Saturday, September 2, 2006

Selfe and Hawisher, Literate Lives in the Information Age

Selfe, Cynthia L., and Gail E. Hawisher. Literate Lives in the Information Age. 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.
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