A New Literacies Reader

Educational Perspectives

by Colin Lankshear (Volume editor) Michele Knobel (Volume editor)
©2013 Textbook VIII, 384 Pages


A New Literacies Reader is an introduction to social and cultural studies of new literacies from the perspectives of educators, education researchers and learners. It focuses on how participating in social practices of new literacies can be seen and understood in terms of people becoming insiders to ways of «doing» and «being» that are today considered desirable or worthwhile, and how this can usefully inform how we think about formal schooling and learning. The book’s 18 chapters cover a variety of topics, including:
studies of new literacies within classroom contexts
semi-formal learning spaces beyond the classroom
teacher learning and professional development
spaces of popular cultural affinities
practices viewed from different research perspectives
The diverse topics addressed range from multimodal pedagogies, remix, performance poetry, and digital storytelling to issues associated with wireless environments, assessment, identity, and teachers’ ways of taking up new technologies. Chapters explore how young people participate and collaborate within the spaces of popular cultural interests and the various approaches to researching gaming. The book speaks to teachers and teacher educators, education administrators, curriculum developers, education policy makers, professional development specialists, postgraduate research students, and other literacy and new media researchers. A New Literacies Reader is an essential volume for undergraduates, grad students, and faculty interested in refining their knowledge of the vast new horizons created by the world of new literacies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Social and Cultural Studies of New Literacies from an Educational Perspective
  • New Literacies: Early Statements
  • A Starting Point
  • “New Literacies” and a New Technologies Emphasis
  • “New Literacies” through a Wider Lens: Beyond a Focus on New Technologies Alone
  • New Literacies without New Technologies at All
  • Adopting a Focus on New Literacies
  • (a) Thinking about “New Literacies” Conceptually and Theoretically
  • (b) Mapping Some Dimensions of a New Literacies Research Space
  • (i) “Let’s see” Research
  • (ii) “Try on” Research
  • (iii) “Educationally applicable” Research
  • (c) The “New Literacies” Book Series
  • Organization and Scope of the Book
  • (a) The Space of the School Classroom
  • (b) Bridging “The Classroom” and “The Wider World”
  • (c) Teacher Learning and Professional Development
  • (d) Spaces of Popular Cultural Affinities
  • (e) Researcher Perspectives on New Literacies
  • This Volume and the “New Literacies” Series
  • A Note on Spelling Conventions
  • References
  • Part 1: New Literacies in Classroom Settings
  • 1. Multimodal Pedagogies: Playing, Teaching and Learning with Adolescents’ Digital Literacies
  • Multimodal Play
  • Becoming New Media Journalists in an Urban Middle School
  • Blogging and Other Social Media in the Classroom
  • Making Our Space by Engaging MySpace and YouTube
  • Creating Classrooms of and for Multimodal Play
  • Notes
  • References
  • 2. Trajectories of Remixing: Digital Literacies, Media Production and Schooling
  • The Norwegian Context
  • Digital Literacies: Conceptions, Frameworks and Issues
  • Conceptual Developments of Remixing
  • The Bricoleur of Remixing
  • Remixing Activities in Schools
  • Three Cases
  • Case 1: Crossing Borders and Modalities
  • Case 2: Challenging Prejudices of the Other
  • Case 3: Media Production in Media Education
  • Remixing as Literacy
  • The Idea of Schooling
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 3. You Won’t Be Needing Your Laptops Today: Wired Bodies in the Wireless Classroom
  • Technology Refusal
  • Technologies That Support School Space-time
  • Discursive Conceptions of (Online and Offline) Social Spaces at Ridgeview
  • Strong Wired Women vs. Vulnerable Girls in Frightening Online Spaces
  • Open and Closed Information Spaces
  • The Damaged Classroom Interaction Space
  • The Schooling of Digital Space at Ridgeview: Vignettes of Practice
  • Reform, Technology, and Social Space
  • Note
  • References
  • 4. Slammin’ School: Performance Poetry and the Urban School
  • Slam as New Literacy
  • Why Poetry?
  • Why Slam?
  • Slam in the Classroom
  • Reinventing Language: “We are the Public Enemies Number One!”
  • Opening the Floodgate
  • Getting Students to Write: “I’m Reading off the Top of the Head”
  • Poetry as Cool
  • Making Selves Strange and New
  • Spoken Word and Hip Hop Performativity
  • Making Society Strange
  • Learning from Slam
  • Note
  • References
  • Part 2: New Literacies and Semi-Formal Learning beyond the Classroom
  • 5. Influencing Pedagogy through the Creative Practices of Youth
  • The Participant
  • Turntablism
  • Playing at School: Turntablism as Performative, Self-Reflective, and Interpretive
  • Gil on the Decks at Home: Turntablist as Historian
  • How Can Gil’s Way of Working Inform and Influence Pedagogy?
  • Teacher as Ethnographer
  • Classroom as Youth Space
  • Multiple Forms of Performance
  • Embracing Idiosyncratic Ways of Working
  • Teachers Doing Work with Their Students
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • 6. Engaging Urban Youth in Meaningful Dialogue through Digital Storytelling
  • Methods
  • Setting and Participants
  • Data Sources and Analysis
  • The Multimodality of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender
  • Examining Gender Identity through New Media Practices of Digital Storytelling
