Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘literacy’

Ellen Cushman. “Toward a Praxis of New Media: The Allotment Period in Cherokee History.” Reflections 5.1-2 (Spring 2006): 111-132.

In this article Ellen Cushman outlines a praxis of new media, a theoretical and pedagogical model, which frames the ways in which “community, critical, and digital literacies, when combined in community literacy initiatives,  can be transformative for those who engage them” (Cushman 115). Cushman illustrates the need for sustainable community literacy initiatives/projects–ones which have support at curricular, departmental and administrative levels. Cushman claims that a praxis of new media can be viewed as an improvement on the Designs of Meaning as made known by the New London Group’s “Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” and their later offering: Multiliteracies: Literacy Leaning and the Design of Social Futures. In this work, the authors bring together an interdisciplinary understanding of language and literacy to describe what they call “designs,” or those flexibly structured social organizations, knowledge bases, and cultural practices that influence daily meaning-making practices and life chances” (Cushman 115). One aspect of the mulitliteracies framework includes the Designs of Meaning that writers and readers use when creating meaning. These Designs of Meaning include the means of available designs (e.g. the tools, grammars, and media used); the designing process; and the re-designed product. (Cushman 115). As Cushman cites: “the power of this theoretical framework rests in it multidiscplinary perspective of meaning-making and its inclusion and equal weighting of various sign technologies. In this theory of mulitliteracies, the letter, print, and word are valued equally in relation to other forms of meaning-making that include images, motion, graphics and sound (Cushman 115). She also claims that the model is good, except for what happens in the social dimension of meaning-making. Cushman claims that the New London Group’s model lacks the socio-cultural exigencies that influence meaning -making.  What it still needs is a rhetoric.

Cushman’s praxis of new media compliments the NLG’s model while adding more rhetorical purpose as well as ethical traction. This helps to take into consideration the audience’s needs and desires and how to facilitate projects that meet at the intersections of community, critical, and digital literacies. This article helps me to ground my work in theory–while it helps me to expand on the idea of a praxis of new media. The ways in which meaning is made by both readers and writers is indeed multidisciplinary–and something that I am sure goes beyond the scope of “interpreting” or “creating.” I am interested in this because, if the designs of meaning include both interpreting and creating, there is still a very broad category of meaning-making that is not represented–and this is something like “experience” or “engagement.”  

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Kress, Gunther. Literacy in the New Media Age. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Kress writes in the preface that we have come to a moment in the long history of writing when four momentous changes are taking place simultaneously: social, economic, communicational, and technological. The combined effects of these are so profound that it is justifiable to speak of a revolution in the landscape of communication” (Kress, 2003, 9). He foretells that “the combined effects on writing of the dominance of the mode of image and of the medium of the screen will produce deep changed in the forms and functions of cultural and bodily engagement with the world, and on the forms and shapes of knowledge (1).  He goes so far as to state that: “It is possible to see writing becoming subordinated to the logic of the visual in many or all of its uses. Kress claims that new spaces and new strategies will be needed. “There is a consequence for notions of meaning: if the meaning of a message is realised, ‘spread across,’ several modes, we need to know on what basis this spreading is happens, what principles are at work. Equally, in reading, we need to gather meaning from all the modes which are co-present in a text, and new principles of reading will be at work. Making meaning in writing and making meaning in reading both have to be newly though about” (35). He further explains: “The means of dealing with meaning are different; we need to understand how meanings are made as signs in distinct ways in specific modes, as the result of the interest of the maker of the sign, and we have to find ways of understanding and describing the integration of such meanings across modes, into coherent wholes, into texts” (37).

Kress delves deeply into the changing nature of word and image–in order to show that human engagement with the world is changing.  I believe this is where a useful theory of aesthetic experience can fit. Aesthetic experience does not favor the visual over anything else. Does not favor print over anything else. It is more or less an unhierarchical model of experience. Toward the end of this book Kress explains what is needed is a requisite theory of meaning: “The major task is to imagine the characteristics of a theory which can account for the processes of making meaning in the environments of multimodal representation in multi-mediated communication, of cultural plurality and of social and economic instability.” This theory will look different from ones of the past. It will not assume language as its foundation. Instead, the centrality of language  “will be replaced with an understanding that modes of representation are used in relation to a multiplicity of factors, such as the sign-maker’s sense of what are the apt modes of representing, given a certain audience and therefore specific relations between sign-maker and audience. Out of this awareness of the always rhetorical task of communication arises the arrangement of modes which are in play in a message/text.” (169).

Also, he comments on the shift to design: “The notion of competence will give way to that of interested design: …Design, by contrast, starts from the interest and the intent of the Designer to act in a specific way in a specific environment, to act with a set of available resources  and to act with an understanding of what the task at hand is, in relation to a specific audience. Design is prospective,future-oriented,: in this environment, with these (multiple) resources, and out of my interests now to act newly I will shape a message. In design, resources are transformed in any number of ways–whether in new combinations of modes or in the constant transformative action by signmakers in producing newly made signs” (169).

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