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[Text]ure: Weaving Together an Understanding of New Literacies
The dissertation is the seminal piece of a PhD research program, yet few students have produced one in a format solely outside the written word (see Carson, 2017; Sousanis, 2015). This creates a contradiction between scholars who acknowledge the importance of new literacy practices, yet do not accept their production as true intellectual work. To have a better understanding of this paradox, I needed to examine the literacy practices within education.
The body of work in Cultural Studies (Grossberg, 1996; Hall, 1996; Schirato & Yell, 2000; Slack, 1996; Slack & Wise, 2015) analyzes the everyday and commonly accepted practices within a particular culture to detect the underlying political powers that function within that culture and to call attention to how those powers implicate problematic consequences involving the marginalization of individuals based on gender, sexuality, race, class, as well as other areas in an attempt to trouble previously received, or accepted views of such practices through the means of an intervention. As Hall (1996) would argue, in order to understand the commonly accepted practices within education, I would need to take a closer look at the historical trajectory of the written word. Or rather, I would need to develop an understanding of the articulations, or the complex connection of elements linked together to form a conditional unity of literacy (Hall, 1996). To do this, I began by analyzing the definition of the word literacy, which ties together both reading and writing, two distinctive practices which each contain their own history and components. The word literate is not one thing but rather a combination of practices, beliefs, and relationships. Thus, I had to analyze these elements separately by researching the history of reading practices as well as writing practices including the associated technologies. In addition, I analyzed both written and oral languages including the origins of the educational systems from Western Europe to America.
Writing today is common practice but it was not always that way. Historically, writing was only practiced by an elite few, establishing a culture privileging of the written word as the most authoritative way of communication. From my research, I noted that the written word and higher education were historically limited to the dominant culture that of white Christian males. These individuals of authority often used the written word as a form of control (e.g. interpretations of the bible, branding of slaves, as well as others) (Churchill, 2004; Cornelius, 1983; Edgar, 1998; Gee, 2015; Kurlansky, 2016; Monaghan, 2005; Smith, 2002). Therefore, the practice was restricted to those in power with a link that was rearticulated again and again over time to the written word. The iteration of these articulations contributed to a culturally received view of the written word as the more superior form of representation as compared to oral and visual languages. Further, material expenses limited the means for the production of the written word; only those with money could use the practice. Thus, the practice of writing was restricted to a small group of individuals that lead to a greater “cultural capital”, the value attributed to material or symbolic things in a particular culture (Schirato & Yell, 2000, p. 36). These cultural practices especially marginalized races, genders, and ethnicities that were articulated with practices linked to other forms of representation that were culturally perceived as inferior to that of the written word (Barone, 2008; Carson, 2017; Coiro et al., 2008; Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Eisner, 2008b; 1976; Dalton & Proctor, 2008; Flood et al., 2008; Gee, 2015; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; 2007; Leavy, 2015; McNiff, 1998; Siegesmund & Cahnmann-Taylor, 2008; The New London Group, 2000; Tseelon, 2001; 1995; Wilber, 2008).
I then examined the articulations of the marginalized groups as well as the articulations associated with the dominant group, tracing from Western Europe to what is now known as The United States. I identified from these articulations a binary system in which the perceived greater-than parts were elements historically linked to white males and the perceived lesser-than parts were elements historically linked to marginalized groups. Although the historically marginalized groups have gained more equality from the actions of numerous individuals including scholars and activists than previous decades, there still exists cultural practices and beliefs that continue particular forms of repression because they are perceived as the commonly accepted way of doing things from a dominant culture. It is not only important to question these taken-for-granted ways but to also call attention to the problematic consequences of such practices.