  • Examining Race and Ethnicity through New Media Practices of Digital Storytelling
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • 7. Learning about Circuitry with E-Textiles
  • Workshop Description
  • Learning about Simple Circuits: Simple Circuit Quilt Square
  • Learning about Series and Parallel Circuits: Persistence of Vision (POV) Wristband
  • Moving beyond the Club
  • Discussion
  • Acknowledgments
  • Note
  • References
  • Part 3: New Literacies and Teachers’ Personal and Professional Learning
  • 8. Machinima, Second Life and the Pedagogy of Animation
  • Animation and Digital Video
  • The Artist in Second Life
  • Teaching Machinima in Second Life
  • Student Machinima
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 9. New Wine in Old Bottles? Remediation, Teacher as Bricoleur, and the Story of Antaerus
  • Starting Out
  • Moving from Print to Electronic: Which Texts? Which Practices?
  • Texts Read
  • Texts Produced
  • Practices
  • Teacher Bricoleurs
  • New Wine in Old Bottles?
  • Genevieve
  • Enza
  • Colleen
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • 10. Supporting Pre-Service Teachers’ Development: The Place of Blogging in the Get Real! Science Teacher Preparation Program
  • The Context
  • The Pre-service Teacher Program
  • Blogging as an Assignment and Expectation
  • The Blogging Community
  • An In-depth Look at Maya’s Blogging
  • Maya and Her Blog
  • Studying Practice Separate from Practice
  • Lessons learned: Inspired by practice, informed by program.
  • How she rolls…Maya being Maya
  • Learning through Engagement with Her Community
  • Creativity and wit
  • Reaching out
  • Emotions in community
  • Integration of Autobiography
  • Sustained Work over Time
  • Integration of Expert Voice
  • Comparison with Two Other Pre-Service Teachers’ Blogging
  • Niklas’s Blogging
  • Elisabeth’s Blogging
  • Participants’ Reflections on Their Blogging Experience
  • Drawbacks and Challenges
  • Benefits of Blogging for Meaning-Making and Community Development
  • Concluding Thoughts and Main Take-Aways
  • Note
  • References
  • 11. New Literacies and Assessments in Middle School Social Studies Content Area Instruction: Issues for Classroom Practices
  • Meet the Teachers
  • The New Literacies Classroom Implementations
  • Using Digital Storytelling to Build Prior Knowledge about Classical Roman Civilization: New Literacies as an Introduction to Content
  • Using Comic Strips to Study South Carolina’s History: New Literacies as Culmination of Content
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Part 4: New Literacies and Popular Culture Affinities
  • 12. Language, Culture and Identity in Fan Fiction
  • Language, Identity, and Discourse
  • Fan Culture, Second Language Literacy, and Identity
  • Building an Online Identity
  • Nanako
  • Research Questions
  • Dialogic Resources
  • From Beybladeto Card Captor Sakura
  • Author’s Notes and Self-Identifying as an English Language Learner
  • Card Captor Sakuraand Linguistic and Cultural Identity
  • Reader Reviews
  • Flames
  • Shifts in Identity over Time
  • Daily Life Resources
  • Achieved and Ascribed Identities
  • Note
  • References
  • 13. Communication, Coordination and Camaraderie: A Player Group in World of Warcraft
  • Context
  • Introduction
  • (Computer) Game Theory
  • A Typical Night in Molten Core
  • Gathering and Chatting
  • Pulling, Coordinated Fighting, and Division of Labor
  • Making Encounters Routine by Finding Balance
  • Welcoming Failure in Golemagg and Other Boss Fights
  • Socially Constructed Social Dilemmas AKA the Problem of Rare Loot
  • An Atypical Night in Molten Core
  • Communication and Trust
  • Note
  • References
  • 14. Youth Participation: Learning and Growth in the Forum
  • Communities of Practice
  • The Gathering of the Elves: Creating the Community
  • Learning the Language of Role-playing
  • Language, Power and Belonging
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • 15. Which South Park Character Are You? Popular Culture and Online Performance of Identity
  • Context
  • Introduction
  • Identity on the Page or Screen
  • Locker Decorations and T-Shirts
  • Social Networking Sites and Templates of Identities
  • Reading Friends and Strangers
  • The Anxiety of Real Audiences
  • The Multiple Readings of Popular Culture
  • Bonding the Self with Social Groups
  • Culture and Identity on Personal Pages
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Part 5: Researcher Perspectives on New Literacies and Learning
  • 16. Learning about Learning from a Video Game
  • Preparation for Learning: Before RoN
  • RoN’s Tutorials: Fish Tanks
  • RoN ’s Tutorials: Supervised sandboxes
  • RoN : Unsupervised Sandboxes
  • Learning and Playing
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • 17. Situated Play: Instruction and Learning in Fighter Games
  • Context
  • Methodology
  • Fighting Games
  • The Novice
  • The Order of the Design
  • Orientation to the Game
  • When Is Instruction?
  • Educating the Novice
  • Discussion
  • Note
  • References
  • 18. Kongregating Online: Developing Design Literacies in a Play-Based Affinity Space
  • Kongregate as an Affinity Space
  • Kongregate Labs
  • Data Corpus and Collection
  • Data Sampling
  • Content Analysis: Characterizing Design Talk in an Affinity Space
  • A Coding Scheme
  • Coding Saturation
  • Discourse Analysis: Unpacking Meaning-Making in an Affinity Space
  • Rethinking the Boundaries of the Affinity Space
  • Final Thoughts
  • Notes
  • References
  • Name Index
  • Subject Index

