on the New Literacies
series as a whole. In particular, we’d like to thank Sophie Appel and Chris
Myers for their input, help and good humor. knobel_01.qxd 30/11/2006 21:40 Page 1 CHAPTER ONE Sampling “the New” in
New Literacies C OLIN L ANKSHEAR AND M ICHELE K NOBEL Sampling
This book “samples” work in the broad area of new literacies research on two levels.
First, it samples some typical examples of new literacies. These are video gaming, fan fiction writing, weblogging, using websites to participate in affinity practices, and social practices involving mobile computing. The question of what it is
about these practices that makes us think of them as “new” and as “literacies” will
occupy much of this introductory chapter.
Second, it samples from among the wide range of approaches potentially available for researching and studying new literacies. The studies assembled in this collection are all examples of what is referred to as research undertaken from a
sociocultural perspective on literacy. New literacies can be studied from a range of
research and theoretical orientations (cf. Leu et al. forthcoming). For reasons that
will become apparent from our account of “new literacies,” however, a sociocultural perspective is especially appropriate and valuable for researching new literacies. A Sociocultural Approach to Literacies
Understanding literacies from a sociocultural perspective means that reading and
writing can only be understood in the contexts of social, cultural, political, economic,
historical practices to which they are integral, of which they are a part. This view
lies at the heart of what Gee (1996) calls the “new” literacy studies, or socioliteracy knobel_01.qxd 2 | 30/11/2006 21:40 Page 2 A NEW LITERACIES SAMPLER studies (see also Hull and Schultz 2001, Knobel 1999, Lankshear 1997, Street
1984, 1995). The relationship between human practice and the production, distribution, exchange, refinement, negotiation and contestation of meanings is a key idea
here. Human practices are meaningful ways of doing things or getting things done
(Scribner and Cole 1981; also Franklin 1990, Hull and Schultz 2001). There is no
practice without meaning, just as there is no meaning outside of practice. Within
contexts of human practice, language (words, literacy, texts) gives meaning to contexts and, dialectically, contexts give meaning to language. Hence, there is no reading or writing in any meaningful sense of each term outside social practices.
If we see literacy as “simply reading and writing”—whether in the sense of
encoding and decoding print, as a tool, a set of skills, or a technology, or as some
kind of psychological process—we cannot make sense of our literacy experience.
Reading (or writing) is always reading something in particular with understanding.
Different kinds of text require “somewhat different backgrounds and somewhat different skills” if they are to be read (i.e., read meaningfully). Moreover, particular texts
can be read in different ways, contingent upon different people’s experiences of practices in which these texts occur. A Christian Fundamentalist, for example, will read
texts from the Bible in radically different ways from, say, a liberation theology priest.
They will make different meanings from specific texts, interact with these texts
differently, put them to different “uses” (e.g., to justify or affirm different courses of
action to be taken in the world), and so on.
Learning to read and write particular kinds of texts in particular ways presupposes immersion in social practices where participants “not only read texts of this type
in this way but also talk about such texts in certain ways, hold certain attitudes and
values about them, and socially interact over them in certain ways” (Gee, Hull and
Lankshear 1996, 3). Different histories of “literate immersion” yield different forms
of reading and writing as practice. The texts we read and write—any and all texts we
read and write; even the most arid (and otherwise meaningless) drill and skill, remedial session “readings”—are integral elements of “lived, talked, enacted, value-andbelief-laden practices” engaged in under specific conditions, at specific times and in
specific places (ibid.). Consequently, it is impossible to abstract or decontextualize
“literacy bits” from their larger embedded practices and for them still to mean what
they do in fact mean experientially. Furthermore, and obviously, there is no one singular phenomenon that is literacy. Rather, there are as many literacies as there are
“social practices and conceptions of reading and writing” (Street 1984, 1). Sociocultural Definitions of “Literacies”
Sociocultural definitions of literacy, then, have to make sense of reading, writing and
meaning-making as integral elements of social practices. One such definition is knobel_01.qxd 30/11/2006 21:40 Page 3 SAMPLING “ THE NEW ” IN NEW LITERACIES | 3 provided by Gee (1996), who defines literacy in relation to Discourses. Discourses are
socially recognized ways of using language (reading, writing, speaking, listening),
gestures and other semiotics (images, sounds, graphics, signs, codes), as well as ways
of thinking, believing, feeling, valuing, acting/doing and interacting in relation to people and things, such that we can be identified and recognized as being a member of
a socially meaningful group, or as playing a socially meaningful role (cf., Gee 1991,
1996, 1998). To be in, or part of, a Discourse means that others can recognise us as
being a “this” or a “that” (a pupil, mother, priest, footballer, mechanic), or a particular
“version” of a this or a that (a reluctant pupil, a doting mother, a radical priest, an
untrained but expert mechanic) by virtue of how we are using language, believing, feeling, acting, dressing, doing, and so on. Language is a dimension of Discourse, but only
one dimension, and Gee uses discourse (with a small “d”) to mark this relationship.