The historical articulation linking males to public spaces (such as institutes of higher education), and the mind (including the written word and science) and females to private spaces (such as the home), and the body (including arts and fashion) is particularly problematic (Lurie, 2000; Monaghan, 2005; Tseelon, 1995; Schirato & Yell, 2000). For one, both art and fashion have been perceived as intellectually inferior as practices in education. Arts based researchers are often required to make hybrid products, submitting a traditional paper in addition to a creative work, in order to be accepted as scholarly work. Dissertation hybrids (like Harvey, 2006) suggest creative works of art (forms of new literacies) are only acknowledged by institutes of higher education as intellectually valid if presented through the practices of traditional literacy (the written word); consequently, a rearticulation of the power of the masculine mind over the femininity of the body.
The articulation of the mind over the body has further marginalized women in education (Green, 2001; hooks, 1997; Kaiser et al., 2001; Mitchell & Weber, 1999; Weber, 2011). From an early age, women are shaped to embody this articulation by the way in which they dress, or rather don’t dress (e.g. dress codes). Female scholars must conceal their bodies (rendering it invisible) in order to be validated intellectually by institutes of higher education, often adapting their wardrobes to reflect more masculine features (e.g. shoulder pads, suits, etc.) (Banim, Green, & Guy, 2001; Green, 2001; hooks, 1997; Kaiser et al., 2001; Mitchell & Weber, 1999; Weber, 2011). Because clothing has been articulated with the femininity of the body, fashion has been linked to frivolousness and beauty. Subsequently, scholars in clothing continue to struggle to be acknowledged as working in an intellectually valid field (Tseelon, 2001), which is particularly difficult due to the historical linkage of women to home economics (Monaghan, 2005).
Secondly, at the forefront of literacy research are the advocates of new literacies, yet educational practices remain relatively unchanged, focusing predominately on the use of “traditional” literacy practices (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu, 2008; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; Lankshear & Knobel, 2007; Wilber, 2008). Restricting literacy practices to the traditionally perceived form of literacy does not adequately prepare students for career readiness and beyond. This problem is crucial to the field of literacy as colleges in education prepare future classroom teachers (Coiro et al., 2008; Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Dalton & Proctor, 2008; Flood, Heath, & Lapp, 2008; Gee, 2015; Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; 2007; The New London Group, 2000; Wilber, 2008). As the means by which communication takes place continues to broaden, it is imperative that educational practices focus on the production of new literacies and not just the consumption. In other words, literacy scholars are encouraging new literacies practices in grade level classrooms but do not support the production of these practices with undergraduate and graduate students, who are eventually expected to teach the same practices to their students. Although literacy applies to both reading and writing, instruction continues to neglect the latter (National Commission on Writing, 2003; National Writing Project [NWP] & Nagin, 2003).
Society is continuously communicating in various ways and through various technologies, which is why the definition of the word literacy is even more complicated than it was a century ago (Alvermann, 2011; Coiro et al., 2008; Gee, 2015). The meaning of being literate has broadened from a once narrowed view as a singular, autonomous concept with a fixed point to a plural, complex concept as a continuous process (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011; Street, 1984). Literacy has not so much changed, rather our perspective of literacy has. New literacies practices take form in all shapes and sizes. Educators need to become more inclusive of the funds of knowledge brought forth by the various literacy practices of a diverse student population rather than continuing to support guidelines that police them.
Rather than merely recognizing oppression, research in the field of cultural studies calls for the extension of practices to empowerment. These cultural interventions not only require historical and political motivation but also timeliness. Christianity is at the roots of the United States of America’s foundations. The educational practices of this nation progressed from religious practices that originated in Western Europe. Unfortunately, these commonly accepted beliefs take for granted a deeply rooted history of marginalization within these practices. The need for acknowledging a diversity of voices is especially important today as more and more people find themselves marginalized by dominant cultures across events currently within our society. Individuals have been particularly targeted across race, gender, sexuality, and religion by political legislation.
I suspect, as a result of my research, new literacies practices have been deterred in practices of higher education because of the articulations iteratively linking the superiority of the written word and the inferiority of the arts especially fashion. Higher education’s acknowledgment of the intellectual validity of representational forms other than the written word could help to disarticulate the privileging of traditional literacies and rearticulate the intellectual legitimacy of new literacies.
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