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Our thanks go Chris Myers and colleagues at Peter Lang for the opportunity to put together a collection based on books published in our New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies series that samples the range of recent and current work within the loosely scribed field of “new literacies” research and scholarship. We would especially like to thank Bernie Shade for her unstinting good cheer and helpfulness in her role as production manager.

This collection represents the strong international mix that characterizes the books in the series and we wish to thank our authors for so willingly consenting to having their work republished in this collection.

We especially want to thank Jillian Walmach and Beverly Plein for their unstinting formatting and proof reading assistance. Both went above and beyond in helping us produce this Reader from a collection of files to a tight timeline.

Finally, we wish to convey our thanks to the many readers who have supported this series and helped us sustain it through a decade. We greatly appreciate your interest in the series and support for it. In this regard our thanks extend to the many librarians who order new books for their institutional stock and to colleagues who have found a place for various books in their course reading. Your support has been crucial to the series’ sustainability and we thank you very much.

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Social and Cultural Studies of New Literacies from an Educational Perspective


This volume aims to provide a Reader—in the sense of a general introduction and overview— for a field of inquiry we think of as social and cultural studies of new literacies from the perspective of an interest in education. Its publication coincides with the 20th anniversary of a symposium published in The English and Media Magazine titled “Towards new literacies, information technology, English and media education” (1993) and the 10th anniversary of the New Literacies book series being launched by Peter Lang Publishing (USA).

New Literacies: Early Statements

Throughout the 1990s talk of new literacies remained quite marginal as a formal academic concept, at a time when terms like “digital literacy,” “computer literacy,” and “information literacy” were more prominent as names for reading and writing mediated by digital technologies—particularly in published work. In everyday conversation among education academics, “new literacies” seemed mainly to serve as a convenient shorthand for recognizing that new “species” of written language were emerging in daily life with the increasing uptake of myriad software applications and mobile and online communication services and practices.

