Monday, 15 December 2008

Really rough notes on Lessig

I'll add some stuff here later when I can access the blog ...

Thursday, 11 December 2008

First thoughts on the essay ...

I'd really like the opportunity to do some reading, thinking and writing about blogging although not blogging in a formal educational context. I'm involved in a few educational blogging projects at Kingston University and will have to write something on this later on (perhaps in a dissertation?) but would like use this module to write about blogging as a voluntary activity used for other purposes.

The question I think I'll go for is 'Literacy is not a set of skills it is a social practice’. Discuss although I'd prefer to give it my own title. I'm assuming the titles are like jazz scores that we can improvise around? How about Stories from the blogosphere: reflections on blogging's 'active sociality' ? Essentially, the essay would explore some of the ways in which blogging is an inherently social activity and would look in depth at a couple of representative examples. Informed by analogue/pre-digital practices and enabled by specific technological affordances, blogging constitutes a new literacy practice characterised by what Lankshear and Knobel call an 'active sociality'.

I have a list of readings - let me know if there are any articles/book you know of that might be useful.

In terms of plan or structure for the assignment, I'm not there yet. I had the idea of the representative examples, the 'stories from the blogosphere', being quasi-separate pieces of analysis (perhaps up to 1,000 words each) with a 'core' argument (of 3-3,500 words). The core argument and 'stories' would be connected though.

I've no section subheadings yet but there are some areas that interest me around the ideas of private-sphere, dialogue-driven literacies coming into the public sphere and of the blogosphere as oppositional counter-public sphere.

I am interested in interviewing - probably via email - the blog authors. Is there any specific guidance on this? Is there a consent form or recommended wording about use of text from interviewees for the purposes of an essay?

Finally, I'm keen on producing something digital and would appreciate the team's (sceptical) blessing. I've past form in this area - check out We have never been digital if you've time.

The pedagogic medium is the message?

One of the things I've been thinking and posting about recently - and it's created conflict with some of the MA course team - is that in terms of teaching, learning and assessment practices, the medium is the message.

For example, if I wanted to run on module on critical pedagogy, would it make sense to 'deliver' (deposit into student accounts?) that module via a series of weekly lectures, fortnightly seminars and a 3,000- word essay from a selection of titles that I, as the module leader, had developed?

I guess my own answer to that question is no; the types of learning activites and assessment opportunities we construct demonstrate to students what constitutes knowing and acting in an appropriate way in a given area of intellectual inquiry. To run such a module in such a way would surely run counter to the core ideas covered (e.g. the student-teaching power relationship)?

Maybe this is too extreme; maybe it's perfectly coherent intellectually to deliver this module in this way if the learning outcomes require some form of description of, for example, Freire's core ideas or their application to practice. However, it's a missed opportunity for 'deep' rather than 'surface' learning.

Returning to my (their) MA (whose course is it anyway?), the core concepts of Module 1 seem to be:

  1. literacies as plural
  2. literacy practices and events as socially embedded and operating in distinct domains
  3. the growing importance of multiple semiotic modalities in emerging text-making practices.

My grouse is about an assessment that privileges one kind of academic literacy (the essay) and doesn't appear to wish to license exploration to explore other (e.g. digital, possibly multimodal) forms of constructing academic discourse or other ways of being academically literate.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Really rough notes on academic literacies

From: Lillis, T. (2001). Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge.

Student writing is at the centre of teaching and learning in HE in the UK, being seen as the way in which students consolidate their understanding of subject areas, as well as the means by which tutors can come to learn about the extent and nature of individual students' understanding. However, the principal function of student writing is increasingly that of gate keeping. Writing is a key assessment tool, with students passing or failing courses according to the ways in which they respond to, and engage in, academic writing tasks. (Lillis 2001: 20)

However, it would be wrong to think of the 'essay' as a clearly defined genre if by 'genre' we mean something like a text type. For 'essay' (and hence the scare quotes) is really institutionalised shorthand for a particular way of constructing knowledge which has come to be privileged within the academy. In order to signal this broader notion of a particular way of making meaning in texts, it is more useful to talk of a particular academic literacy practice, essaylist literacy, which I explore in more detail in Chapter 2. (Lillis 2001: 20)

Whilst the view prevails that essays/student academic texts are unproblematic forms, the construction of which should be part of students' 'common sense' knowledge, experience from this and other studies indicates that student academic texts are expected to be constructed in and through conventions which are often invisible to both tutors and students. That the student-writers should struggle with the conventions of an institution which is strange to them is not surprising. However, this strangeness is compounded by the fact that such conventions are treated as if they are 'common sense' and are communicate through wordings as if these are transparently meaningful. Tutors may know essayist conventions implicitly, having been socialised into them through years of formal schooling, and in many cases through socio-discursive practices in their homes and communities. But students, particularly those from so-called 'non-traditional' backgrounds, may not, as [75] is reflected in the recurring questions listed in this chapter.[76]

The confusion the student-writers experience is so all pervasive a dimension of their experience in HE that it is useful to name this the 'institutional practice of mystery'. This practice is ideologically inscribed in that it works against those least familiar with the conventions surrounding academic writing - that is, students from social groups historically excluded from higher education. Such a practice works against their participation in HE in the following interrelated ways. Firstly, exclusion occurs becuase what is assumed to be 'common sense' is in fact only one privileged literacy practice; student outsiders cannot know the conventions embedded in such a practice unless these are taught. [...] Secondly, the dominant monologic addressivity within HE does not facilitate access to the privileged/privileging resources of essayist literacy. The writing and reading of students' written texts is consonant with the fictionalisation of participants in essayist literacy. However, whilst student-writers need to become familiar with this aspect of the practice - the denial of actual students and tutors with specific histories and interests - it unnecessarily complicates the students' learning of essayist literacy. [76]

Student-writers' desire fopr greater opportunities for dialogue between tutors and students, as real participants in the construction and interpretation of texts, is repeatedly expressed and seems to hold out for student-writers the promise of learning essayist conventions as a key part of their participation in higher education. (Lillis 2001: 132)

Cope, B. & M. Kalantzis (eds) (1993). The Powers of Literacy: A genre approach to teaching writing. London: Falmer Press.

Creme, P. & M. Lea (1997). Writing at University, Buckingham: Open University Press.
Hyland, K. (2000). Disciplinary Discourses. Harlow: Longman.

Jones, C., Turner, J. & Street, B.V. (eds) 1999 Students Writing in the University, Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Lea, M. & B. Stierer (2000). Student Writing in Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University

Mitchell, S. (1994). The Teaching and Learning of Argument in Sixth Forms and Higher Education. Hull: The Leverhulme Trust/The University of Hull.
Sharples, M. (1999). How We Write. London: Routledge.Bibliography

Lea, M. & Street, B. V. (1998). Student Writing and Staff Feedback in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach. Studies in Higher Education 23(2):157-72.

Lillis, T. (1999). Whose Common Sense? In C. Jones, J. Turner. & B. V. Street (eds), Students Writing in the University, pp 127-47. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Lillis, T. (2001). Student Writing: Access, Regulation, Desire. London: Routledge.

Ivanic, R. (1997). Writing and Identity. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Street, B.V. (1999). Academic Literacies. In C. Jones, J. Turner, & B. V. Street (eds), Students Writing in the University, pp 193-227. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Blogging essay references


Barton, D. (2007 2nd Edition). Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Blackwell.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Bruns, A. & Jacobs, J. (eds) (2006). Uses of Blogs. New York: Peter Lang.

