"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Thursday, January 31, 2013

I dig sociocultural theories

In an attempt to answer the prompt "Social and cultural: what's the difference?" and work on my understanding of sociocultural (sc) theories by digging deeper, I read/skimmed a scholarly article by Perry (2012).    I appreciated how Perry began by describing how  sc theory is an  umbrella term covering a collection of (often) undifferentiated perspectives.   "There is no single sociocultural theory on literacy" Perry explains.   To that end, the article categorizes and discusses literacy theories as 1) literacy as social practice,  2) multiliteracies, and 3) critical literacy.  For my purposes, I focused on 1) literacy as social practice.  So that I wouldn't be overwhelmed and "dig" in over my head,  I used our ADLT 650 revised model, The Tapestry of a Literacy Event: A Sociocultural View (Muth 2013), as a guide.

Perry frames literacy as social practice as influenced by Street (1985) and "grounded in data that described the various ways in which people used reading and writing for different purposes in their everyday lives."  In our case,  we focus on the employment domain and examine literacy such as April's "decks," Susan's "blue forms," or Rosa's housekeeping form in Reading Work.  Social practice theory considers these examples to be literacy events.  "Literacy events are observable; this is, we can see what people are doing with texts."  Interestingly, Perry adds that the body of  research in this field comes from ethnography focused on print and written texts.  (Perry provides a great example of a literacy event about reading.  Event are not always about writing.)  I see "the text" (the event) as the genesis of a sc practice.  In fact, the name of our model is The Tapestry of a Literacy Event

Social practice theories also frame what literacy means in terms of relationships of power and dominance, how one literacy dominates another.  We explored what it means to belong to a cultural group: sharing a sense of history, discourse, space, and identity.  For example, Annie's friends who speak a special language only they understand, the Italian women at Triple Z who sang songs, machine operators at Triple Z who were in sync with their machines, teams in April's corporate setting or ESOL teachers in Susan's program who share a sense of identity are all cultural groups.  Cultural is being an insider, belonging to a more homogeneous group within a larger social construct.

Social construct, such as Triple Z "the company," April's corporate hierarchy, the school system of Susan's  ESOL program, the VCU campus where Annie's group attends,  is the larger body in which cultural groups inhabit, however, membership is not equal or balanced.   Cultural literacy (history, discourse space, identity) capitulates to a more dominant social literacy.  Social practice theories examine this power and dominance of one literacy over another with respect to the text.  The activity within and between cultural and social is practice.

Social practices, as explained by Perry, "must be inferred because they connect to unobservable beliefs, values, attitudes, and power structures."  We infer the sense of history, discourse, space, and identity of cultural groups.  We infer the resistance, power struggle, and capitulation.  Perry acknowledges the "connection between literacy events and literacy practices has been, at best, vague." 

I see event-practice connections being strengthened by sound ethnographic research that includes acknowledgement of researcher bias; rich, thick descriptions and reflections; length and quality of time spent in the culture; and allowing cultural and social voices to be heard.  I remind myself that we view the event-practice connections through another person (researcher) who is not immune to the cultural and social pulls.  Where she infers meaning to discourse or relations, I may not.  There are multiple realities to the event-practice connections, an ethnographic study is just one way of explaining these phenomena.

I'm forcing myself to stop here. Thanks for taking the time to read this long post.  I need peer feedback as I dig through these complex ideas.   How does everyone else interpret sc theory and the literacy event model?  What ideas do you focus on?  Susan



1 comment:

  1. Susan, may I say this is an outstanding synthesis of the major ideas we have been grappling with so far. And your decision to bring in Kristen Perry is astute--Kristen is one of the strongest voices in the S-C movement today, especially related to PRINT text (as opposed to multi-modal texts). She (and now we) gain these theories from Vickie Purcell-Gates who extended the work of Brian Street (and Freire and Shirley Brace Heath before him). The idea of inferring practices is KEY. And I might argue that we are not merely inferring social practices from concrete texts, but cultural practices as well (keeping the artificial distinction alive for now). When we read Schein we'll return to this idea. Isn't this fun? (Really!) How cool is it to be able to move closer and deeper to the astonishing living going on in front of us through these little weird boring texts. I dig it too!


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