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Re: [xmca] Re: literacy? and its meanings


I am sure that some people have thought about dumping Print Literacy in favor of more modern literacies. I once reviewed an actually rather brilliant book by Mihai Nadin called the Civilization of Illiteracy (by which he meant what I would call Post-Literacy), and the argument was that we were already post-literate in that it is really the wide range of semiotic literacies of all kinds that matters today, and within that print is just one component part and no longer The Literacy as it may have been in earlier times.

I also once contributed to a book about media literacies in a "post-typographical" world, the editors choice of term, by which they meant something similar. And one of my most influential articles presents the basic thesis that scientific discourse was never a purely verbal-textual discourse, but by the nature of its objects of study, was always essentially multi-modal (verbal-visual-mathematical at least). The key idea here is that "print" (i.e. verbal text) cannot stand alone; that to get the meaning, you need to integrate across the modalities (language, image, mathematics).

Now maybe print never did really stand on its own. Jim Gee has argued for example that in making meaning with purely verbal text we still envision images and run little "movies" in our heads in the process of disambiguating meanings and contextualizing what we are "reading". But I think we know that historically there was a period when Print tried to stand on its own, and that claims have been made for a long time, and very successfully, that it can and even should stand on its own. Personally, I think that Gee is mostly right in principle, contextualizing linguistic meaning does generally involve some nonlinguistic meaning resources, present or imagined, but that some kinds of very abstract discourse rely mostly on other texts for their contextualization, trying to create a closed world of linguistic meaning. Unfortunately, I also believe that the resulting discourses become un-moored from experiential reality and even from the virtual reality of imagined worlds. 

As I wrote before, every time I've tried to get a useful and believable definition of literacy, starting from print literacy, I've found myself winding up with something pan-semiotic. That doesn't mean that analytically separable semiotic resource systems, like language, and technologies, like "printed" verbal text (on Kindle or on kindling) don't have their own specialized functional affordances which are not easily substituted by those of other modalities. The "mot juste", the synthetic diagram, the mathematical-algebraic derivation, the engaging narrative ... they are all irreplaceable resources as far as I'm concerned.

But none of them are also the last word in doing what they do. Defined functionally, I think we more generally find that multimodal solutions to functional tasks can work better and are often already, implicitly at work in what appear to be mono-modal works.


PS. I agree that there is no clear-cut distinction among knowledge literacies and semiotic resource literacies, because knowledge is itself a resource in meaning-making (productive and interpretive), and even moreso, when we consider intertextual systems as resources, or narratives as resources. I once wrote a piece about this which no one seemed to understand, and I am not sure I understood it either. It involves re-conceptualizing knowledge as more like a discursive resource, and re-conceptualizing semiotic resource systems so that they can be more syntagmatic rather than, as canonically, primarily or exclusively paradigmatic.  It may be our intuitive sense of this that leads us to the metaphorical range we have for the term "literacy".

Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Dec 22, 2009, at 4:56 PM, mike cole wrote:

> Thanks for the comments, Larry. My comment was that LCHC had
> a near-death experience. Its past, but with UC experiencing its own
> near-death experience, no harm in practicing "nearer my lord to thee--
> catchy tune. I see that Steve G has posted a 25 year old account of the lab
> up to that time. Incomplete and audience-driven as that account was, some
> relevant material-- thanks for pointing it out, Steve. There is also, at the
> lchc publications link on the home page, a bunch of collective articles over
> the year. New one coming along about now.
> About literacy and narrative and interpretation. I guess there are just a
> whole lot of views of how to think about this issue. For example, in Liberia
> the elder men had a special form of discourse,
> meant, so far as i understand, to mystify others, signal their own
> power and perhaps assess the quality of the palm wine. I suppose one could
> say that they were literate in deep Kpelle. For sure, becoming literate in
> English had its downside; few of those I knew at the time died of "natural"
> causes, unless we want to count genocide as a natural cause among humans.