Cheung, C. (2004 2nd Edition). Identity Construction and Self-Presentation on Personal Homepages: Emancipatory Potentials and Reality Constraints. In D. Gauntlett and R. Horsley (eds) Web.Studies. London: Arnold. 53-68

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.) (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. London: Routledge.

Davies, J. and Merchant, G. (2006). Looking from the Inside Out: academic blogging as new literacy. In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel (eds) A New Literacies Sampler. New York: Peter Lang 167‐198

Hodkinson, P. & Lincoln, S. (2008). Online journals as virtual bedrooms?: Young people, identity and personal space. Young, 16 (1), 27-46

Huffaker, D. A. & Calvert, S. L. (2005). Gender, identity, and language use in teenage blogs. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, . 10(2). Accessed 20 Nov. 2008 <>

Keen, A.(2008). The Cult of the Amateur: How Blogs, MySpace, YouTube and the rest of today’s user-generated media are killing our culture and economy. London and Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Lévy, P. (2001). Cyberculture. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.

Lindemann, K. (2005). Lives Online: Narrative Performance, Presence and Community in Text and Performance Quarterly, 25(4), 354–72.

Lovink, G. (2008) Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. New York and London: Routledge.

Reed, A. (2005). "My Blog is Me": Texts and Persons in UK Online Journal Culture (and anthropology). Ethnos, 70(2), 220–42.

Graves, L. (2007). The Affordances of Blogging: A Case Study in Culture and Technological Effects. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 31(4), 331-346

Grusin, R.(1994). What is an Electronic Author? Theory and the Technological Fallacy. Configurations 2.3, The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for Literature and Science, 469-483. Accessed from: <>

Kress, G. (2003) Literacy in the New Media Age. London: Routledge.

Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2007) New Literacies: Changing Knowledge and Classroom Learning. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Lankshear, C.& Knobel, M. (eds) (2007). A New Literacies Sampler. New York: Peter Lang.

Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press.

Ware, I. (2008). Andrew Keen Vs the Emos: Youth, Publishing, and Transliteracy. M/C Journal, 11: 4. Accessed from: <>

Writing style

JD asks: When you read a learner’s writing what makes you pleased? What things do you look for?

I don't want to write a long list; instead, let me tell you about a final-year essay I once marked. It was on a French autobiographical text by Claude Duneton called Je suis comme une truie qui doute ('I am a doubting sow') and was story of a working-class kid made good, who becomes a teacher, but later doubts the role of school system in creating a more equal society. The text is sort of 'Bourdieu lite' and was perfect for my module on post-'68 culture.

My student submitted late, after countless redrafts (he felt early versions replicated my lectures) and requests for extensions but eventually produced an assessment. What a read! - initially I was shocked at his slang and pop cultural references - then read on and I understood what he was up to. He'd created a text that mimicked Duneton in its use of slang, invective, polemic and self-disclosure. He even prefaced sections with quotes from songs - e.g. lines from Pulp's Common People - Duneton does this but the cultural references are 60s-based (e.g. Lennon's w-c hero).

He'd got the book completely - understanding key ideas and the meaning of its style. He'd made a connection between the book and his own life. I gave it 85% - although I could have easily failed it. The external approved the mark in spite of me flagging it as a potential 'problem'.

That's all but the things that made me pleased were not the things that I initially looked for.

There's probably a message about assessment here - don't be too explicit in assessment criteria, license challenges to your assessment regime etc..

Recalling the essay ten years later, as I start thinking about an essay for my MA, it made me realise that writing an essay is an act of ventriloquism, fiction or pastiche; the adoption of a voice that is not one's own but belonging to others that is a requirement of the performance of academic discourse.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Variations on a meme

What's a meme? Is it the same as a viral? Yes, kind of, but no, not really strictly speaking ...

A meme is something in the air, that goes around, passed on from person to person. Sounds pretty viral-like so far.

However, it's not the same as a viral which is generally content (e.g. video) that self-propagates as it's forwarded from person to person (via email, Facebook etc.). I suppose you could argue that virals are a little passive - I find a funny video, I have a laugh, I pass it on to some friends who have a laugh at it too and pass it on in turn ad infintum (or usually until it comes back to me).

A meme involves more participation in the creation of new - in the sense of remixed, remade, adapted - content.

Here's an example: someone comes up with the idea of expressing song lyrics in the form of a PowerPoint-style pie chart graphic. The chart goes up - on Facebook, Flickr etc. - and in a short space of time there are hundreds - if not thousands - of riffs on the theme. If I meme (I think it's used as a verb) I'm creating my own take on an established convention - in this case re-articulating the lyrics of a song as a user-friendly graphic. There's stylistic play and parody aplenty here as memers (I think it can be used as an agent noun) simultaneously spoof pop lyrics and business-pitch presentation styles.

Where's it come from? Dunno ... but it looks like the thing you'd do if you were a student or bored office worker. Using MS Office and other software to have a laugh and take the piss out of both cheesy pop culture and naff business sales speils. The song chart meme in particular feels like the work of early 20 somethings to mid 30 somethings in its slacker, post The Office (UK and US), smirking, parodic aesthetic. I quite like it too ...
Let's finish on a pretentious note: memes remind me of OULIPO, a group of mainly French writers drawn to the idea of la contrainte, constraint, as a means of generating new text. Meme-ing though is multimodal.

One problem with the term meme is that the Dawkins-derived metaphor doesn't assert the primacy of creativity; it is suggests a natural process of self-propagation without human agency.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Romanticism Redux: blogging as (sometimes) very old literacy practice

Just came across a reference in some old notes on blogging from a few years back.

It's from Joe Clark, a Canadian blogger, who writes:
A blog is a form of exteriorized psychology. It’s a part of you, or of your psyche; while a titanium hip joint or a pacemaker might bring technology inside the corporeal you, a Weblog uses technology to bring the psychological you outside of it. [emphasis mine]

Deconstructing “You’ve Got Blog”
Clark is articulating the Romantic view of writing as expression, an exteriorisation of an already fully constituted interiority (my inner self, psyche or the "Real Me").


It's a long way from 'identity performance' and 'distributed selfhood'.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Ian Hutchby on affordances and the text metaphor

Really interesting extracts from Hutchby on affordances and the text metaphor:
Grint and Woolgar (1997) suggest the intriguing notion that technologies
should be treated as ‘texts’which are ‘written’ (i.e. configured) in certain ways by their developers, producers and marketers, and have to be ‘read’ (i.e. interpreted) by their users or consumers. The writers of these technology-texts may seek to impose particular meanings on the artefact, and to constrain the range of possible
interpretations open to users.Users, by contrast,may seek to produce readings of the technology-text which best suit the purposes they have in mind for the artefact. It is in the dynamic between these processes that sociologists can begin to locate the
meaningful social reality of technologies. Neither the writing nor the reading of technology-texts is determinate: both are open, negotiated processes. Although there may be ways that technology-texts have ‘preferred’ readings built into them, it is always open to the user to find a way around this attempt at interpretive closure. A good example is the telephone. As Frissen (1995) points out, one of the early ways that the telephone was marketed to a mass audience (‘written’, in Grint and Woolgar’s terms) was as an instrumental tool useful for business negotiations (for men) and the management of household services (for women).However, women in particular began to ‘read’ this technology in quite a different way – as a tool for sociability, for chatting – and after a while the manufacturers, sensitive to this new reading, began to market what was to all intents a ‘different’ technology to the one they had begun with. (Hutchby 201: 445)

... different technologies possess different affordances, and these affordances constrain the ways that they can possibly be ‘written’ or ‘read’. (Hutchby 201: 447)

... the range of possibilities for interpretation and action is nowhere near as open for either ‘writers’ or ‘readers’ as the technology as text metaphor implies. (Hutchby 201: 450)

