Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power, and Identity

Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power, and Identity

Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power, and Identity

Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power, and Identity

Synopsis

Literacy and Literacies is a new and engaging account of literacy and its relation to power. The book develops a new synthesis of literacy studies, moving beyond received categories, and exploring the domain of power through questions of colonialism, modern state formation, educational systems and official versus popular literacies. Collins and Blot offer indepth critical discussion of particular cases and discuss the role of literacies in the formation of class, gender, and ethnic identity. Through their analysis of two domains - those of literacies and power, and of literacies and subjectivity - they challenge received assumptions about literacy, intellectual development and social progress and argue that neither 'universalist' nor 'particularist' accounts offer satisfactory approaches to the phenomenon. This is the first sustained exploration of the domain of power in relation to literacy. It will be welcomed by students and researchers in anthropology, linguistics, literacy studies and history.

Excerpt

The title of this path-breaking book is a good clue to its intentions. the first term signals a focus on the importance of literacy in contemporary society: “a key word in our culture [that] has a status in the current era rather like that of 'science' in the nineteenth” (p. 3). the plural “literacies” signals the authors' attention to a key shift in academic approaches to the field, a shift of focus from a single thing called literacy, seen as a set of “autonomous” skills with far-reaching almost determinist consequences, to a recognition that there are multiple literacies; unravelling what practices might be validly and helpfully termed literacies, what should be included, where the boundaries should be drawn, and what it means to develop a theory of multiple literacies is a major focus of the book. the shift to plural approaches in the 1980s came to be called the “New Literacy Studies” (NLS) (Gee, 1991; Street, 1993; Collins, 1995) and since its path-breaking challenge to the dominance of the autonomous model, scholars in this field have provided a rich array of carefully documented accounts of how literacy practices vary from one cultural and historical context to another. Introducing the concepts of literacy events (Heath, 1983) and literacy practices (Street, 1984; 2000; Barton and Hamilton, 1998), nls provided a lens, a methodology, and a literature based on them that enabled us to “see” behind the surface appearance of reading and writing to the underlying social and cultural meanings.

However, Collins and Blot argue that this field is itself now in need of revision (as Brandt and Clinton [in press] suggest in a recent seminal article, there are “limits to the local”). the provision of more and more ethnographies of literacy, whilst itself necessary and productive at a time when educational institutions are reverting to a narrower, decontextualized, culturally insensitive, and often ethnocentric view of literacy, does not of itself answer that case. Policy makers in the development field, bringing the “light” of literacy to the “darkness” of the “illiterate,” and educationalists in countries like the usa and the uk similarly arguing for the economic and social benefits of a narrowly defined and disciplined “literacy” can simply argue that all of those counter-examples of the complexity and meanings of literacy in people's everyday lives are not relevant to their agenda. Local, everyday, home literacies are seen within that frame as failed attempts at the real thing, as inferior versions of the “literacy” demanded . . .

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