> I would be interested if anyone would like to defend the idea that its time
> to jettison print literacy. What the heck, now that we have computer
> literacy and film literacy and health literacy and financial literacy and
> xmca literacy, why bother with fusty old print?
> Myself, i have this really arcane idea that the symbolic resources of print
> literacy and numeracy, you know, written records and musical notations and
> that old stuff, have some properties that just might be foundational to
> Youtube and twitter (maybe the latter is just parasitic). But, since, as
> Latour has noted, we never have been modern, hard to be sure. May all we
> need to be able to do is talk the talk. The walk will come courtesy of
> Rupert Murdoch?
> Sure enough to think about.
> :-)
> mike
> On Tue, Dec 22, 2009 at 10:46 AM, Larry Purss <lpurss@shaw.ca> wrote:
>>     Mike
>> Your framework is very helpful so we can talk to each other about literacy.
>> The ability to read and write is the most common meaning to understand
>> literacy.
>> The concept of literacy as learning particular discourses or subjects is
>> certainly the way postmodernism is framing literacy.
>> I am also curious how these various conceptions of literacy are specific
>> instances of Bruner's fundamental notions of narrative structures as one of
>> the ways we mediate actions/interpretations through codes
>> Your example in the phylogeny article where Japanese mothers refocus the
>> triadic communication of self, other, object to re-orient towards (m)other
>> while American mothers re-orient triadic communication towards the object I
>> believe has profound implications for the narrative stories we compose and
>> the psychological sense of self and intrapsychic experience of inner and
>> outer as cultural constructions.
>> If we don't want to conflate this form of interpretive activity with
>> literacy we can recognize that the more particular types of  subject
>> discourses are examples of the more abstract term narratives (as Bruner uses
>> the term)
>> Is Bruner's use of the term narrative similar to the notion of hermeneutics
>> as fundamentally an interpretive act?
>> Mike
>> I also want to draw attention to the term "meso" as an intermediate term
>> between micro and macro.  I consider architecture to be a particular and
>> profound example of human artifacts which express human
>> ideality (Bruner's "Possible Worlds")  When you mention that LCHC is on life
>> support I wonder and reflect (I love the term "reverie") on how LCHC has
>> evolved for the last 40 years and that architecture as shared space (or
>> place) was foundational to its existence..  Architecture is a
>> crystallization of reverie, artifacts, and social relations.  To understand
>> the historical impact of LCHC at the meso level is central to reflecting on
>> next steps.
>> I don't know the politics of how LCHC was created and was able to continue
>> throughout the following decades.  I also don't know the current forces
>> aligned against the vision of LCHC.  However I personally believe the
>> narrative power of LCHC and the impact it has had on pedagogy, psychology,
>> communications, anthropology, cultural studies and other literate discourses
>> is profound and can be articulated.  As an alternative narrative in the
>> current cultural wars it may be possible to project this vision into the
>> mass media and for LCHC to be recognized as a center of excellence as
>> Obama searches for new models.
>> Looking to the future and ways to support the continuity of LCHC I wonder
>> if there is a continued need for reverie and considerations of action not at
>> the individual level but rather at the meso level of architecture and
>> location in space (place). I think about how other people who have a shared
>> vision construct places (ie institutes) and then I think of how many
>> people are promoting a relational paradigm shift.   I do
>> wonder if  alternative narratives can emerge from private reverie and be
>> located in shared spaces (places) at the meso level.  It is the level of
>> intermediate community (Robert Nisbet) where cultural leverage can be
>> applied AND SUSTAINED.
>>  LCHC is living proof of this, as is CHAT which is in virtual shared
>> space.  Ideality when shared and acted upon to create architecture which is
>> inhabited has the power to counter reactionary narratives.