My aim has been to argue for an acceptance that our interpretations and uses
of technological artefacts, while important, contingent and variable, are constrained
in analysable ways by the ranges of affordances that particular artefacts possess. The
social constructivist consensus has usefully brought to the forefront the recognition
that social processes are involved in all aspects of technology, and not simply in its
effects upon society. But we can become too fixated on the social shaping of technology at the expense of an equally pressing, though differently framed, concern with the technological shaping of social action. (Hutchby 201: 453)

The affordances of an artefact are not things which impose themselves upon humans’ actions with, around, or via that artefact.But they do set limits on what it is possible to do with, around, or via the artefact. By the same token, there is not one but a variety of ways of responding to the range of affordances for action and interaction that a technology presents.We can analyse the development of those responses empirically, but in order to do so we have to accept that technological artefacts do not amount simply to what their users make of them; what is made of them is accomplished in the interface between human aims and the artefact’s affordances.(Hutchby 201: 453)

The Facebook phone - affordances and technological determinism again

A bit more on emerging technologies and social practices mutually informing their respective development. This is going to get a bit ragged and random ... I may have to return and edit.

We know how significant usage of both mobile phones and social networking sites are, well lots of the mobile phone manufacturers and networks are plugging phones that offer easy access to SNSs (see UK advertising campaign from 2008):

There's also a forthcoming 'Facebook phone' that will offer much cheaper access:

Finally, the SNSs too have been active developing apps - the best being the Facebook app for the iPhone.

Facebook on iPhone

Anyway, all this is to make the point that technology doesn't remain static; it's developing in response to new social trends (e.g. popularity of SNSs, desire for permanent networked connectivity, constant 'intimate co-presence' facilitated by SNSs etc.) - trends which it plays a role in developing in turn.

Existing technologies such as mobile phones received a makeover to support the growing popularity of networked practices - e.g. smart phones developed a capacity for web access, email and other data services, still and video camera for shots that can be uploaded and shared.

So, camera-equipped smart phones which make it easy to upload pictures to sites like Facebook or Flickr might be said to be responding to existing - although still newish - practices but also create new social media behaviours of their own.

Lessig on Wikipedia

This is an extract from Lawrence Lessig's blog. It's a defence against some of the claims made in Keen's book. I'm particularly interested in the section on Wikipedia which has a bad press in HE:
The wiki fallacy

Keen spends a great deal of time attacking Wikipedia, and its founder, Jimmy Wales. As Keen writes, "Wikipedia ... is almost single-handedly killing the traditional information business." (p127-8). I take it not even Wales would exaggerate the importance of Wikipedia like this. And again, implicit in Keen's argument is the efficiency fallacy mentioned above.

But the real error here is betrayed in the following:

Since Wikipedia's birth, more than fifteen thousand contributors have created nearly three million entries in over a hundred different languages—none of them edited or vetted for accuracy (p4).
"None of them edited or vetted for accuracy"? On one level, of course, this is absurdly false. Wikipedia is constantly edited, and attributions constantly vetted for accuracy. Indeed, for many of the articles, the level of editing and vetting is vastly greater than any article published in any encyclopedia ever.

But on a different level, what Keen must mean is that it is not "edited" or "vetted" by experts. Or exclusively by experts (for again, experts certainly participate in Wikipedia). This is related to Keen's obsession (indeed, I'm sure if he has one, his shrink must have a field day with this obsession) with "experts" and makers of "taste." So central is this to Keen's argument, it deserves its own heading.

Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur": BRILLIANT!

Lessig on 'true' and 'false' content sharing sites

Interesting blog post making a distinction between 'true' and 'false' content sharing.

Unusually, YouTube, a site that's often quoted as empobying the Web 2.0 ethos represents 'false' sharing: there's no way to download, just the option to embed.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Clay Shirky on blogging

I like these extracts from Clay Shirky - a good risposte to those who claim blogs are trivial, inconsequential nonsense:

... dozens of weblogs have an audience of a million or more, and millions have an audience of a dozen or less. (Shirky 2008: 84)

And it's easy to deride this sort of thing as self-absorbed publishing - why would anyone put such drivel out in public? It's simple. They're not talking to you. 
(Shirky 2008: 85)

We misread these seemingly inane posts because we're so unused to seeing written material in public that isn't intended for us. The people posting messages to one another in small groups are doing a different kind of communicating than people posting messages for hundreds or thousands of people to read. More is different, but less is different too. An audience isn't just a big community; it can be more anonymous, with many fewer ties among users. A community isn't just a small audience either; it has a social density that audiences lack. The bloggers and social network users operating in small groups are part of a community, and they are enjoying something analogous to the privacy of the mall. On any given day you could go to the food court and find a group of teenagers hanging out and talking to one another. They are in public, and you could certainly sit at the next table over and listen in on them if you wanted to. And what would they be saying to one another? They'd be saying, "I can't believe I missed you last night!!! Trac talked to you and said you were TRASHED off your ASS!" They'd be doing something similar to what they are doing on LiveJournal or Xanga, in other words, but if you were listening in on their conversation at the mall, as opposed to reading their post, it would be clear that you were the weird one. (Shirky 2008: 85)


Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press.

Lankshear and Knobel on two divergent mindsets

The first mindset [newcomer/outsider] assumed that the contemporary world is essentially the way it has been throughout the modern-industrial period, only now it is more technologized or, alternatively, technologized in a new and very sophisticated way. To all intents and purposes, however, the world on which these new technologies are brought to bear is more or less the same economic, cultural, social world that has evolved throughout the modern era, where things got done by means of routines that were predicated on long-standing assumptions about bodies, materials, property and forms of ownership, industrial techniques and principles, physical texts, face-to-face dealings (and physical proxies for them), and so on.  The second mindset [insider] assumes that the contemporary world is different in important ways from the world we have known, and that the difference is growing. This is related to the development of new digital electronic internetworked technologies and new ways of doing things and new ways of being that are enabled by these technologies. (Lankshear and Knobel 2006: 33-4)


Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2006). New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Defining affordances

Lucas Graves has an interesting article on blogging, although blogging is really just the example or case study, as the article is really about the concept of 'affordances'.

He cites the work of both Ian Hutchby (2001) and Brian Rappert (2003) whose concept of affordances attempt to construct a middle ground between technological determinism and social constructivism. 

For Hutchby, “[d]ifferent technologies possess different affordances, and these affordances constrain the ways they can possibly be ‘written’ or ‘read’ ” (Hutchby 2001: 447). Rappert takes a similar view that affordances are the perceived properties inherent in an object that suggest - but do not determine- its uses. Rappert views technology as both “configured by and configuring, affected by and affecting” (p. 569) social practices. He argues that “[w]hile objects do exist, the way in which we understand them is always subject to negotiation and interpretation” (p. 571). 

Graves argues that the technology of blogging didn't just come along and change people's practices; rather, blogging technologies were designed to "facilitate an activity that was already beginning to take place, in the same way that the development of the telephone and telephone networks conformed to the emerging practices of telephone culture." (Graves 2007: 243). He writes of the transformation of blogs as simple web pages to the sort of software we recognise now which automatically arranges posts in reverse order. He goes on to argue that blogging, as a distinct genre, emerged at the "intersection of technology and society: Technology and sociocultural practice evolve together, each feeding back into the other" (Graves 2007: 343).

