The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
This journal has long engaged with the cultural politics of education, interrogating the intersections between cultural forms and movements and the hegemonic frameworks and institutions of education. In this special edition we focus the interrogatory lens on the production and use of texts in an age of digital communications and changing perceptions of childhood and youth.
Literacy and childhood have always been, and remain, contentious issues. They are emblematic concepts rather than objects or facts. As concepts they are elastic and politicized, reflecting tensions and changes taking place in the broader social fabric. In the shift to new digital technologies, changing sociocultural landscapes, and new theoretical frames the growing difficulty in defining and delineating literacy is one of the core discussions of contemporary literacy politics and has become a prominent theme.
These discussions encompass demands for an expanded notion of text and literacy (Bearne, 2003; Carrington, 2005; Lankshear, 1997), calls to pull the concept back to its historical and technological roots around print (Kress, 2003), and a concern to differentiate between media and print literacies (Vincent, 2003). While adults as well as young people engage with these new forms of text, it is the literate habitus of children and early adolescents that has caused the most unease and political manoeuvring amongst educators, policy-makers and parents.
This special issue takes as its starting point the proposition that any understanding of literacy can no longer be about basic print skills. The New Literacy Studies, the paradigm in which we work, draw from a range of influences*ethnomethodology, critical pedagogy, poststructuralism, sociolinguistics, and sociocultural psychology to name a few*all of which foreground the way in which literacy practices are inextricably woven into other social, cultural, economic, political, and institutional practices and contexts.
This approach to literacy views it as a practice, distinct from a set of isolated skills, a practice which has meaning only in social contexts or domains. It has often been said that these are new times for literacy, to such an extent that one wonders how old a ‘‘new’’ practice has to be before it becomes accepted as inscribed.
Editorial Overview into everyday existence. Nevertheless, the argument that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift which is every bit as important and consequential as the shifts which occurred previously due to the moves from oral to literate cultures or the invention of the printing press is now widely accepted. Rapid advances in technology, combined with the processes of globalization and the failure of neo-liberal govermentality to manage the complex changes of late modernity, have led to social and cultural instabilities which have profound implications for literacy and literacy education.
Whilst not wishing to subscribe to an alarmist position which perceives contemporary social, cultural, economic and political life to be more unstable than in previous generations, we do wish to draw attention to the way in which current social discourses have particular consequences for literacy educators. The literacy practices of the 20th century were positioned in a relatively stable manner within print-based paradigms and whilst the ‘‘reading wars’’ debates highlighted the way in which there was little consensus over the means by which individuals became competent in the nalysis and production of the written word, the focus for analysis was consistent.
However, since the last decades of the 20th century it has become increasingly difficult for educators to hold on to these long-established notions of what literacy is and does, and this epistemological uncertainty has led in some quarters to paralysis in the face of change, in others to a retrogressive impulse to cling on to print-based practices in ways which reify traditional concerns. This reflects a key tenet of the New Literacy Studies, i. e. he belief that literacy practices are inherently political and are linked to issues of power, identity, inclusion, and exclusion, that literacy, in fact, is deeply mired in cultural politics.
The ways in which literacy practices are changing rapidly in this technological age are complex and numerous, but we share just a few instances in order to indicate something of the significant implications for literacy as a social practice. The impact of texting on writing as a social practice and its related technical aspects (e. g. orthography, punctuation) has been discussed by one of us elsewhere (Carrington, 2005).
However, use of the mobile phone is also having other effects on the relationship between word and image in person-to-person communication. Knobel (in press) outlines how Japanese teenagers sometimes use the cameras on mobile phones to take photographs of written texts to send to their school friends, as it is quicker than texting. This convergence of mode and media has considerable repercussions for literacy. The mobile phone is also driving other changes in textual practices. Many Japanese teenagers are also, it is reported (McCurry, 2005), now downloading books onto their mobile phones.
Using the Bandai Network’s Bunko Yomihodai (‘‘All the paperbacks you can read’’) service, subscribers can search the 150 titles available by author, title, or genre and can post online reviews. One popular author, Yoshi, has links from his texts to a website that provides additional material for his stories. This media intertextuality has long been an important feature of children and young people’s textual encounters (Kinder, 1991). Another important feature is direct audience participation in the narratives themselves.
For example, Sega are the manufacturers of the multi-player, web-based game ‘‘The Matrix Downloaded by [99. 243. 213. 119] at 22:24 30 October 2012 Editorial Overview 281 Online’’, which is based on the popular film that has spawned a number of spin-off texts, including this game, books, and magazines. Sega recently employed 20 actors to take part in the online narrative and interact with players. Gibson (2005), reporting on the news, suggested that ‘‘The team will also be responsible for engineering large-scale story events, such as rallies, riots, and even street parties.