>> I get inspiration for this view of the possible worlds created from
>> narrative from a book called "Common Fire:  Leading Lives of Commitment in a
>> Complex World" by L. Daloz, C. Keen, J. Keen, and S. Parks. (1996)  It is an
>> anthology of the biographies of  inspired people acting on their visions to
>> try to create a "new Commons" in a complex world.
>> Larry
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
>> Date: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 7:01 am
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] Fwd: Visual literacy? Surf an art museum - Lifestyle -
>> SignOnSanDiego.com
>> To: "Duvall, Emily" <emily@uidaho.edu>
>> Cc: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>>> Fuller references, Emily? It would be helpful.
>>> In general, in discussing this topic, I find it helpful to keep
>>> in mind
>>> three inter-twined conceptions of literacy in discussion of it
>>> that lead to
>>> confusion:
>>> 1. the quality or state of being literate, esp. the ability to
>>> read and
>>> write.  2. possession of education: to question someone's
>>> literacy.  3. a
>>> person's knowledge of a particular subject or field: to acquire
>>> computerliteracy.
>>> To me what is significant is the (perhaps necessary, see Larry's
>>> remarks)conflation of being able to mediate
>>> action/interpretation through a code
>>> like kanji and knowledge about some topic.
>>> Forgetting this issue leads to people speaking past each other
>>> with respect
>>> to, e.g. computer literacy.
>>> mike
>>> On Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 5:39 PM, Duvall, Emily
>>> <emily@uidaho.edu> wrote:
>>>> One of the more interesting experiences I have had is when I was
>>>> preparing to teach a course on Visual/ Critical Literacy:
>>> Using Picture
>>>> Books, Comics, Graphic Novels, Anime, and Film in the
>>> Classroom. I sat
>>>> down with vol 1 of Bone and began to read. I ignored the
>>> pictures and
>>>> read the text. Zipping along, I realized (a) I didn't know
>>> what was
>>>> going on, and (b) I was bored. I went back and spent time with the
>>>> entire text and am now thoroughly addicted. It really depends
>>> on the way
>>>> the pictures are used... in tandem, as conjoined text; as the front
>>>> runner (as in children's writing where the pictures are the
>>> important> aspect a story); or an add-in (as in children's later
>>> writing when
>>>> pictures illustrate, but don't really tell us much... they
>>> fill up time
>>>> in a classroom... "go back and illustrate"). Some texts, like The
>>>> Invention of Hugo Cabret, weave words and pictures and you
>>> need to read
>>>> them both.
>>>> I highly recommend Molly Bang's theoretical work (sorry if I am
>>>> repeating anything already said, I'm jumping in)to really dig deeply
>>>> into the pictures; her children's books are interesting as
>>> well. Anthony
>>>> Browne has some pretty amazing children's books...they are
>>> edgy and
>>>> post-modern at times.
>>>> Meanwhile I have a doc student who is working on financial
>>> literacy...> there are some fundamental elements of a literacy
>>> that ring across
>>>> domains it seems... like discourse, eh?
>>>> ~em
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-
>>> bounces@weber.ucsd.edu]> On Behalf Of mike cole
>>>> Sent: Monday, December 21, 2009 5:05 PM
>>>> To: Jenna McWilliams
>>>> Cc: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] Fwd: Visual literacy? Surf an art museum -
>>> Lifestyle> - SignOnSanDiego.com
>>>> No doubt, Jenna.  And forms like Youtube allow for users
>>> to be producers
>>>> in
>>>> a big way. But I see no need to knock museums and
>>>> the pleasures of "reading" paintings that have endured over a
>>> long time!
>>>> (The cost can be pretty steep these days though).
>>>> The "learning to see" theme runs through a lot of CHAT-related
>>> work, and
>>>> seems an endless source of insights.
