Everyday Language, Everyday Literacies

Authors: Rosie Flewitt and John Potter

Rosie Flewitt and John Potter were invited discussants at the 2-day, inspiring Everyday Language, Everyday Literacies Conference, led by Kate Pahl and Julia Davies at the University of Sheffield, with the help of a small army of post-graduate students (http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/education/research/groups/csnl/everyday-language ).  Key themes to emerge from the keynote talks and parallel sessions at this event included Janet Maybin’s discussion of how literary narratives have been reframed around numbers in international achievement comparisons, such as PIRLS and PISA, and how by treating literacy as numbers, these mechanisms elide the complexity of practices and semiotic systems that now characterise contemporary communication.

Mary Hamilton discussed revisiting participants from Barton and Hamilton’s (1998) seminal work Local Literacies, and discovering digital devices centrally placed in their everyday practices. Hamilton reflected on how new media objects combine multiple, near and distal sites, stimulating activities where the texts produced act as ‘meaningful anchors in a flow of change’.  Victoria Carrington proposed the need for innovative theorisations to account for the ‘life force’ of new media artefacts, drawing our attention to how their design and performance has evolved at an exponential rate of change, and in turn has changed how individuals live their lives. To illustrate this, Carrington focussed on the everyday activities of  Roxie, a young person who negotiates her everyday life through her new iPhone: to find her way round, to chat with friends, to make appointments etc as she lives in and between interpersonal and geo-spatial domains in ways that would not  be possible without digital connectivity.

This highlighted a third theme of how new media artefacts are enmeshed in identity creation and the exploration of the self in society. Roxie had created a place for herself in the dominant discourses of new technologies by personalising her iPhone, and had bought into new media discourses by describing herself as a ‘hacker’, an independent thinker – a dood. Claire Dowdall built on this by describing how adolescents achieve social positioning through online activity, outlining the need for youngsters to be critically digitally literate and socially responsible in their practices.

Throughout, speakers turned to social semiotic theorisation and multimodal interpretations to explain how peoples are now immersed in a nexus of practices that cut across spaces which previously had been seen as bounded, and where there are ‘traces of the far away in the local’.  This was echoed in Oystein Gilje’s research into the changing literacy practices in increasingly young and culturally diverse urban areas around Oslo, and in Di Mavers’ theorisations of the extraordinary complexities of intra- and transmodal redesign in everyday text-making.

In our roles as discussants, we tried to draw together and generate discussion around these themes, and to create discursive spaces for collaborative theorisation of everyday cultural and literacy practices as sites for self storying, for co-construction of community identity, and the implications for diverse learning contexts

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