Selfe and Hawisher, Literate Lives in the Information Age

Cynthia L., and Gail E. Hawisher. Literate Lives in the Information
. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

Selfe and Hawisher incorporate 20 case studies, selected from more than 350
interviews, as the literacy narratives that substantiate their study of the
acquisition of technological literacies over the past 25 years. Following
ethnographic methodologies (interviews, observations, subject-agency), Literate
Lives in the Information Age historicizes and thematizes the as-told accounts of
the 20 subjects who are also often positioned as co-authors of individual
chapters. The project, according to Selfe and Hawisher, was inspired by Brandt’s
talk on oral histories work at the 1998 Watson Conference. Drawing heavily on
Brandt and Giddens, the book emphasizes the social and cultural factors
affecting the formation of technological literacies, from race, class, gender,
and ethnicity to family attitudes, mobility (relocation), and locale. The
project concludes by highlighting the following eight themes:

  1. "Literacy exists within a complex cultural ecology of social, historical,
    and economic effects. Within this cultural ecology, literacies have life
    spans" (212).
  2. "Although a complex set of factors has affected the acquisition of digital
    literacy from 1978 to 2003, race, ethnicity, and class too often assume key
    roles. Because they are linked with other social formations at numerous
    levels, and because their effects are often multiplied and magnified by these
    linkages, rage, ethnicity, and class are often capable of exerting a greater
    force than other factors" (216).
  3. "Gender can often assume a key role in the acquisition of digital
    literacy, especially when articulated with other social, cultural, and
    material factors" (219).
  4. "Within a cultural ecology, people exert their own powerful agency in,
    around, and through digital literacy, even though unintended consequences
    always accompany their actions" (221).
  5. "Schools, workplaces, communities, and homes are the four primary gateways
    through which those living in the United States have gained access to digital
    literacy in the decades since the invention and successful marketing of the
    personal computer" (223).
  6. "Access to computers is not a monodimensional social formation. It is
    necessary but not sufficient for the acquisition and development of digital
    literacy. The specific conditions of access have a substantial effect on the
    acquisition of digital literacy" (227).
  7. "Some families share a relatively coherent set of literacy values and
    practices–and digital literacy values and practices–and spread these valued
    among their members. Information about, and support of, electronic literacy
    can flow both upstream, from younger to older, and downstream, from older to
    younger members of a family" (229).
  8. "Faculty members, school administrators, educational policymakers, and
    parents need to recognize the importance of the digital literacies that young
    people are developing, as well as the increasingly complex global contexts
    within which these self-sponsored literacies function. We need to expand our
    national understanding beyond the narrow bounds of print and beyond the
    alphabetic" (232).

"The increasing presence of personal computers in homes, workplaces,
communities, and schools has brought about dramatic changes in the ways people
across the world create and respond to information" (1).

"[W]e can understand literacy as a set of practices and values only when we
properly situate our studies within the context of a particular historical
period, a particular cultural milieu, and d a specific cluster of material
conditions" (5).

"The book is organized into seven chapters that follow the 20 participants in
their efforts to acquire varying degrees of technological literacy, along with
this introduction and a conclusion sandwiching the case studies" (24).

Terms: "cultural ecology" (5), "technological gateways" (84), "conditions of
access" (84), emerging and fading literacies (54), Giddens’ "duality of
structure" (60)

Related sources
Brandt, Deborah. Literacy in American Lives. Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge UP, 2001.
Giddens, Anthony. Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure
and Contradiction in Social Analysis
. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979.