>>>> One way I find that i can learn a lot about paintings is by doing
>>>> jig-saw
>>>> puzzles. Jackson Pollock seemed a total fraud to me until i
>>> had, with
>>>> lots
>>>> of friendly gossipy help, done a quite complex puzzle of one
>>> of his big
>>>> canvases. Now jig-saw puzzles require their own
>>>> form of visual literacy, but what was amazing (a Klimpt also
>>> provided a
>>>> similar experience) was that I actually began to see nuances
>>> in the
>>>> paintings that i had simply never seen before. And once seen, the
>>>> ability to
>>>> see more deeply, at least for the given painting (after all
>>>> generalization
>>>> of the skill is a huge undertaking!)
>>>> it sticks with you along with the belief of the possibility
>>> that, say,
>>>> a Russian 18th century icon may contain the potential for visual
>>>> experiences
>>>> that my naive eye, loving the combination of colors and
>>> shapes, could
>>>> not
>>>> see.
>>>> I hear what you are saying that I am seeing.
>>>> :-)
>>>> mike
>>>> PS. Have you met Etienne Pelaprat, a great grad student here at
>>>> UCSD, formerly in cogsci but completing degree in Comm, who
>>> has moved to
>>>> your fair city? If not, you should. He is rumored to be the sometime
>>>> savior
>>>> of xmca through his technical skills.
>>>> On Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 4:25 PM, Jenna McWilliams
>>>> <jenmcwil@umail.iu.edu>wrote:
>>>>> Mike, you write:
>>>>> "I managed a D+ in my one obligatory art producing class in
>>> college (a
>>>> work
>>>>> later exhibited, by some really odd
>>>>> error, in a show of student art which makes one wonder at the
>>>> judgments
>>>>> involved on either side of the
>>>>> process!). I am a hopeless plastic arts producer. But not entirely
>>>>> illiterate as a reader, finder of meanings."
>>>>> It's fair enough to argue that reading and writing are not
>>> equivalent> forms
>>>>> of literacy. But in this crazy multimodal culture of ours, where
>>>> reading and
>>>>> writing both require adeptness with design proficiencies (remember
>>>> that even
>>>>> the text we read on the screen is a digital product--the
>>> 'translation'> of
>>>>> code into a specifically designed visual format that we can
>>>> interpret), what
>>>>> we call "visual literacy" is increasingly an essential
>>> component of
>>>> BOTH
>>>>> reading and writing. Visual literacy goes far beyond what we
>>> learned> in art
>>>>> class--the color wheel and all that.
>>>>> In fact, it seems a little strange to link visual literacy to
>>>> museumgoing.
>>>>> I bombed art class right along with the best of them, and
>>> success in
>>>> art
>>>>> class still wouldn't have prepared me to engage in the sorts of
>>>>> communications platforms that have become the most
>>> significant message
>>>>> delivery systems. Indeed, design and visual literacy (or
>>> whatever you
>>>> want
>>>>> to call them) skills are so embedded in communication
>>> platforms that I
>>>> find
>>>>> myself making design decisions without a thought (as when I
>>>> re-formatted the
>>>>> chunk I quoted from the previous email in this thread,
>>> because when I
>>>> pasted
>>>>> it in the line breaks got all funky--distracting for the
>>> reader!). I
>>>> don't
>>>>> know if the fact that visual literacy (or whatever you want
>>> to call
>>>> it) is
>>>>> embedded within reading and writing literacy practices
>>> strengthens or
>>>> weaken
>>>>> the case for calling it a form of literacy; I only know that
>>> it's both
>>>>> important and different enough from reading and writing
>>> skills to
>>>> deserve
>>>>> its own label, if only so we know how to talk about it.