Affordances: Quick definitions

"I will argue that affordances are functional and relational aspects which frame, while not determining, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object. In this way, technologies can be understood as artefacts which may be both shaped by and shaping of the practices humans use in interaction with, around and through them. This ‘third way’ between the (constructivist) emphasis on the shaping power of human agency and the (realist) emphasis on the constraining power of technical capacities opens the way for new analyses of how technological artefacts become important elements in the patterns of ordinary human conduct. (Hutchby 2001: 444)

“the affordances of the artifact: the possibilities for action that it offers” (Hutchby 2001: 449)

"the features of a technology that make a certain action possible" (Graves 2007 :332). 


Graves, L. (2007). The Affordances of Blogging: A Case Study in Culture and Technological Effects. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 31(4), 331-346

Hutchby, I. (2001). Technologies, texts and affordances. Sociology: The Journal of the British
Sociological Association, 35(2), 441-456.

Rappert, B. (2003). Technologies, texts and possibilities: A reply to Hutchby. Sociology: The Journal of the British Sociological Association, 37(3), 565-580.

Henry Farrell on academic bloggin

Not sure I'll need this link but it came up in JD's presentation.

Academic bloggers differ in their goals. Some are blogging to get personal or professional grievances off their chests or, like Black, to pursue nonacademic interests. Others, perhaps the majority, see blogging as an extension of their academic personas. Their blogs allow them not only to express personal views but also to debate ideas, swap views about their disciplines, and connect to a wider public. For these academics, blogging isn't a hobby; it's an integral part of their scholarly identity. They may very well be the wave of the future.

Why are so many academics beginning to blog? Academic blogs offer the kind of intellectual excitement and engagement that attracted many scholars to the academic life in the first place, but which often get lost in the hustle to secure positions, grants, and disciplinary recognition. Properly considered, the blogosphere represents the closest equivalent to the Republic of Letters that we have today. Academic blogs, like their 18th-century equivalent, are rife with feuds, displays of spleen, crotchets, fads, and nonsenses. As in the blogosphere more generally, there is a lot of dross. However, academic blogs also provide a carnival of ideas, a lively and exciting interchange of argument and debate that makes many scholarly conversations seem drab and desiccated in comparison. Over the next 10 years, blogs and bloglike forms of exchange are likely to transform how we think of ourselves as scholars. While blogging won't replace academic publishing, it builds a space for serious conversation around and between the more considered articles and monographs that we write.

Henry Farrell on academic blogging

Blogging as new literacy practice (sorry make that practices)

In a discussion board forum, Julia asks:
[1] From looking at blogs and perhaps drawing from your experience of blogging, do you consider blogs to exemplify new literacy practices?

[2] Do you think that it is possible to keep a blog and still be of an ‘old’ mindset?

Here's my response:
[1] I think blogs simultaneously exemplify 'new' and 'old' literacy practices.

Blogs are over a decade old now (Happy Blogiversary) and there are now millions of them used for very different purposes.

It's inaccurate to homogenise blogging as a practice that can be ascribed to any one particular mindset. Like the term literacies, blogging probably needs to be conceptualised as a set of contextually defined practices (note the plural).

Some - but not all - uses of blogging might be said to exemplify new literacy practices where the text-making processes incorporate some features of digital textuality as defined by Guy Merchant (linking to other texts, embedding media, blurring of generic boundaries etc.).

[2] In spite of the affordances of blogging software, there is no reason why a user should not use his/her blog as a tool for verbose reflection (i.e. for monologuing, sounding off, one-way traffic) in an 'outsider/newcomer' mindset way without reader comments, links, quotations, blog roll, tags or embedded media content.

The possibilities for social interaction may well be bypassed by some blog users who see the tool as an online word processor - a bit like Word, or, more accurately Google Docs. For example, an undergraduate might use a blog to make reading notes that will be integrated into a essay; a tech-savvy postgrad might make notes of conference papers attended on an iPhone or ultracompact laptop.

My own use of blogging is more 'outsider/newcomer'; I use it to 'bookmark', tag, selectively quote from articles I've read, web sites I've found etc. that I think will be useful in my professional life. These notes could then be cut and paste into emails or discussion board posts, or I could send a link to the post to interested colleagues. For example, I've mentionned the Michael Wesch videos to a couple of people recently. I probably need a blog post with links to them that I can share quickly.
The next bits are more notes to self ...

Blogging characteristics and affordances:
  • minimal technological barriers to participation

  • dual structure - primary posts and secondary comments - supports dialogue, feedback, review, sharing (but also clearly demarcates readers and writers in an old skool way)

  • RSS feeds can be enabled allowing users to subscribe to new content

  • blog rolls linking to favourite blogs or on shared subject (creation of loosely coupled online learning communities)

  • tagging allowing ease of searching

Some social consequences ...
  • gatekeeper' model irrelevant (sorry Andrew Keen) - we're all publishing/broadcasting now (even if it's to nano-audiences)

  • publicising the private - (see post on Keen and Emo and Clay Shirky)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

iPhone and gaming

My son is very taken with my iPhone, especially some of the free games I've installed. He now wants an iPod Touch (and just wants cash from family for Xmas to pay for it). Watching him with it, it looks a credible portable gaming device in its own right.

Gabs on my iPhone

This item from iLounge reinforced this impression:

Speaking in a brief interview as part of a larger article on the iPhone and iPod touch’s role in the industry, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said that the devices may become viable options in the mobile gaming market. “I think the iPhone and iPod touch may emerge as really viable devices in the mobile games market this holiday season,” Said Jobs, noting that around a quarter of the 200 million App Store downloads thus far have been games. “Games sold via the App Store are the most profitable in terms of any of the formats we work on,” added Simon Jeffery, the U.S. president of Sega. Interestingly, Nintendo indicated that it already saw Apple as a competitor prior to its move into the mobile gaming space. “Whether you chose to play on your DS or listen to music on your iPod, we’re already in the same competitive space for time,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo’s U.S. division. Meanwhile, John Carmack, founder of Id Software, said that although he doesn’t see the iPhone and iPod touch as direct competitors to Sony and Nintendo’s handhelds, Id is developing at least two iPhone games. “I don’t expect them to displace DSs and PSPs,” he said. “I think they will be a fairly robust market all by themselves.”

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Technological determinism/medium theory

An article to ponder on some more. Here's a good bit from the conclusion:
A more sophisticated form of analysis must consider both the social forces and agencies responsible for the development and implementation of new technologies, and the properties and potentials inherent in the technologies themselves. [emphasis mine]
Potts, J. (2008) Who’s Afraid of Technological Determinism? Another Look at Medium Theory. Fibreculture Journal . 12. Accessed from:

Monday, 3 November 2008

Lots of multis

So far we've had 'multimodalities', 'multisemiotics' and 'multiliteracies'.

Another multi I've come across is 'multi-platform'. It often pops up in discussions of "360-degree commissioning" (see

360-degree commissioning is all about creating content accessible from other platforms - 'multi-platforms' - such as including mobile phones and the internet.

The BBC series Torchwood has been cited as an example of 360 degree programming. However, Doctor Who looks a better example with a web site that includes MP3s to download, video clips, an RSS news feed, make your own video trailer or comic options and a range of online games.

Quick review of The Machine is Us/ing Us

This is a rightly famous video about Web 2.0 and the bigger picture of what's new about digital culture.

The synthesized music (old-skool audio shorthand for "the Future") and swift editing of video - including that created by screen capture software like Camtasia or Captivate to grab sequences of key strokes and mouse movements - all evoke a rapidly moving landscape we've yet to fully get to grips with.

M. Wesch: The Machine is Us/ing Us (Final Version)

The opening sequence of a pencil writing on paper, annotating, a hand frantically rubbing out recalls a pre-digital era where text was (uni)linear. It switches to a sequence of a word processed text and its fluidity - easier editing, erasure and movement of words from one place on the page to another. At the end of this sequence, the idea of hypertext is introduced- texts are no longer bounded; users can now leap from one page to another with a click of the mouse.