A Starting Point

There were significant exceptions, however. In 1993, David Buckingham, in collaboration with Chris Abbott and Julian Sefton-Green, made the first formal recognition we can find within professional literature of “new literacies” as a potentially viable construct for organizing ongoing theoretical, conceptual, and pedagogical work across diverse cultural sites including formal education. In a series of articles addressing the theme “Towards New Literacies,” Buckingham, Abbott, and Sefton-Green discussed ← 1 | 2 → aspects of video gaming, the role of information technology within English teaching (e.g., word processing, notebook computers and CD-ROMs), hypertext, and the implications of digital multimedia for media education, from the broad perspective of culture and communication.

Individually and collectively the authors approached new literacies more as a thematic frame for addressing issues arising in public debate at the time than as a concept to be closely defined, and explicitly rejected any sharp division between old and new technologies. They recognized that a key lesson to be taken from the history of print literacy is that “the ways new technologies are developed and used depend very much upon existing practices” (Buckingham, 1993, p. 20). At the same time, however, they were responding to the fact that public debates around the rapid uptake of digital technologies at the time largely framed technologies in terms of established and emerging technologies positioned in opposition to each other: computers were widely perceived as threats to print literacy, and video games were often seen as leisure pursuits that could lead to addiction, rather than contribute to human improvement in the manner of many established leisure pursuits. From the perspective of Buckingham and his colleagues, the familiar frame of the debate needed to be contested and revised.

Buckingham argues that it can never be proved one way or the other whether video games encourage violence. Moreover, focusing on this question is counterproductive: it actually undermines our capacity to understand violence as a phenomenon, by isolating it from other social forces involved in constituting violent behavior (Buckingham, 1993, p. 22). For parallel reasons, it can never be proved one way or the other whether computers have deleterious effects on print literacy.

By contrast, however, it is possible—indeed, it is fruitful—to focus on certain trends and tendencies that can be understood in terms of continuity, evolution, and incremental change. For example, as Buckingham argues (1993, p. 25), it is possible to detect “a blurring of boundaries between texts and between media” in cases like computer games that invoke “trans-media intertextuality.” It is possible to discern a blurring of conventional distinctions between readers and writers, and producers and consumers, contingent upon the take up of new production technologies. In such cases, “new” is not understood in juxtaposition to “old” but, rather, in terms of continuities that result in evolution over time. “New” can serve as a provisional or heuristic reference point or vantage spot from which to conceive, explore, and understand phenomena in process.

The appropriate stance to adopt is one that enables us to improve our concepts about and theories of what is going on around us, such that we can make expansive and fruitful responses to the conditions we encounter. In the case of Buckingham, Abbott, and Sefton-Green, adopting the term “new literacies” offered a way to make creative and constructive responses to debates they were observing at the time—debates that have continued, and in some cases intensified, during the past 20 years. Ultimately, argues Buckingham (1993, p. 20), the debates around literacy and new technologies that impute causes and effects, that polarize opinion, and that limit our capacity to understand important aspects of our world, “point to the need for a new definition of literacy”: a definition “that is not tied to particular technologies or practices” but, rather, “that allows us to look at the competencies that are developed across the whole range of culture and communication” (Buckingham, 1993, p. 20, our emphasis).

“New Literacies” and a New Technologies Emphasis

Nearer the end of the 1990s it was more common to find literacy researchers and writers using “new literacies” to formally mark an increasing awareness of the scope and role of post typographic texts in everyday life, and their significance for greater educational attention. For most, “new literacies” referred to reading and writing texts mediated by digital electronic technologies. Writing within the ← 2 | 3 → context of his professional interest in second language/foreign language/English as a second language acquisition, Mark Warschauer (1998) co-identified new literacies and electronic literacies, asking “what new literacies does multimedia technology demand?” He referred to learning to compose electronic mail and making effective use of the World Wide Web as typical examples of new literacies that have a role in language acquisition and beyond (p. 758). Anticipating issues of equity and critical perspective raised by other theorists to be surveyed below, Warschauer urged theorists and researchers to move beyond determinist and instrumental conceptions of new literacies and, instead, to take up a socially and culturally informed approach that can address in rich and deep ways questions about how development of new literacies intersect with race, class, gender, and equity issues; how learning and practicing electronic literacies are affected by the social and cultural contexts of institutions and communities, and what new literacies are demanded—within and beyond schools and classrooms— by multimedia computer technology (1998, p. 759).