>>>>> visually,
>>>>> jenna
>>>>> ~~
>>>>> Jenna McWilliams
>>>>> Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University
>>>>> ~
>>>>> http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com
>>>>> http://remediatingassessment.blogspot.com
>>>>> ~
>>>>> jenmcwil@indiana.edu
>>>>> jennamcjenna@gmail.com
>>>>> On Dec 21, 2009, at 7:06 PM, mike cole wrote:
>>>>> The addition of production to definitions of literacy
>>> is always a
>>>> good
>>>>>> move
>>>>>> in my view, Jay. Reading is not equivalent to writing. In
>>> the case of
>>>>>> visual
>>>>>> literacy and museum art, it seems like what is being
>>> referred to is
>>>> the
>>>>>> reading half. At least i hope so. I managed a D+ in my one
>>> obligatory> art
>>>>>> producing class in college (a work later exhibited, by some
>>> really> odd
>>>>>> error, in a show of student art which makes one wonder at the
>>>> judgments
>>>>>> involved on either side of the
>>>>>> process!). I am a hopeless plastic arts producer. But not
>>> entirely> >> illiterate as a reader, finder of meanings.
>>>>>> There is, a few blocks from you apartment, a show at the SD
>>> Museum of
>>>>>> Contemporary Art by Tera Donavan. I think you will find it as
>>>> fascinating
>>>>>> as
>>>>>> I did. I plan to take the family during their visit.
>>> Donovan take
>>>> everyday
>>>>>> objects (tar paper, straws, cups, and more) and creates
>>> installations> with
>>>>>> thousand of only one object aggregated in the most
>>> fantastic ways.
>>>> She
>>>>>> states her goal as wanting to explore the properties of
>>> objects seens
>>>> as
>>>>>> parts of very large populations rather than as individual
>>> objects.> The
>>>>>> effects she achieves are mind boggling with the play of
>>> light and
>>>> texture
>>>>>> over surface sufficient to reorder our perceptions in ways
>>> we could
>>>> never
>>>>>> anticipate.Again, art as tertiary artifact, re-admired.
>>>>>> Since you have written more on time scales, I'll stay away
>>> from the
>>>> topic
>>>>>> in
>>>>>> general; we have agreed too often here to warrant repitition.
>>>>>> But quite specifically, our work in creating the "Fifth
>>> Dimension"> was to
>>>>>> be
>>>>>> able to study changes in a pre-pared system of activity
>>> over a long
>>>> time
>>>>>> period (from inception to death) at several scales of time.
>>> The idea
>>>> was
>>>>>> part of our interest in the failure of "successful" educational
>>>>>> innovations
>>>>>> to be sustained-- how did they die and why and how did their
>>>> implementers
>>>>>> enter in to and respond to the process. Still wrestling with
>>>> analysis--
>>>>>> lots
>>>>>> of 5thD's were born and died but others keep being born.
>>> Some are,
>>>> today,
>>>>>> strikingly like their originals in the 1980's, others have
>>> morphed so
>>>> that
>>>>>> only a few features remain. The children participants, who
>>> are almost
>>>>>> impossible to track over time are now adults -- i sometime
>>> encounter> one
>>>>>> at
>>>>>> ucsd. The college participants are parents I sometimes hear
>>> from. All
>>>>>> recorded in their fieldnotes written at the time. I have
>>> some money
>>>> salted
>>>>>> away so that "when it dies" (or if i can manage to retire before
>>>> doing so
>>>>>> myself) I will have the full range of instances documented
>>> and a lot
>>>> of
>>>>>> the
>>>>>> data in digital form,
>>>>>> so that I can look at that object from both ends of its
>>> history. A
>>>>>> preliminary report is in the book, *The Fifth Dimension*.
>>>>>> As to LCHC, that is another matter. It seems to me a
>>> certainty that
>>>> it
>>>>>> will
>>>>>> die. It had a near-death experience a couple of years ago.
>>> As a way
>>>> of at
>>>>>> least marking its passing, a number of former and current
>>> members of
>>>> the
>>>>>> lab
>>>>>> are in the process of creating a book that traces its
>>> origins and the
>>>> many
>>>>>> offspring it has generated. THAT collective narrative I
>>> hope to live
>>>> long
>>>>>> enough to see come into being.