They’ll support events organized by players too, and will take part in high-profile missions and contests’’. Thus, the game’s narrative will be driven by both players and actors and provide a range of opportunities for the participants to create, as well as consume, the text. These are small, but significant, examples of the ways in which new textual practices are providing a range of narrative pleasures for contemporary readers, pleasures which look very different in nature to the traditional image of a figure curled up in a chair with a good book in hand; an image often promoted as the height of textual bliss.
These ‘‘digitextual practices’’ (Everett, 2003, p. 5) are blurring the distinction between writer and reader, producer and consumer and require a complex range of skills, knowledge, and understanding, a fact which is often overlooked by those who seek to suggest that these practices are inferior to traditional literacy pursuits. All of the papers in this special issue highlight key aspects of the changes which are taking place and move beyond the moral panics and hypes to raise important questions about curricula and pedagogy in a new media age.
For the opening paper of this special issue we invited Eve Bearne to conduct an interview with Gunther Kress in order to explore a number of the themes that have permeated his work and which have illuminated key aspects of the changing communication landscape. Kress has made a significant impact on our understanding of the social and semiotic shifts that have taken place over the last few decades (Kress, 1997, 2003). He has consistently offered a clearly articulated conception of literacy in the face of wider confusion and has persisted in raising questions about the consequences of the move from page to screen for the educational context.
In this interview Kress, drawing on his insights into the implications of contemporary multimodal textual practices for both semiotic and social change, presents a number of challenges for researchers, educators, and policy-makers and outlines the epistemological and ontological considerations which need to inform future research, policy and practice agendas for literacy education. Kress’s work provides a fitting backdrop for the rest of the special issue, as the papers featured revisit and extend his analysis in various ways.
Kress makes the point that a pedagogy for literacy education needs to be developed which attends to the experiences and needs of the learner, in the way that the manufacturers of computer games implicitly pay heed to these needs (Gee, 2003). Although there is growing recognition of the role of computer games in children’s and young people’s lives (as Sefton-Green’s review in this issue indicates), there are, as yet, few studies of their use in classrooms.
Whilst some might argue that it is the learning principles embedded within many of the popular games which need to be adopted by educators, rather than the games themselves (Gee, 2003), others have identified ways in which the games might be usefully incorporated into the Downloaded by [99. 243. 213. 119] at 22:24 30 October 2012 282 Editorial Overview curriculum for a range of purposes. Nevertheless, there have been concerns voiced about the gendered nature of game playing practices and this might suggest that their use within classroom contexts could be fraught with difficulties.
However, the paper by Beavis and Charles in this issue challenges some of these preconceptions. They provide a detailed account of the use of the popular simulation game The Sims in a series of English lessons undertaken by teenagers in an Australian secondary school and illustrate how the game offered these players the potential for the subversion of traditional gendered practices and subjectivities. In addition, the activities enabled children to move fluidly across the game playing spaces and the spaces of the classroom, where more resistant positions to the discourses were taken up.
Thus, the activities related to this game did not simply produce one-dimensional, gendered responses, although aspects of these could be traced in some of the data, but offered students opportunities to play with aspects of identity and to challenge expectations. Apart from considerations of the promotion of stereotypical gendered practices, prevalent critiques of the gaming culture have also suggested that playing games extensively can lead to a range of detrimental effects, which range from hyper-activity to an inability to concentrate.
In the fourth paper in this issue Cross contests this accusation and presents an analysis of data from a primary classroom which indicates that practised gamers develop particular ways of thinking and communicating that need to be recognized, rather than ignored, by educationists. She argues that the game playing boys in her study demonstrate ‘‘split-frame thinking and multiple scenario awareness’’ which enables them to follow and develop complex, multilayered narratives.
These collaborative narratives may, on a superficial level, be interpreted as incoherent and inconsistent, yet Cross demonstrates how the storytellers are able to create multi-linear scenarios which take account of the varied contributions and audience needs. Cross’s analysis suggests that children’s discursive production of identities occurs both on and off screen and that the range and complexity of these identities often go unnoticed in the classroom. In the fourth paper in this issue Merchant outlines how, when using screen-based technologies, children explore and perform aspects of identity.
These identities, he suggests, can be characterized as anchored or transient. Anchored identities are those which are situated within discourses of ‘‘race’’, class, gender, and other key identity markers, whereas transient identities are more superficial and transitory in nature. These terms are not binary opposites, but rather are positions on a continuum that can be used to inform an analysis of children’s online identity construction, reconstruction, and performance.
Drawing from a school project in which children used email communication to share aspects of their lives and identities, Merchant outlines how playful engagement with new technologies within classrooms can serve traditional curriculum goals and enable children to draw from their out-of-school social and cultural practices in meaningful ways. This use of new technologies within classrooms needs new kinds of understanding to be developed by educators, primarily related to the varied modes which can be
Downloaded by [99. 243. 213. 119] at 22:24 30 October 2012 Editorial Overview 283 used and their affordances. This is the focus for Jewitt’s paper, in which she analyses the texts used in secondary classrooms and homes and explores the interaction of word and image. Jewitt outlines how the varied configurations of word and image on screens embedded within computer games and subject-specific software offer new and different pathways into and out of texts for readers and writers.