In his inaugural “Technology” column for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Education, titled “New Literacies,” Bertram (Chip) Bruce (1998) describes the column’s purpose as providing a venue for exploring new communications and information technologies and what they mean for literacy. He speaks of “rapidly evolving literacy practices”—new literacies—within the context of the “hypertextual, multimedia world we are entering” (p. 46), and identifies the challenge of understanding the “yet to be designed world” that unfolds as people engage in new practices made possible by new technologies (p. 47).

In a similar vein, Donald Leu Jr. (2000, pp. 423–424) identifies “the new literacies of the internet” in terms of the ways in which and the ends for which people read and write within networked information and communications technologies. These new literacies, says Leu, are constantly emerging and evolving as internet technologies themselves evolve, in accordance with the principle that literacies in any age change alongside changes in technologies for literacy. Leu (2001, p. 568) takes the example of literacy in contemporary work life to illustrate the stakes for education in coming to terms with the new technologies of the internet. He argues that members of modern organizations must know how to accomplish certain key tasks rapidly. They must be able to (1) identify key problems and issues for their work unit; (2) access relevant information and evaluate it critically; (3) use this information to address the issue or problem; and (4) communicate the solution throughout the organization as appropriate. On the assumption that at least part of what schools should be doing effectively is contributing to the development of future workers who can perform well, Leu poses the question of how educators can prepare students within networked classrooms for “the increasingly collaborative, problem-oriented, and critical nature of literacy” (pp. 568–69).

“New Literacies” through a Wider Lens: Beyond a Focus on New Technologies Alone

Other authors, particularly researchers and writers with interests in media education and cultural studies, associated new literacies with a range of post-typographic texts and technologies that included, but also went beyond, a focus on new digital-electronic media alone.

Carmen Luke (2000, p. 424), for example, talks of new literacies in relation to “a changing information, social, and cultural environment” that renders inadequate “book- and print-based literacies” and school learning approaches based solely on book culture. Within this context, new approaches to preparing teachers become necessary. Luke discusses an intervention in the teacher education program at her university intended to better prepare teachers for addressing the demands of new literacies. While far-reaching changes in everyday communication interactions and practices associated with ← 3 | 4 → electronic media provided the immediate catalyst for developing the program she discusses, the concepts and theory informing the program reflect phenomena and insights integral to issues, priorities, and practices within media studies and cultural studies dating from at least the 1960s. These include a concern with deconstructing media texts and representations via print and imagery within such media as “popular magazines, TV programs and advertising, and related forms of media representations,” together with understanding “the social uptake” of such texts (2000, p. 425). Building a new literacies perspective into teacher education, for Luke, involves finding ways to “blend and synthesize” conventional and new technologies, and to inform computer education/literacy with insights and questions from media and cultural inquiry—such as by applying “tools of media analysis to Internet information” (2000, p. 426).

In “New technologies/new literacies: Reconstructing education for the new millennium,” Douglas Kellner (2001) presents a similar and overlapping perspective to Luke’s. Kellner observes that in modern societies the rapid introduction and uptake of new digital-electronic technologies has occurred alongside large-scale demographic and multicultural change resulting from intense migration. These forces in tandem present pressing challenges to the ideal of progress toward more democratic and egalitarian societies. In the interests of such progress, Kellner seeks ways that new technologies and new literacies can be developed and taken up such that they provide effective learning tools that can help realize democratic and egalitarian ends, rather than further benefiting already privileged groups and individuals in terms of social power and cultural capital (pp. 68–69).

By “new literacies,” Kellner means new ways of using socially constructed forms of communication and representation. As with the position argued by Carmen Luke, Kellner’s conception of the kinds of new literacies we need to develop builds strongly on ideas, techniques, and values integral to media literacy and critical practice forged since the 1960s. The explosion in new media increases the relevance of critical media practices and critical forms of reading and writing, along with analytic and interpretive techniques and procedures that have been developed within areas like semiotics, social semiotics, narrative analysis, and textual deconstruction, and projects their further development into spaces of intensifying engagement with electronic multimedia. Kellner argues that the current technological revolution “brings to the fore more than ever the role of media like television, popular music, films and advertising,” since these are absorbed by the internet and become integral to “new cyberspaces and forms of culture and pedagogy” (2001, p. 70). The emphasis upon and approaches to interpretation and evaluation found in traditional media literacy becomes still more urgent under current conditions of technical and cultural change, since media culture is profoundly pedagogical. It socializes participants into taking up values, identities, and ways of experiencing and perceiving the world.