From hypertext we leap to Yahoo and Wayback machine; this section defines html - the code that defines the way web pages look. In html form and content inseparable. Wesch claims that digital text is even better as form and content can be separated. Here, he briefly explains xml and the key idea that content can be reused; data can be exported free from formatting constraints. Another leap to images of blogs and of YouTube - exemplars of new forms of digital text offering users easier ways of participating.

Next, Wesch moves on to key Web 2.0 idea: "the wisdom of crowds"(Tim O'Reilly has pointed out that "users add value"). The web is no longer simply about linking to documents but about linking people. We haven't really begun to reflect on what this all means; we need to rethink copyright, authorship, aesthetics, identity, ourselves ...

This video response is an interesting (in places) counter argument:

Finally, I also enjoyed The Machine is Us/ing Us...for dummies.

Friday, 24 October 2008

literacy events -v- literacy practices

Here's JD's useful distinction:

  • 'literacy practices' = specific type of text making activity, e.g. writing shopping list

  • 'literacy event'= specific instance of a literacy practice, e.g. child sitting with her Mum writing a list of things to buy (which is an instance of the 'literacy practice' of writing a shopping list)

Here are my thoughts ...shootin' from the hip ... thinking out loud ... not 100% sure I'm on the right track ...

Literacy events must surely precede literacy practices; characteristics from literacy events are abstracted and aggregated to construct an 'ideal' literacy practice (e.g. 'ideally' shopping lists are structured according to the shops or aisles from which products are to be selected so as to facilitate a more efficient shopping experience, they also indicate quantities of produce required etc.).

The idealised literacy practice must be realised - instantiated, exemplified, made text - through an individual communicative act that draws upon both the ideal characteristics of the literacy practice as well as from local resources (e.g. that individual's interests, their context etc.).

So, every literacy event is, potentially, a making new of a pre-existing literacy practice, e.g. a child may add stickers to her mum's shopping list or draw pictures.

I'm drawn to Street's assertion, cited by KP, that "literacy … is always instantiated, its potential realised, through local practices."(Street 2003:8).

I think I understand 'local'; insofar as all literacy events are socially-specific instantiations of literacy practices, they are local (i.e. deploying resources from, are meaningful in the context of, a specific scenario).

I'm guessing that 'local' doesn't just mean 'locale' and refer solely to geography but invokes other factors (class, ethnicity, gender, generation, myriad other individual factors)?What's the 'global' bit about though?

Here's an example to see if I'm the right track ... - south-London boys using lexis of US hip hop and/or elements of Jamaican patios in their text messages to one another? 'Global' here = influence of migration, popularity of black music/dance culture (mainly from US) on what we might think of as 'indigenous' varieties of (southern, metropolitan) English.

Not sure what 'indigenous' might mean now ... (the historicity of a group's association with a region?).

Reply to John

> students need to be taught and use standard ways of spelling

I agree with you; insofar as there is a 'market' * (e.g. job market) in which particular linguistic performances (e.g. use of standard spelling) have a value, then we'd be doing our students a disservice not to support them develop such competencies (I nearly wrote 'literacies'!).

I guess the thing that bugs me a bit is the 'literacy in the singular' attitude that's intolerant of language forms that deviate from that standard - e.g. txtspk - even when those language forms are creative and rich and absolutely appropriate to context. This article - I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language exemplifies this attitude.



* see Bourdieu
The constitution of a linguistic market creates the conditions for an objective competition in and through which the legitimate competence can function as linguistic capital, producing a profit of distinction on the occasion of each social exchange.(Bourdieu 1992: 55)

Bourdieu, P. (1992). Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


The association of literacy with writing/reading, the printed word in general, is interesting in the context of the forms of language emerging from digital environments and new technologies which look like they hover somewhere between speech and writing.

Here's Susan Herring:
Various attempts have been made by linguists to classify CMD [computer-mediated discourse], starting in the 1980s and early 1990s. Accustomed to dealing with two basic modalities of language – speech and writing – these linguists first asked: Is it a type of writing, because it is produced by typing on a keyboard and read as text on a computer screen? Is it “written speech” (Maynor 1994), because it exhibits features of orality, including rapid message exchange, informality, and representations of prosody? Or is it a third type, intermediate between speech and writing, or in any event characterized by unique production and reception constraints (Ferrara, Brunner & Whittemore 1991; Murray 1990)?
Herring, S. (2007). A faceted classification scheme for computer-mediated discourse. Language@Internet, 4.

"Could customers please switch off there mobile phones"

On a discussion board forum for a module I did last year on language and online learning, there was a lot of agreement that the notice could customers please switch off there mobile phones was irritating. What might this irritation tell about posters' attitudes to language?

What we have is an instance of someone mistakenly using the pronoun ‘there’ instead of the possessive adjective ‘their’. Pierre Bourdieu would argue that ‘their’ being the correct word to use in this context is entirely arbitrary. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be spelt ‘there’. Plenty of other words, after all, have the same spellings but different meanings. Academics and institutions, over time, have formalised and codified language - defining ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ usage, e.g. “could customers please switch off their mobile phones” is correct but “could customers please switch off there mobile phones” is incorrect.

Bourdieu argues that definitions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ use of language (spelling, puncuation, vocabulary etc.) are, in fact, manifestations of the power of those who sustain their social distinction through language. Knowing the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ is a form of “linguistic capital”; I can use this in my social exchanges to produce what Bourdieu calls “a profit of distinction” (aka “I am better than you”).

My grammar and I

Can Bourdieu shed light on the success of Eat, shoots and leaves and My grammar and I?

Spotted in Gatwick Airport

Let's take some extracts from Language and Symbolic and Power:

The constitution of a linguistic market creates the conditions for an objective competition in and through which the legitimate competance can function as linguistic capital, producing a profit of distinction on the occasion of each social exchange.(Bourdieu 1992: 55)

The dominant competence functions as linguistic capital, securing a profit of distinction in its relation to other competences only in so far as certain conditions (the unification of the market and the uneven distribution of chances of access to the means of production of the legitimate competence, and to the legitimate places of expression) are continuously fulfilled, so that the groups which possess that competence are able to impose it as the only legitimate one in the formal markets (the fashionable, the educational, political and administrative markets) and in most of the linguistic interactions in which they are involved.
It is for this reason that those who seek to defend a threatened linguistic capital, such as knowledge of the classical languages in present-day France, are obliged to wage a total struggle. One cannot save the value of a competence unless one saves a market, in other words, the whole set of political and social conditions of production of the producers/consumers. (Bourdieu 1992: 56-7)


Bourdieu, P. (1992). Language and Symbolic and Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Literacy event 4: discussion board post

I guess this belongs to the domain of university (school for grown-ups)? It's a discussion board post to a thread on online netiquette so I guess the literacy practice is responding to a tutor's question.

discussion board post

Part of me is revelling in the new-found ability to articulate my own opinions (I'm usually using boards as a moderator/facilitator where I have much less freedom to have my say).

However, I can't be too confrontational and I don't want to give offence to the course team. So, even though I criticise the netiquette document, the criticism in enclosed in a 'praise burger' (i.e. two complimentary slices of soft bun-like praise). I'm trying to look at the issue from a couple of angles and understand why the guidelines are included. I close the post with an attempt at humour - cued by manic use of exclamation marks - to defuse any possible offence and to present myself as an approachable team player.

