Friday, June 19, 2015

Reading Response: Lankshear and Knobel Chapter 2

Clearly, challenging the definition of literacy began decades, long before Lankshear and Knobel started exploring the concept of new literacies. However, prior to now, I was completely unaware of this study. For my undergraduate degree, I studied International Relations. I chose the major because I thought I wanted to work for an international organization or even just learn “how the world turned.” So I had a number of classes in geography and political science which searched for ways to measure peoples and states. Of course, literacy rate was a common variable included in research studies, national profiles, and other published works. I’m glad to see that, by exploring the definition of literacy and its position within Social Theory, more value is placed within cultures and/ or societies.

Chapter 2 of the text does a great job of breaking down “new” literacy further and illustrating the concept of literacy being viewed as multiple (Lankshear and Knobel, p.49). As I understand it, literacy manifests itself through practices. This excerpt from the text helps me wrap my mind around this:

Humans, then, are bearers or carriers of practices, through which they do and be and understand. As carriers of practices, through participation in practices, individuals ‘perform” their bodies and their minds, their desires and ends, their emotions and values, in particular ways. They thereby achieve identity and membership, roles and relationships, understandings and accountabilities. In doing so, their ‘performances’ carry the social order. They ‘bear’ social structure and the ongoing maintenance of social order. Social structure – the social order – is located in social practices. (Lankshear and Knobel, p. 34)

I would like to personally thank the authors for using football as an analogy as that helped turn on he light bulb in my head. It makes perfect sense to me that football literacy is composed of many different parts, as described, including mental, physical, and emotional aspects. It does bring up a few questions, however. Going back to my undergraduate degree in International Relations, I mentioned that political scientists like to develop theories by measuring and modelling. My question then is, by redefining literacy, do we take away the ability to measure it or model it because it is too complex or contains too many variables? Does the new definition also eliminate the word “illiterate”? Take the facebook example at the end of the chapter: can a person demonstrate high literacy with facebook by being more active in the application and utilizing the features? Again with football, hundreds of statistics are kept in order to measure players and their particular values to a team. I wonder if this falls along the same lines.

I’m not really sure these are important questions. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter. This is just where my thoughts went as I read through the chapter. As for digital storytelling, obtaining a better understanding of literacy, especially with its place in social theory, help me to see that it is more than just blogs and videos. By redefining literacy and acknowledging that digital storytelling is, in itself, a literacy, I can break it down into its smallest pieces and really examine the concept more fully. Perhaps  in my upcoming digital stories, I will pay more attention to the literacy events and social practices.


  1. Hi Mike,

    I think your questions are very important, what is considered literate? I think a factor for me is what does society look for in a "literate" person. Most view literacy to be just reading and writing, but is that enough in a world where technology is consistently advancing?

  2. Hello Mike, I found very interesting your perspective about International Relations. I think you provide a new opportunity to discuss the application of new literacies in an interdisciplinary cross of information and ways to interact. We are discussing these innovative interactions from our culture, language, traditions... What about other countries with different alphabet than Roman letters for example? What about the influence of cognitive, physical, and emotional aspects? It is possible to measure literacy with the methods we know or will it be necessary to develop new ones? Like Lee mentioned I think your questions are relevant and open opportunities to explore further.

  3. Mike - Excellent questions! Do we take away the term illiterate? That's thought provoking. Under the new definition, wouldn't we all own some level of proficiency either technologically or on the basic level of reading/writing? How much of each would one require to be literate? That leads back to your question about the complexity of assessment.