For Kellner as much as for Luke, just as the conditions of new media up the ante for media literacy and call for its further development in the interests of progressive social, political, and ethical ideals, so they also call for developing expansive conceptions of and approaches to computer literacy. Far beyond technical know-how and the ability to access, process, and generate content using typical computing applications, computer literacy calls for “heightened capacities for critically accessing, analyzing, interpreting, processing, and storing both print-based and multimedia material” and sophisticated visual literacy competence (Kellner, 2001, pp. 73–74).

The extent to which the link between new literacies and digital-electronic technologies is regarded as contingent—albeit strong—rather than necessary is argued in different but complementary ways by Ladislaus Semali (2001) and Brian Street (1998).

Semali defines new literacies as literacies that have emerged in the post-typographic era of intensified visual and electronic communication involving epistemological and cultural changes in the ways ← 4 | 5 → information is “designed, communicated and retrieved” (2001, no page). As interaction with “texts” has moved increasingly from engagement with print-dominated toward intensified multimodal content, traditional assumptions about what it means to read and write and how meanings are communicated have been disrupted and displaced. Semali refers to theorists who associate the rise of post-typographic modes of information and communication with a shift from modern to postmodern conceptions and practices of meaning and meaning-making. Where modernist meaning based on the model of the book as the default text type assumed linearity, logical progression, singularity and symmetry, postmodern meaning tends toward the non-linear, is multiple and hybrid, often communicated by means of dis-juncture and asymmetrical means, may be fleeting, unstable, more impressionistic and intuitive.

Communicating and negotiating postmodern meaning mediated by post-typographic modes of inscription is intensified by digital-electronic technologies, but in no way depends upon them. For Semali, television literacy, visual literacy and media literacy—all predating the explosion in digital-electronic technologies—are new literacies alongside information literacy associated with electronic databases and the World Wide Web and computer literacy. Furthermore, echoing values and priorities expressed by the other authors we have referred to above, Semali emphasizes the importance of a critical and politicized dimension to new literacies, whereby examining how particular media texts generate meanings goes beyond “the aesthetics, modes and forms present” in visual and multimodal texts to also “locate them in their social and political contexts” (2001, no page). He asks how the “new languages of media” might enable us to generate and circulate meanings that enhance lives and reject oppression.

In “New literacies in theory and practice: What are the implications for education?,” Brian Street (1998) presents three examples of texts typical of the kinds that mediate new literacies in the sense he intends. Two of these are hard copy hybrids of words, images and symbols (published on card or paper). The third example involves the creative appropriation within certain youth subcultures of sign and sound sequences on electronic pagers or beepers for passing idiosyncratic messages to one another, using the technologies in ways not intended by their designers and manufacturers. For Street, what makes the kinds of literacy practices that are mediated and constituted by such texts “new” is partly that they depart from the conventional identification of literacy with written speech governed by traditional views of grammar, lexicon and semantics. They mobilize a much “wider range of semiotic systems that cut across reading, writing and speech” (1998, p. 9). Traditional or conventional literacy comprises but one part of communicative competence. Street argues that within the “new communicative order” of the “new media age” (Kress, 2003) and an age of rapidly changing and “globalizing” population demographics, and across the multiple domains of everyday life, being literate involves much more than competence with conventional reading and writing and conventional print texts. We must increasingly negotiate meanings within contexts mediated by multimodal texts, and where making meaning successfully is not a matter of mastering abstract formal grammatical conventions but, rather, draws on “grammars” that provide a means for “representing patterns of experience…[and enable] human beings to build a mental picture of reality, to make sense of their experience of what goes on around them and inside them” (Halliday, 1985, p. 101, cited in Street, 1998, p. 10).