As historical “productions,” Discourses change over time, but at any given point are
sufficiently “defined” for us to tell when people are in them.
Gee distinguishes our primary Discourse from our various secondary
Discourses. Our primary Discourse is how we learn to do and be (including speaking
and expressing) within our family (or face to face intimate) group during our early
life. It (we each have only one primary Discourse, although there are many different
primary Discourses) comprises our first notions of who “people like us” are, and what
“people like us” do, think, value, and so on. Our secondary Discourses (and we each
have many of these, although they differ from person to person) are those we are
recruited to through participation in outside groups and institutions, such as schools,
clubs, workplaces, churches, political organizations, and so on. These all draw upon
and extend our resources from our primary Discourse, and may be “nearer to” or “further away from” our primary Discourse. The further away a secondary Discourse is
from our primary Discourse and our other secondary Discourses—as in the case of
children from marginal social groups who struggle to get a handle on the culture
of school classrooms—the more we have to “stretch” our discursive resources to “perform” within that Discourse. Often in such cases we simply are unable to operate
the Discourse at the level of fluent performance.
Gee holds that any socially useful definition of literacy must build on the
notion of Discourse and the distinction between primary and secondary Discourses.
In part this is because the context of all language use is some specific social practice or other, which is always part of some Discourse or other. Gee defines literacy
“as mastery (or, fluent performance) of a secondary Discourse” (Gee 1996). Hence,
to be literate means being able to handle all aspects of competent performance of
the Discourse, including the literacy bits: that is, to be able to handle the various
human and non-human elements of “coordinations” (Gee 1997, Latour 1987,
Knorr Cetina 1992) effected by Discourses. To play a role, be a particular identity,
etc., is a matter of both “getting coordinated” as an element in a Discourse, and of knobel_01.qxd 4 | 30/11/2006 21:40 Page 4 A NEW LITERACIES SAMPLER coordinating other elements. Language/literacy is a crucial element of discursive
“coordinating,” but it is only one aspect, and the other elements need to be “in sync”
for fluent performance—literacy—to be realised.
In similar vein we have recently defined literacies as “socially recognized ways
of generating, communicating and negotiating meaningful content through the
medium of encoded texts within contexts of participation in Discourses (or, as
members of Discourses)” (Lankshear and Knobel 2006, 64). Identifying literacies as
social practices is necessarily to see them as involving socially recognized ways of doing
things. Scribner and Cole (1981, 236) claim that “social practice” always refers “to
socially developed and patterned ways of using technology and knowledge to accomplish tasks.” They describe literacy in terms of “socially organized practices [that]
make use of a symbol system and a technology for producing and disseminating it”
(1981, 236). Literacy, then, is not a matter of knowing how to read and write a particular kind of script. Rather, it is a matter of “applying this knowledge for specific
purposes in specific contexts of use” (ibid.). This means that literacy is really like a
family of practices—literacies—that includes such “socially evolved and patterned
activities” as letter writing, keeping records and inventories, keeping a diary, writing
memos, posting announcements, and so on (ibid.). More recently Brian Street
(2001, 11) has defined literacy practices as “particular ways of thinking about and
doing reading and writing in cultural contexts.”
Literacies call us to generate and communicate meanings and to invite others
to make meaning from our texts in turn. This, however, can only be done by having
something to make meaning from—namely, a kind of content that is carried as
“potential” by the text and that is actualized through interaction with the text by its
recipients. If there is no text there is no literacy, and every text, by definition, bears
content. Gunther Kress (2003, 37–38) makes this point in relation to alphabetic
writing. He talks of readers doing “semiotic work” when they read a written text.
