New Literacy Studies

New Literacy Studies is a cover name for an approach which has developed from the mid-1980s onwards (e.g. Barton 1994  BARTON, David, 1994, Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language. Oxford: Blackwell. , Street 1993 STREET Brian, 1993, Social Literacies: Critical Approaches to Literacy in Development, Ethnography and Education. London: Longman. , Collins & Blot 2003 COLLINS, James & BLOT, Richard, 2003. Literacy and Literacies: Texts, Power, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ) and which links up the study of literacy with a critical analysis of communicative practices - seen as situated social and historical practice. New Literacy Studies is critical of binary (essentialist) dichotomies between spoken and written language use and between oral and literate cultures. It also foregrounds plurality in the occurrence of situated types of literacy. Its self-declared reliance on theories and methods of institutional discourse analysis does not detract from the fact that new literacy studies also has a very specific contribution to make to the domain of discourse studies:

  • A preoccupation with how technologies such as writing, print, audiovisual recording, the Internet, etc. shape discourse practices, with particular emphasis on differences in access and use.
  • The need to study also the material aspects of textual practices.
  • NLS brings to analysis a sense of how people actually make use of textual artefacts (how they often do so selectively, in utilitarian and cavalier ways). This entails a move away from a default assumption in which "a complete and exhaustive reading" counts as the "ideal reading" (compare also with ethnomethodology).
  • NLS seeks to thematise the links that exist between practices of language-in-education and socio-cultural understandings of citizenship, political participation and political representation (cf. its critique of the links which governments often project between technical conceptions of reading and writing and political agendas of democratic citizenship).

[continue to the contribution of POST-STRUCTURALIST THEORY]