The persona I might be trying to construct in this - but perhaps more so in other posts - is a kind of guy you can knock ideas back and forward with. I'm not suggesting that I'm not like that in 'real life'; simply that in the context of a course where we don't know one another, it's important to present oneself as open to new ideas and respectful of others' opinions.

Literacy event 3: SNS wall post

Elgg (open source SNS) wall-to-wall exchange with a work colleague. The domain is work but the informality in the exchange and its subject matter relate to the home domain. The literacy practice is asking for recommendations.

SNS wall literacy practice

It's the early days of the Elgg installation so we're posting things as part of the process of getting to know how it works. The colleague whose wall I'm posting to is not a friend although we get on well and share similar interests. He's a good guy to talk to about techie things and is generous in his advice. There's none of the banter that's found in the txt message though because I don't know him so well and there's less shared history and discovered commonality.

Literacy event 2: a work email

This is a work-related email to two colleagues, one of whom is my line manager). The literacy practice is answering a question/solving a problem.

I'd say we've a more formal working relationship - formal in an HE, not a armed forces way - and the email is in response to an earlier email articulating some problems with our Elgg (an open source SNS) installation.

work email literacy practice

Sections of the earlier email are quoted and answers fairly brief. Key issues are explained and a way forward outlined. There's no conversational joking - it's all to-the-point, professional stuff.

I tend to use email in lieu of a phone call, especially when:
  • multiple recipients are involved
  • I want to leave an audit trail ("at today's meeting we agreed to ...")
  • I'm pressed for time and want to avoid the small talk that a phone call entails ("Hi X, how are things etc., etc. ... the reason I'm calling is ...")
Is another reason I use email a lot to do with the culture of the workplace where email is the default medium, even replacing face-to-face conversations with colleagues who are only a few doors down the corridor?

Literacy event 1: a txt exchange

Right, let's have a go at looking at my own literacy events.

Here's a short exchange of txt messages between a myself and a friend. We're a similar age, work in the same place and have sons the same age. The messages are about arranging for the boys to get together. The literacy practice then is 'agreeing a date/making an apointment. The domain is home, not work.


I have a particular style with this friend: lots of in-joke references to our middle-class lifestyles and privileged children, 'pet' names only used in emails and txts ('Mr T')' some camping it up ('dearest fruit'). Banter (mock offensiveness) is a key aprt of how we communicate textually (less so in spoken English). It's not a style I replicate with other friends - it's part of a particular dynamic between us. I think this shared style evolved over time and involved initiation and uptake. A style got developed and stuck.

My literacy practices

My literacy practices these days are predominantly technology-mediated.

Typically, in a day, I:

  • txt/send SMS messages
  • email
  • post to blog
  • post to discussion boards (my own KU courses as well as external ones I'm a student on)
  • post to walls, comments boxes etc on One Community (our Elgg installation)

Because these literacy practices are technology-mediated and asynchronous, I'm engaging in them at various times and places: home and office, working hours and early mornings or evenings.

It's difficult, given the informality of my working environment and good relationships with colleagues, to differentiate home literacy practices and work-related literacy practices. The domains may be different but I'm not sure the literacy practices are massively different.

I'm with Barton on the porous nature of domains:

The practices leak from one domain to the other and there is much overlap.
(Barton 1994: 40)


Barton, D. (1994) Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Blackwell.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for
their markings -

they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek
without pain.

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on
the hand.

Craig Raine, A Martian sends a postcard home

Internet quotes

I have to put my quotes somewhere so why not here?

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog.
Peter Steiner. The New Yorker, page 61 of July 5 (Vol.69
(LXIX) no. 20), 1993. (graphic)

"The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." John Gilmore (EFF). [source: Gilmore states: "I have never found where I first said this. But everyone believes it was me, as do I. If you find an appearance of this quote from before March '94, please let me know." Also in NYT 1/15/96, quoted in CACM 39(7):13. Later, Russell Nelson comments (and is confirmed by Gilmore) that on December 05 1993 Nelson sent Gilmore an email stating, "Great quote of you in Time magazine: 'The net treats censorship as a defect and routes around it.'"]

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The digital revolution will not be televised

I really love digital stuff but I'm kinda sceptical about some of the more grandiose claims made about a 'digital revolution' or a radical 'paradigm shift'.

I've written about this before, but here's a quick 'n' dirty animation (inspired by Terry Gilliam and realised for me by Darrel Manuel - thanks Darrel) articulating this scepticism:

I tend to talk, instead, of a 'digital turn'. Similar metaphor to 'revolution' I guess although I imagine it more like an oil tanker changing course or a flower turning towards the sun.

Print-based texts can be multimodal, multivocal generic hybrids too

Print-based texts can be multimodal, multivocal generic hybrids too.

This is a picture of me holding my copy of Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project:

Hemon: The Lazarus Project

The book :
  • contains text and pictures (some ambiguous ones taken by Hemon's friend, others of the corpse of Lazarus, a real-life Jewish immigrant shot by the head of Chicago's police);

  • reworks (lifting from contemporary newspapers, some invention) the anti-immigrant discourse of early C20th USA

  • blurs generic boundaries (fiction/autobiography - main character is a Bosnian immigrant like Hemon)

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Is Wikipedia a Bad Thing?

Some more on Clay Shirky, this time about Wikipedia (the site loathed by thousands of academics - see image below taken from an essay check sheet).

Wikipedia has now transcended the traditional functions of an encyclopedia. Within minutes of the bombs going off in the London transit system, someone created a Wikipedia page called "7 July 2005 London bombings." The article's first incarnation was five sentences long and attributed the explosions to a power surge in the Underground, one of the early theories floated before the bus bombings was linked to the Underground explosions. The Wikipedia page received more than a thousand edits in its first four hours of existence, as additional news came in; users added numerous pointers to traditional news sources (more symbiosis) and a list of contact numbers for people either trying to track loved ones or simply figuring out how to get home. What was conceived as an open encyclopedia in 2001 has become a general-purpose tool for gathering and distributing information quickly, a use that further cemented Wikipedia in people's minds as a useful reference work. (Shirky 2008: 116-7)


Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press.

Broadcast -v- Communications media (Clay Shirky)

I've only just got around to reading Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody and was stuck by his interesting take on the blurring of the distinction between broadcast (central, one-way, one-to-many - e.g. TV, radio, newspapers) and communications (dispersed, two-way, initially one-to-one but increasingly now one-to-many - e.g. phone, fax or email) media.


Here's what he has to say:

Now that our communications technology is changing, the distinctions among those patterns of comunication are evaporating; what was once a sharp break between two styles of communicating is becoming a smooth transition. Most user-generated content is created as communication in small groups, but since we're so unused to communications media and broadcast media being mixed together, we think that everyone is now broadcasting. This is a mistake. (Shirky 2008: 87)


Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations. New York: The Penguin Press.

Quick postscriptum - a nice new term for UGC is "indigenous content"

What's "new" in New Literacy Studies? - First thoughts

This article is a really good overview of the New Literacy Studies (NLS) - although I must admit that I found it kind of tough going. I think I'll get more out it it at the end of the course although I understand why it's required reading at the start.

Street summarises the recent scholarship the field of NLS. Literacy is not process of acquiring specific skills but a "social practice". Street adds that:
This entails the recognition of multiple literacies, varying according to time and space, but also contested in relations of power. (Street 2003: 77)

Street makes a distinction between two conceptualisations of literacy:

  • autonomous (a kind of centralised and top-down conception of reading/writing presumed to have beneficial effects)

  • ideological ("culturally sensitive" conception of diverse socially embedded practices informed by specific conceptions of knowing and being ) NLS then, embraces the ideological model of literacy.

