Literate Misfitting: Disability Theory and a Sociomaterial Approach to Literacy

By Miller, Elisabeth L. | College English, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Literate Misfitting: Disability Theory and a Sociomaterial Approach to Literacy


Miller, Elisabeth L., College English


"Iopened the book and started to read . . . I COULD NOT READ. It was like my eyes would not cooperate . . . Allthewordsrantogether. I was so scared that I said, 'Oh my God, I can't read.' I must have said it louder than I thought because my waiting was over." Jean1-a special education teacher for over twenty-five years supporting students with reading and writing and an avid reader and writer herself-writes these words four years after a stroke sent her to the emergency room and she found her "normal" literate practices completely overturned. Jean's memory marks her first realization that she had acquired aphasia, a disability affecting the production and comprehension of language, caused by stroke or other brain injury and creating a variety of challenges in speaking, writing, and reading.2 Although Jean received the medical attention she needed in these alarming moments, she found that her literacy practices had been permanently changed. While by force of habit she expected it to, her body-her eyes-could no longer make sense of the book, a material of literacy used by Jean throughout her life and career. Aphasia presented to Jean what I am calling a "literate misfit"-a conflict between her body, mind, and the materials of literacy. That conflict sheds light on how the relationship between the embodied, material, and social aspects of literacy operates on all writers, disabled and normatively abled.

To make this argument, I draw from a larger study to focus in on the accounts of eight people with aphasia who are grappling with reading and writing after experiencing a significant change to their access to language. Like Jean, others also experienced losing control over body, mind, and materials. After aphasia, everyday literate practices that seemed "just normal" or automatic, such as reading a book in a waiting room, are uncomfortably disrupted. Dense newspaper text runs together, obscuring words and meaning; handwriting no longer looks like the writer's own; ideas feel "squashed"; reading requires rereading. And an individual's sense of her or his literate identity alters as well. "I did, I tried to, [mimes reading] I can't do it. I can't read it," former pharmacist Bob explains. "Frustrating. Absolutely, positively frustrating," says former grocery store manager Robert of reading and writing after aphasia. "I don't have a flair to do it," former high school English teacher Judy says of writing after aphasia-explaining that she has "left the writing behind." What does this misfit between body, materials, and social expectations around literacy mean for the writing of people with aphasia? And what does it mean for understandings of literacy more broadly?

In addressing these questions, this project contributes to a recent move in writing studies to bring the social and material aspects of literacy into closer conversation. A social understanding of literacy foregrounds how within economic systems, power relations, and everyday experiences literacies are valued or devalued and how literate subjects are differentially able to acquire, use, and mobilize those literacies (Street; Heath; Gee). Material approaches to literacy direct attention to how literacy is facilitated by tools or technologies such as pencils, paper, keyboards (Haas; Baron; Syverson; Prior and Shipka; Pahl), and, as I will underscore, the body (Haas and Witte; Fleckenstein; Purcell-Gates et al.; Lindgren; Owens and Van Ittersum). Literacy activity theory, particularly as developed by Prior and Shipka, aptly encapsulates this materiality as "the dispersed, fluid chains of place, time, people, and artifacts that come to be tied together in trajectories of literate action" (180).

Theorizing literacy as "sociomaterial" exposes how social values, expectations, and trends are imbricated in the very materials of literacy and how the two "interanimate each other" (Vieira, "Writing" 423). The "familiarity of 'the social'" in writing studies has often prevented researchers from articulating how the social nature of writing is, in fact, deeply material, argues Laura Micciche in a recent issue of College English on "Reimagining the Social" in composition studies (498). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Literate Misfitting: Disability Theory and a Sociomaterial Approach to Literacy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.