Researching the Textually Mediated Social World

Prof. David Barton
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We live in a textually mediated social world. Texts have a central role in everyday life, in the workplace and in education. Understanding what people do with texts and what texts do to people is an essential part of understanding how contemporary social life is changing. This paper will provide an overview of the theoretical framing provided by Literacy Studies and will review the contribution made by detailed ethnographic studies of literacies in different contexts. It will consider the nature of the evidence which this work offers for policy, practice and research. Literacy Studies offers a lens for all social research. It emphasises: how objects take part in social interaction and how objects can have agency; how people learn by participation in events and the crucial role of networks and sponsors; how meaning making is multimodal and is changing; how social life differs in different domains and is patterned, including gender patterning; and how texts can be traced across contexts to provide links between the local and the global.

Literacy is a powerful lens for examining changing social practices, such as the impact of new technologies, the growing audit culture and the phenomenon of the overwork culture. Studying how people’s lives are structured by engagement with texts of various kinds gives analytic purchase on these and other concepts. In relation to globalisation, the examination of literacy practices provides a way of interrogating the complex changes in specific sites, and tracing links between local and global practices, uncovering the exercise of power and documenting local forms of appropriation and resistance. In literacy research we see the central tensions of contemporary change: literacy offers exciting possibilities in terms of access to knowledge, creativity and personal power; at the same time it is a technology of exercising power and control, and of surveillance. It has both humanising and brutalising possibilities.

Keywords: -
Presentation Type: Plenary Presentation in English
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Prof. David Barton

Professor of Language and Literacy and Director of the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Department of Linguistics, Lancaster University

I am Professor of Language and Literacy in the Department of Linguistics at Lancaster University, England and Director of the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre where we have a wide range of research and development projects, .
My main publications have been concerned with rethinking the nature of literacy (e.g. Literacy, Blackwell, Second edition, in press), carrying out detailed studies of everyday literacies (Local Literacies, Routledge, 1998, co-author) and the relations of literacy and learning (Beyond Communities of Practice, Cambridge University Press, 2005 co-editor).
My current interests include: the changing nature of literacy in contemporary society; literacy and social justice; new research methodologies; the relation between adult learners’ lives and their participation in learning.

Ref: I06P0370