Some issues raised in the article:

  • Problem with terminology; 'autonomous' model also deeply ideological although disguised as something neutral and transcultural.

  • NLS overly concerned with 'local' literacies?

  • Need to attend more fully to power relations between hegemonic (dominant) literacies and local literacies.

  • NLS and education - interest in gap between home and school literacies, need to use non-school experience, learning and literacies in school settings.


Street, B. (2003). What's "new" in New Literacy Studies? Critical approaches to literacy in theory and practice. Current Issues in Comparative Education Vol.5(2) pp.77-91

Monday, 13 October 2008

Adding to Merchant's list - Ianto Ware on Keen and Emos

Another defining characteristic of digital literacy practices might be the publicisation of the private? The family photo album is going online; pictures of nights out are posted to Facebook (minutes later?); details of travel and purchases are twittered or posted to blogs etc..

Here's a bit from an article by Ianto Ware on this:

What the rise of Web 2.0 has done is simply to bring everyday, private sphere dialogue driven literacies into the public sphere in a very obvious way.
Ware, I. (2008). Andrew Keen Vs the Emos: Youth, Publishing, and Transliteracy. M/C Journal, 11: 4. Accessed from:

Lawrence Lessig on Andrew Keen

Here's Lawrence Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons, on Andrew Keen (the full article is well worth a read though):

I think it is a great thing when amateurs create, even if the thing they create is not as great as what the professional creates. I want my kids to write. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop reading Hemingway and read only what they write. What Keen misses is the value to a culture that comes from developing the capacity to create—independent of the quality created. That doesn’t mean we should not criticize works created badly (such as, for example, Keen’s book…). But it does mean you’re missing the point if you simply compare the average blog to the NY times.
What a great, no-nonsense ripost to all those who claim blogs, YouTube etc. are drivel.

Why I like Michel de Certeau

I couldn't find my notes in the loft. I did, however, find a battered paperback (in French!) of L'invention du quotidien:

De Certeau

I will post some definitions of strategies and tactics in a few days time but for now here are some thoughts on why I like Michel de Certeau and why he might be useful to this course.

Ok, I like de Certeau because he acknowledges the intelligence, imagination, resourcefulness and creativity of ordinary people. I think this is relevant to New Literacy Studies as it looks to be about acknowledging (valuing?) multiple ways of making and reading texts.

De Certeau maintains that the majority of ordinary people are denied access to the means of cultural production and have little choice but to consume the products of the dominant cultural economy of large corporations and multinationals. However, despite their apparent powerlessness, and in the face of a seemingly all-pervasive institutional control, ordinary people assert their own creativity in multifarious but hidden ways:

To a rationalized, expansionist and at the same time centralized, clamorous, and spectacular production corresponds another production, called "consumption." The latter is devious, it is dispersed, but it insinuates itself everywhere, silently and almost invisible, because it does not manifest itself through its own products, but rather through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order.
(de Certeau 1984, xii-xiii)

In another work called La Culture au pluriel (I'm not sure it's available in English translation), de Certeau writes of feeling awe-struck at the scale of this unacknowleded creativity:

I have to admit that there is no text, nor any institution that can ever take the place of, or compete with, the distant murmur that can be heard coming from machines, tools, kitchens - the thousands of noises of creative activity. Innumerable lexicons, strange vocabularies. They grow silent as soon as the museum or writing seizes fragments from them in order to make them speak their own interests. (quoted in Rigby 1991, 18)
I think one interesting development of the so-called digital age that I'd like to follow up is that this 'other' production is becoming more visible and less silent.

Video and image sharing sites such as YouTube and Flickr, social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are providing new spaces for the articulation of "consumption".


De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rigby, B. (1991) Popular Culture in Modern France: A Study of Cultural Discourse. London: Routledge.

Digital texts are like the Pompidou Centre

When I was a teenager, and desperately in love with the idea of living in Paris, I particularly liked le Centre Pompidou (aka Beaubourg).

Following up on my earlier comments on Merchant's definition of digital texts, I think they resemble Beaubourg's exoskeletal architecture - all the internal structural bits visible externally.

What I mean by that is that there's something about digital textuality that makes manifest some of the underlying features of all texts.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Adding to Merchant's list - microcontent

Here's a possible addition to Guy Merchant's ten defining feaures of digital texts - microcontent.

This is Bryan Alexander's definition:

These sections of the Web break away from the page metaphor. Rather than following the notion of the Web as book, they are predicated on microcontent. Blogs are about posts, not pages. Wikis are streams of conversation, revision, amendment, and truncation. Podcasts are shuttled between Web sites, RSS feeds, and diverse players. These content blocks can be saved, summarized, addressed, copied, quoted, and built into new projects.


Alexander, B.(2006) Web 2.0: A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? Accessed from:

Notes on writing the future in the digital age

Merchant argues that the production and consumption of digital texts is very different to that of print-based texts. He lists the following characteristics:

  1. A move from the fixed to the fluid: the text is no longer contained between the covers or by the limits of the page.
  2. Texts become interwoven in more complex ways through the use of hyperlinks.
  3. Texts can be easily revised, updated, added to and appended.
  4. Genres borrow freely, hybridise and mutate.
  5. Texts can become collaborative and multivocal, with replies, links, posted comments and borrowing - the roles of readers and writers overlap.
  6. Reading and writing paths are often non-linear.
  7. Texts become more densely multimodal (as multimedia allows for a rich interplay of modes).
  8. The communicative space is shared and location diminishes in significance as the local fuses with the global.
  9. The impression of co-presence and synchronous engagement increases.
  10. Boundaries begin to blur (work/leisure; public/private; serious/frivolous).

    (Merchant 2007, 122)

I think I agree with Merchant on these characteristics but with a couple of biggish reservations:

Firstly, because digital texts can do all these things (e.g. enable collaborative authoring, revision, blur generic boundaries etc.) does it mean that this is how they are actually being used? In essence, is Merchant describing actual manifestations of digital texts or suggesting some of the directions digital texts might possibly take?

Secondly, I think that on a more sophisticated level, printed texts (books) have never been contained by their physical limitations and have always been interwoven and multivocal. Here's Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes ( I should probably cite Julia Kristeva too) on this:

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network... The book is not simply the object that one holds in one's hands... Its unity is variable and relative.
(Foucault 1974, 23)

[text is] ... woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?) antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find the 'sources', the 'influences' of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas.
(Barthes 1977, 160)

Do digital texts reveal more explictly the ways in which all texts are constructed? Is the really fantastic thing about them the ways they expose how all texts are produced?


Barthes, R. (1977) Image - Music - Text. London : Fontana.

Foucault, M. (1974) The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock.

Merchant, G. (2007) Writing the future in the digital age. Literacy 41:3, 118–128

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Literacies of fusion - first thoughts

Much sympathy with the literacies of fusion concept. Millard advocates a productive dialogue between pupils and teachers about practices taking place outside school (TV, DVDs, videogames, readings of books and comics) and other, more conventional pedagogic practices rehearsed inside school.

There is some resonance for me in HE – what are our students doing (esp. with technology) outside the lecture theatre or before coming to uni? What can we learn from it? How can we use what they do to support them in their studies? Can the energies/enthusiasm of the fun/socialising stuff they do off campus be directed toward the learning outcomes of HE courses?

I like the fusion cuisine metaphor too – it doesn’t suggest one cuisine replacing another but, rather, a new combination. Analogue and digital terrine to start; a main course of fricassé of linearity and multimodality; a dessert of popular culture tart on a coulis of canonical texts? This appeals to me as I also think school is a place where you should be exposed to things you don't get at home as well (e.g. my white, European, secular children are learning about Diwali and Chinese New Year).