>>>>>> Now if Yuan or anyone would like to see LCHC live,
>>> proposals for how
>>>> to
>>>>>> arrange that would of course be seriously entertained, and
>>> perhaps> maybe
>>>>>> even entertaining! I thought I saw a nibble at
>>> collaboration on
>>>> making
>>>>>> XMCA
>>>>>> a more powerful medium the other day, but it turned out to
>>> be a
>>>> mirage.
>>>>>> So
>>>>>> for now, we keep on keeping on.
>>>>>> mike
>>>>>> On Mon, Dec 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM, Jay Lemke
>>> <jaylemke@umich.edu>> wrote:
>>>>>>> Thanks for the link, Mike. Was nice to see someone in the mass
>>>> media,
>>>>>>> affiliated with a newspaper no less, arguing for critical visual
>>>> literacy
>>>>>>> to
>>>>>>> protect us from advertising!
>>>>>>> Of course that is an old idea in visual education circles,
>>> and it
>>>> can
>>>>>>> build
>>>>>>> on the widespread folk-skepticism toward advertising.
>>> Unfortunately> the
>>>>>>> more
>>>>>>> pernicious effects in ads are probably at subtler levels
>>> than what
>>>> basic
>>>>>>> visual literacy skills can foreground.
>>>>>>> "The ability to find meaning in images" is the definition
>>> of visual
>>>>>>> literacy used. That seems a little too basic. I think
>>> everyone finds
>>>>>>> meaning
>>>>>>> in images, with or without any literacy education. Maybe
>>> there is an
>>>>>>> implied
>>>>>>> emphasis on FIND, in the sense of digging below the
>>> surface/obvious,> >>> which
>>>>>>> would be better. But more recent ideas in the field put more
>>>> emphasis on
>>>>>>> visual production relative to interpretation, so I'd
>>> probably go
>>>> with a
>>>>>>> definition more like "the skills of making meaning with visual
>>>> resources,
>>>>>>> for your own purposes", and include in that the meaning-
>>> making we do
>>>> with
>>>>>>> others' images by way of interpretation, critique, etc.
>>>>>>> Have you ever noticed that when anyone, docent, tourguide,
>>> or just
>>>> me,
>>>>>>> speaks authoritatively about a painting in a museum, that many
>>>> bystanders
>>>>>>> seem to become interested in listening? People generally
>>> seem to
>>>> believe
>>>>>>> that art images, at least, require some professional
>>> interpretation> or
>>>>>>> benefit from having specialist knowledge (esp.
>>> historical). People
>>>> also
>>>>>>> seem
>>>>>>> to enjoy visual interpretation more than textual. Textual
>>>> interpretation
>>>>>>> is
>>>>>>> seen as superfluous, even obstructing to enjoyment of the
>>> work. No
>>>> one
>>>>>>> really reads literary criticism, or book reviews beyond
>>> the "it's
>>>> good"
>>>>>>> part. But people are fascinated by the exegesis of visual
>>> works. The
>>>> is
>>>>>>> one
>>>>>>> basis for the popularity of the DaVinci Code and similar popular
>>>> works.
>>>>>>> And there is not a word about visual interpretation skills
>>> in our
>>>>>>> standard
>>>>>>> curricula (meaning as practiced in schools, there are some
>>> nods in
>>>> the
>>>>>>> official standards).
>>>>>>> JAY.
>>>>>>> Jay Lemke
>>>>>>> Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
>>>>>>> Educational Studies
>>>>>>> University of Michigan
>>>>>>> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>>>>>> www.umich.edu/~jaylemke <http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke>
>>> <http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke> <
>>>> http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke> <
>>>>>>> http://www.umich.edu/%7Ejaylemke>
>>>>>>> Visiting Scholar
>>>>>>> Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
>>>>>>> University of California -- San Diego
>>>>>>> La Jolla, CA
>>>>>>> USA 92093
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