Literacy as a set of social practices

Hmm… now, doesn’t that sound odd?  Literacy, by definition, is basically being able to read and write.  I always thought of reading and writing as individual practices, but in David Burton and Mary Hamilton’s Situated Literacies, they delve into the idea that literacy is a set of social practices.

Chapter one of their book titled Literacy Practices explains that literacy is not just the actions of reading and writing, but it’s what people do with their abilities to read and write.  Furthermore, Burton and Hamilton explain how literacy is a shared experience; there are different domains that require different types of literacy, some literacy is embedded in these social domains and some have more strict boundaries than others.  But, the common ground between these components of literacy is that, “They straddle the distinction between individual and social worlds,” (Burton and Hamilton).  This means that the broad realm of literacy can connect literate individuals (readers) to one another.

When individuals come together due to a shared literacy event, they can form a discourse community.  A discourse community is a group of people with shared interests, goals and most likely vocabulary that can collaborate ideas.  However, this literacy event that brings these individuals together is not always made up of words, sentences and paragraphs.  Shared literacy in this discourse community can be written, spoken, seen or heard.  And, the converging of these individual literate beings can create a positive uprising for the people in this community.

Discourse communities can even shape literary practices because the members of these communities can develop their own vocabulary to describe their goals and practices.  And creating or using repeated vocabulary can cause information to only be relevant to the individuals who can comprehend the words spoken, heard or read.

A very broad group that I am a part of is Pinterest.  However, within the grand scheme of Pinterest, there are specific “boards” (subcategories) that I “follow” (keep up with) for things that I’m interested in.  Specifically, I follow boards for teaching children in the early childhood years.  Through Pinterest I can find links to teaching strategies, classroom management tools or even forms of assessment.  However, all of these links are displayed in a visual format. Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 7.06.00 PM

So, there is “range of semiotic systems,” as Burton and Hamilton say, that contribute to the nature of the community.  I wouldn’t call Pinterest a discourse community because there is not a set vocabulary or direct goal of the site.  But, communities within Pinterest have more distinct boundaries that a discourse community can follow.


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