I also wonder – but others know schools better than I do - if Millard doesn’t construct a bit of a straw man in her description of the ways schools operate:
“… the precedence of written, over spoken texts with a hierarchy of importance topped by the analytical and expository skills of essayist literacy, which still dominate modes of assessment in higher education (Lillis, 2001). It is based on the reaffirmation of a standard, written, national language, transmitted largely through a print-based, linear pedagogy.”

Are things really that fixed? I'm always delighted by the creativity of the environments I see in my children's schools and nurseries (colourful work plastered on every wall, welcome messages in 15 different languages etc.).

I'd accept the claim that "essayist literacy" is probably still the default mode of academic discourse expected in HE - even on this course apparently ;-) - but is it the same in schools? I read Clare Dowdall's article on dissonance at about the same time and was struck by how the school-based writing activity ('Knightly Norman') encouraged pupils to engage in a degree of linguistic/stylistic play (news report on events of 1066) - some degrees removed from "essayist literacy".

I wasn't sure of the connection between Millard's advocacy of fusion literacies - essentially to support reading and composition - and her conclusion in which she cites Giroux's conception of literacy as "an emerging act of consciousness and resistance" (which sounds a bit like Paolo Freire). Literacy defined here sounds like the ability to uncover the mecanisms of ideological manipulation and discover the real relations of power at play. At what age could/should children be expected to engage with texts at this level of sophistication?

Finding my way around the New Literacy Studies (1)

What is New Literacy Studies (NLS)? How does it map onto existing academic disciplines?

Twenty years ago Becher (1989) argued that disciplines have both a cognitive and a social orientation. So, a discipline is about particular ideas or issues and it also exists in and through the network of individuals based in departments, publishing in and reading specific journals (Literacy?, Discourse?), participating in particular conferences or strands in conferences (examples?).

It sounds as if NLS constitutes a discipline (some might prefer the term 'field') that straddles a range of other disciplines and sub-disciplines:

  • education
  • cultural studies (esp. digital culture - user-generated content, fandom, reception analysis)
  • social history (particular emphasis on working-class and/or ethnic minority experiences?)
  • sociology
  • ethnography
  • linguistics (esp. sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, CDA?)
Let's see if I can work out where the course team sit (simplistic I know) from what they've written so far:
  • JD's take on it seems to overlap strongly with cultural studies - esp. the strand interested in digital culture
  • KP's take looks to have more in common with social history, ethnography - cultural studies too though
  • JM's looks like a combo of education (comments on digital divide and class suggesting strong interest in social inclusion agenda) and cultural studies.

Becher, T. (1989) Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Inquiry and the Cultures of the Disciplines. Milton Keynes: SRHE and OUP.

    De Certeau and the iPhone hackers

    De Certeau and the iPhone hackers: is there a link? This post comes out of some discussion board posts on iPhones and Michel de Certeau and is, I guess, a kind of "weave".

    Apple is employing what de Certeau would call a 'strategy' of careful control of the apps (applications, the gadgets and gizmos that add functionality to your device) available for purchase or free download from the iTunes Store.

    In the face of this 'strategy', iPhone users and apps developers are employing a range of what de Certeau would term 'tactics' (e.g. the creation of web sites in which tips on how to 'hack' your iPhone and interesting apps are publicised).

    Apple is saying: we control the virtual space of the iTunes Store; we define how an iPhone can be used and what applications are appropriate; our corporate/commercial interests come first.

    Users - and the developer community - resist this; they find ways of outwitting the control mecanisms of Apple's strategy. The Apple iPhone School web site, for example, has tutorials on jailbreaking, hacking, modding and unlocking - terms which evoke de Certeau's poaching metaphor - and reveals a vibrant culture of reinterpretation and reappropriation.

    Is the conflict between 'strategy' and 'tactics' the inevitable consequence of power asymmetry? Link to Clay Shirky's Here comes everybody and his reflections on the ease and speed of development of informal organisations and 'lightweight collaboration' on the web.

    [Posted with iBlogger from my iPhone]

    Tuesday, 7 October 2008

    Grey day in Kingston upon Thames

    iPhones - reply to Jody

    I was interested to read of Jody's enthusiasm for the iPhone and mobile learning (which I share).

    I'm currently sitting by the Thames, taking a break from my walk to work and writing this post to my blog using my iPhone and an application called iBlogger. There are lots of other ways of doing this - using notes and email for example.

    I like this ability to record the here and now (with text, voice, image) to share or to come back to later to re-edit.

    BTW, the Shelfari site looks great.

    Mobile Blogging from here.

    Monday, 6 October 2008

    First thoughts on the new course

    Logged in to New Literacies today and posted a couple of contributions.

    Really nice WebCT site -a real effort to create something more fun to use than the standard interface and structure of most WebCT sites.

    Interestingly, there's no section on the assessment - a big 6,000 word essay apparently. I revert to student behaviour and it's the first thing I look for.

    I suspect that the course team took a deliberate decision to conceal it so that we'd concentrate on the readings and activities.

    There's no rushing ahead to later weeks' activities as weekly units look to be time released. There is, however, a detailed, thematically arranged reading list).

    I think it's a good move not to hit online learners with all the content on day 1. The tracking back option will be more useful though as learning is about recursive movements.

    The welcome video from Julia was a nice touch (that's an idea I'll steal!) and I liked the idea of PowerPoint presentations to introduce course team and students - much better than "say a few words about yourself in this forum".

    Mobile Blogging from here.

    Web 2.0 and HE

    The term 'Web 2.0' denotes a loose amalgam of emergent tools and technologies characterised by a dynamic social element and an emphasis on content sharing and collaboration.

    There are a number of excellent introductions to the 'volatile' environments and tools that define the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Here are some key ones:

    Alexander, B. (2006) Web 2.0: a new wave of innovation for teaching and
    learning? Educause Review 41(2)
    Last accessed 22 January
    2008 from:

    Anderson. P (2007). What is Web 2.0? Ideas, Technologies and
    Implications for Education (
    Last accessed 22 January 2008 from:

    O'Reilly, Tim (2005) What is Web 2.0?: design patterns and business
    models for the next generation of software

    Last accessed 22 January
    2008 from:

    Wesch, M. (2007) Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us
    accessed 22 January 2008 from:

    Wikis in HE

    A wiki is a web site that any user can edit. For this reason, they are sometimes known as read/write web pages.

    Typically, a group of people with shared interests and/or common goals participate in the creation and development of web pages and other online documentation on a particular domain of knowledge.

    The term wiki is also used to refer to the software that enables online collaboration. Wiki software offers easy-to-use html editing tools that allow users to create web pages, embed images, add hyperlinks and so on.

    If you're interested in learning more about wiki software Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia and best-known example of a wiki, has an excellent description.

    Here are some of the main characteristics of a wiki:
    • easy-to-use interface that allows users to upload and edit entries through their web browser;
    • facility for the originator of a wiki to determine who has edit rights (wikis therefore support both individual and team work);
    • version control that automatically saves earlier pages (therefore retrievable in the event of a mistake or disagreement).

    Finally, here are some useful articles:

    Bristow, R. (2005). 'Beyond email: wikis, blogs and other strange beasts'. Ariadne, 42. Accessed 23 January 2008 from:

    Pixy Ferris, S. and Wilder, H.(2006) 'Uses and potentials of wikis in the classroom'. Innovate: journal of online education 2(5). Accessed 23 January 2008 from:

    Lamb, B. (2004) 'Wide open spaces: wikis, ready or not'. Educause Review 39(5). Accessed 23 January 2008 from: