Re: [xmca] FW: NCTEAR

Date: Sun Jan 28 2007 - 17:09:35 PST

Hi Mike and others interested in definitions of literacy
It seems to me that in one sense the term has shrunk, to
mean "reading". In The Collected Works IV Vygotsky comments
"the mechanics of reading is put forward so much that it
shades written language" (p. 131). Yet at the same time
literacy has been expanded to cover almost any form of
In considering what literacy "is" I have found it helpful to
consider it as a cultural property of a society which owns a
written script. I did not make this up although I cannot
remember its source. From this basis scripts can be explored
for their characteristics and style (discussed not long ago
on XMCA). It is possible to use Cremin's concept of
configurations of sites and Heath's concept of literacy
events involving written scripts to locate the presence of
literacy artifacts and their use. And the idea that
population groups respond to the literacy demands of their
environment which in turn affects their need to become
literate (McDernmott and Varenne).
It is possible to explore power. Who owns the texts and who
has access to them? What are the gender differences in
ownership of literacy and who transmits it? Street makes the
point that there are two kinds of literacy, "autonomous"
which is associated with schooling and "ideological" which
is found in everyday use, in a variety of sites embedded
with cultural beliefs and values.
Treating literacy as the property of a society which has a
written script has led to the kind of anthropological
investigations carried out by Jack Goody. I think his claims
about the establishment of law and history are very useful
but the conversion of minds is much less so as Scribner and
Cole showed.
The same approach can be used to analyse multi-literacies.
Signals by flags, visual images, dance movements and so on
are all properties of a collective who share the meanings or
who can interpret new meanings on the basis of known
meanings. An interesting point is whether the meanings in
the field of art are mediated by other meanings in the field
of art or from meaning derived from other sources.
So far as individuals are concerned, their initiation into a
common script is mediated by tools, artifacts and more
knowledgeable others.

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