This is “the work of filling the elements of writing with content” (ibid.); that is, the
work of making meaning from the writing in the text. Kress argues that meaning
involves two kinds of work. One is articulation, which is performed in the production
of “the outwardly made sign” (e.g., writing). The other is interpretation, which
involves producing “the inwardly made sign” in reading (see also Gee 2004, Ch. 6).
Our idea of “meaningful content” that is generated and negotiated within literacy practices is, however, wider and looser than many literacy scholars might
accept. We think Gee’s (1997) Discourse approach to literacies draws attention to
the complexity and richness of the relationship between literacies and “ways of being
together in the world” (Gee 1997, xv). So, for example, when we look at somebody’s
weblog we might well find that much of the meaning to be made from the content
has to do with who we think the blog writer is: what they are like, how they want
to think of themselves, and how they want us to think of them. Likewise, a particular knobel_01.qxd 30/11/2006 21:40 Page 5 SAMPLING “ THE NEW ” IN NEW LITERACIES | 5 text that someone produces might well be best understood as an expression of
wanting to feel “connected” or “related” right now. The meaning carried by the content might be much more relational than literal. It might be more about expressing
solidarity or affinity with particular people. Our idea of “meaningful content” is
intended to be sufficiently elastic to accommodate these possibilities.
This is an important point when it comes to understanding the internet, online
practices and online “content.” Almost anything available online becomes a resource
for diverse kinds of meaning making. In many cases the meanings that are made will
not be intelligible to people at large or, in some cases, to many people at all. Some
might be shared only by “insiders” of quite small interest groups or cliques. Consider,
for example, the way that eBay has been used to spoof a range of social conventions
and to generate diverse kinds of quirky and “nutty” activity. A man auctioned his
soul in 2006 and received a cash payment that came with the condition that he
would spend 50 hours in church. In another case an individual auctioned a ten-yearold toasted cheese sandwich the owner said had an imprint of the Virgin Mary on
it, and that had not gone mouldy or disintegrated since it was made in 1994.
Moreover, she said it had brought her luck at a casino. An internet casino purchased
the sandwich for $28,000 and planned to take it on tour to raise money for charity. Other sellers responded with Virgin Mary toasted sandwich makers, T-shirts, etc.
(see: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4034787.stm). On 5 May 2006, Yahoo! sports
pages reported a Kansas City Royals baseball fan of 25 years finally giving up on
the club and auctioning his loyalty. The meaning of such actions have little to do
with established practices of auctioning, and the interpretation of texts describing
the items have little or nothing to do with the literal words per se. People may be
prepared to spend money just to be in solidarity with the spoof: to say “I get it,” and
thereby signal their insiderness with the practice, express solidarity with the seller,
or, even, to try and save a soul.
By defining literacies in relation to “encoded texts” we mean texts that have been
rendered in a form that allows them to be retrieved, worked with, and made available
independently of the physical presence of another person. “Encoded texts” are texts
that have been “frozen” or “captured” in ways that free them from their immediate context of production so that they are “transportable.” Encoded texts give (semi) permanence, transcendence, and transportability to language that is not available in the
immediacy of speech, hand signs, and the like.They can “travel” without requiring particular people to transport them. They can be replicated independently of needing
other human beings to host the replication. The particular kinds of codes employed
in literacy practices are varied and contingent. Literacies can involve any kind of codification system that “captures” language in the sense we have described. Literacy
includes “letteracy” (i.e., within the English language, recognition and manipulation
of alphabetic symbols), but in our view goes far beyond this. Someone who “freezes” knobel_01.qxd 6 | 30/11/2006 21:40 Page 6 A NEW LITERACIES SAMPLER language as a digitally encoded passage of speech and uploads it to the internet as a
podcast is engaging in literacy.
Finally, the point that we always engage in literacy practices as members of some
Discourse or other takes us back to Gee’s account of literacies outlined above.
Humans “do life” as individuals and as members of social and cultural groups—
always as what Gee calls “situated selves”—in and through Discourses. A person rushing an email message to head office as she hands her boarding pass to the airline
attendant at the entrance to the aircraft...
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