Whilst emphasising the discontinuities in textual practices from traditional modes, Jewitt is careful to make the point that there are also continuities; there are innumerable points of overlap between the ‘‘old’’ and the ‘‘new’’. What is important is for educators to identify the specific affordances of different kinds of texts and to be sensitive to the developments offered by technology. The notion of convergence, for example, has been central to an understanding of how different textual practices can be combined in specific technologies and thus different modes interrelate in interesting and challenging ways.
Throughout all of the papers in this issue is the insistence on the need for schools and educational institutions to respond to these major developments. There has been an increasing emphasis, particularly in the UK, on the need for ‘‘media literacy’’ to be embedded within the curriculum, although the discourse surrounding the notion is often confused and frequently driven more by government agendas relating to public awareness and choice in relation to media than any considered notion of how this term relates both to the literacy curriculum and more traditional models of media education.
Nevertheless, the term is gaining currency and it is, therefore, important that it is subject to careful and considered analysis in order to determine the principles which should underlie its transformation into schooled curricula and pedagogy. Kellner and Share contribute to this process through a discussion concerning the place of media literacy in the USA.
They offer an analysis of the marginalization of media education within US schools and explore a number of conceptual definitions of critical media literacy, helpful in treading a path through the various ‘‘inoculation’’ models to those which acknowledge students’ agency and pleasures whilst developing critique.
Illuminating the differences between two national organizations which promote media literacy in the USA, the Alliance for a Media Literate America (AMLA) and Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME), Kellner and Share suggest that the divisions relate to the way in which the organizations promote or reject commercial collaboration or sponsorship. Corporate sponsorship of texts and sites aimed at children and youth is inevitably imbued with issues of subject positioning and potential manipulation and this is the focus for analysis in the final paper in this special issue by Atkinson and Nixon.
They outline how a web portal aimed at teenagers, Ninemsn, constructs particular identities for its users through the use of fictional ‘‘personas’’. These ‘‘personas’’, which are developed to reflect particular subject positions and shape user engagement, are also drawn upon in order to attract potential advertisers. Atkinson and Nixon develop a nuanced account of how the portal positions potential users, but they also recognize that teenagers do not always take up these positions in expected ways, and take account of the way in which critical production and analysis foster resistant discourses.
In order for children and young people to do this Downloaded by [99. 243. 213. 119] at 22:24 30 October 2012 284 Editorial Overview Downloaded by [99. 243. 213. 119] at 22:24 30 October 2012 effectively, however, Atkinson and Nixon suggest that educational institutions need to come to terms with the increasingly commercialized nature of varied socio-cultural contexts outside of schools and fully equip students to navigate the complex and information-rich worlds in which they are immersed.
Their argument resonates with Kress’s claim, expressed in the first paper in this special issue, that educational institutions are anachronistic and locked into 19th century notions of what constitutes literacy and texts. Unless schools and colleges come to terms with some of the profound changes in communication and related social practices that have taken place during the latter part of the 20th and early 21st century, then students will be consigned to a literacy education that bears little resemblance to their increasingly multimodal and multimedia out-of-school practices (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003).
Gere (2002) makes the point that digital culture has become such an everyday background feature of life in post-industrial societies that its shape, form, and function have been naturalized. His description is telling: we are beginning to cease to notice its presence and how it affects us, or at least take these aspects for granted.
We sit in front of our computers at work, surf the net, send e-mails, play games on consoles, watch television that is both produced and, increasingly, distributed digitally, read magazines and books all of which have been produced on computers, travel with our laptops, enter information into palmtops, talk on our digital mobile phones, listen to CDs or MP3s, watch films that have been post-processed digitally, drive cars embedded with micro-chips, wash our clothes in digitally programmable machines, pay for our shopping by debit cards connected to digital networks, and allow the supermarkets to know our shopping habits through loyalty cards using the same networks, withdraw cash from automatic telling machines, and so on.
Digital technology’s ubiquity and its increasing invisibility have the effect of making it appear almost natural. (Gere, 2002, p. 198) Even those of us who might wish to dispute the pervasiveness of digital culture would recognize ourselves and our daily lives in these mundane activities.
Possibly without wishing it so, digital technologies have become part of the everyday for all of us who live in industrial and post-industrial societies. The naturalization and invisibility of digital culture must be more so for early adolescents and children who do not have a cultural or personal memory of a time preceding digital culture. Given these shifts and what we consider to be the need for urgent discussion of the issues raised by them, we consider it timely that this special issue takes as its focus the intersections of digital technologies and cultures with literacy and childhood, giving consideration to the implications for educators and educational institutions. Each of the papers included here addresses the concepts of text and literacy in relation to digital technologies.