Being literate in this sense entails bringing lives and texts together within contexts in ways that “work”: in the sense of successfully negotiating meanings, by managing a grammar/semiosis that brings together a text, one’s experience, and features of the current context in a functional manner (i.e., serves an immediate purpose, helps realize a task, enables effective communication, etc.). Street’s example of a chart designed to help people in South African communities to recognize when a water source is likely to be safe for drinking highlights the kinds of semiotic competence needed to read the text ← 5 | 6 → in ways that will enable sound judgments about water quality: distinguishing logos from symbols relating to relationships between animal life and pollution levels; relating text to degrees of shading, etc. Anyone who, like Street himself initially, reads the dark shading on the chart to mean impurity and light shading to mean purity, would get the chart “wrong.” Similarly, someone not familiar with “pager” or “beeper”-using subcultures could not possibly read “07734” to mean “hello,” since they would not know to turn the screen upside down and make the creative (leet-speak like) jump from numbers to letters. For Street, the new literacies of the new communicative order invoke myriad “grammars” and forms of insiderliness that bespeak patterns of experience and relationships between texts and experience that wreak havoc with conventional conceptions and norms of literacy grounded in print.

New Literacies without New Technologies at All

We end this brief survey of typical examples of conceptions of new literacies from the early life of the term within educational theory and research with an interesting outlier: the kind of case that has influenced our own approach to thinking about new literacies during the past decade. In “Culturally responsive instruction as a dimension of new literacies,” Kathryn Au (2001, no page) associates new literacies with pedagogical interventions designed to help students from diverse backgrounds attain high literacy levels by “promoting engagement through activities that reflect the values, knowledge, and structures of interaction that students bring from the home.” She claims that developing forms of culturally responsive instruction may create within classrooms new literacies that connect to home backgrounds.

Au argues that in the context of education policies that may narrow the literacy curriculum—such as by seeking to raise measured literacy performance levels in standardized tests—opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to develop higher order skills through interaction with texts may be diminished. Resisting such a trend calls for creative attempts to bring student backgrounds to bear on literacy education by building bridges between cultural ways and strengths and engagement with texts in class. Au reports some of the ways teachers involved in culturally responsive instruction do this. For example, in a “talk story” approach, teachers participate in reading lessons in ways that resemble a familiar Hawaiian community speech event. In “talk story-like reading lessons” learners do not wait for the teacher to call on them but speak when they have something to say, and formulate answers to questions in a collaborative manner, “speaking in rhythmic alternation with a great deal of overlapping speech” (2001, no page). Such “hybrid events,” says Au, incorporate features of community and school. They generate “literate activities” that are similar to those of school and community respectively, but are not identical to either (Au, 2001, no page). The talk story hybrid activity comprises “teacher-guided discussion of literature following talk story-like participation structures.” Such discussions constitute “a new literacy that makes connections to students’ home culture” (Au, 2001, no page).

The range of new literacies identified by Au emphasizes the normative association between “new” literacies and the pursuit of educational ideals, in a way that resonates with some of Kellner’s arguments. Unlike the cases discussed by Kellner, however, Au’s examples have no necessary link to post-typographic texts and technologies, far less to the use of digital-electronic technologies.

Adopting a Focus on New Literacies

The kinds of ideas surveyed above influenced our own thinking and activity. Until the late 1990s we had thought of “new literacies” as a convenient shorthand for changes in literacy practices associated ← 6 | 7 → with larger changes going on in the world. Influenced by our own experiences of researching diverse literacy practices within a variety of formal educational, community, and domestic settings from a broadly sociocultural perspective, and noting deep qualitative differences often apparent between young people’s activities within formal educational settings and elsewhere, we became increasingly interested in rhetorical, theoretical, and practical-pragmatic means for naming these differences, pointing to patterns between and across different settings, and mounting critiques of formal educational literacy business as usual. The idea of new literacies, with some of the connotations attaching to “new,” struck a chord with such purposes, and we adopted “new literacies” as a focus for our subsequent work as literacy researchers and writers. Since 2000 this has involved us in three related tasks:

(a) Thinking about “new literacies” conceptually and theoretically

(b) Mapping some dimensions of a new literacies research space

(c) Conceiving and editing a book series on new literacies

(a) Thinking about “New Literacies” Conceptually and Theoretically

For us, the challenge expressed by Bruce in his inaugural “Technology” column referred to earlier, needed to be taken seriously. Bruce says:

We find ourselves engaging in new practices made possible by the new technologies. These new ways of communicating, or relating to one another, and of accomplishing our daily lives create possibilities that go beyond what even the designers of the new technologies envisage. It is this yet to be designed world that we seek to understand. (1998, p. 47)

Pursuing such understanding seemed to us a pre-eminent task for literacy researchers and literacy educators. An invitation to participate in an international working seminar convened by James Gee at the University of Wisconsin-Madison provided us with an opportunity to think in a more focused way about new literacies. The seminar sought to generate elements of a research agenda within the broad area of the New Literacy Studies under conditions of global change. At this seminar we presented a paper called “The New Literacy Studies and the study of new literacies” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2000). It focused on the extent to which work formally identified with the New Literacy Studies had to that time largely bypassed the theme of new literacies.

We adopted the idea that “new literacies” was best understood in terms of practices that were increasingly mediated by new technologies, but not necessarily mediated by new technologies. We also distinguished two ways we thought the idea of “new” might usefully apply to work in the area of literacy studies. One was a paradigmatic sense: the idea of the New Literacy Studies as a sociocultural paradigm for literacy theory and research that had been developing around the study of literacies as social practices from the time of Sylvia Scribner and Michael Cole’s work in the late 1970s and onwards (Scribner & Cole, 1981; see also Street, 1984; Gee, 1990). The other was what we called an ontological sense, where one might plausibly talk about new forms of literacy practices emerging, that could in significant ways be distinguished from previously existing ones. Within this ontological sense of new literacies we included forms of literacy practice that were emerging in association with new technologies, along with others that might or might not involve the use of new technologies. It was the ontological sense of “new literacies” that became the focus of our work, largely undertaken from a New Literacies Studies perspective. ← 7 | 8 →

At the same time, we recognized two things that seemed important to us when thinking about new literacies in relation to education. The first concerned the continuity as well as disruption that occur within literacy practices within contexts of technological change. As Buckingham and others had noted much earlier, the ways new technologies are taken up and used in daily practice are strongly influenced by existing practices. Much of what we had seen in schools reflected the absorption of computers and other digital electronic devices into existing routines and “ways”: established literacies changed only to the extent that they were now sometimes done with word processors rather than pencils.

By contrast, there were many instances of new technologies mediating influential emerging literacy practices that were significantly different in nature, scope and consequences from what had previously existed. For example, blogging was impacting journalism in quite profound ways; mobile devices were impacting cultural practices and communications in the streets, extending to political activism, as well as to gaming, group cultural practices and maintaining relationships. We recognized that if literacy practices in education are to stay in touch with the world beyond the classrooms, educators must become informed about creative disruptions and not merely adapt new technologies to familiar practices and routines. This calls for ongoing work that aims to map and understand such evolutions and project them to educational audiences.

The second thing that seemed important to us from an educational perspective when thinking about new literacies was the existence of influential contemporary literacy practices that did not necessarily involve new technologies but, nonetheless, should (in our view) be on educators’ radars. At the time, such “chronologically”—though not “technologically”—new literacies included examples like producing paper-based zines and works of fan fiction, and scripting scenarios within the practice of scenario planning (among many others).

Beginning with “The New Literacy Studies and the study of new literacies (Lankshear & Knobel, 2000, 2003), and continuing through successive editions of our book New Literacies (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003, 2006, 2011), we have tried to understand new literacies in ways that honor the increased mediating presence of digital-electronic technologies within everyday literacy practices, while maintaining a place for popular and influential literacy practices that do not presuppose new media—always with a view to recommending that educators, education administrators and policy makers, and educational researchers attend to the importance such literacies assume within the everyday lives of students, their families, their networks and their communities.


VIII, 384
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (June)
formal schooling cultural affinities performance poetry identity professional development
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 384 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Colin Lankshear (Volume editor) Michele Knobel (Volume editor)

Colin Lankshear is a freelance educational researcher, writer, and teacher with a particular interest in literacies associated with new technologies. He is currently adjunct professor at McGill and Mount Saint Vincent universities (Canada) and James Cook University (Australia). Michele Knobel is a Professor of Education at Montclair State University (USA). She has worked within teacher education in Australia, Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. She is interested in young people’s literacy practices and their use of different digital technologies and networks.


Title: A New Literacies Reader
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394 pages