"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.).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Horsing around with sociocultural literacy theory

I can't resist blogging about the Budweiser Clydesdale Super Bowl advertisement.  It was, by far, my favorite of the evening!  I suspect I'm not the only one who was touched by the story of "our newest foal," so I looked for a way to explain why it had such mass appeal.  I turned to sociocultural literacy theory as a framework for unpacking the layers of meaning.  I was delighted in what I discovered. 

So far, in our ADLT 650 foray into sociocultural literacy theory, we have examined the power and dominance of one literacy over another.  The dominant literacy subsumes the voice of others.  As students, we have learned to look for and interpret these instances of power and resistance between the literacy practices of different cultural groups.  Super Bowl XLVII was chock full of dominant American literacy.  I admit, I watched it because I wanted to be part of the "in" crowd who would be talking, blogging, and facebooking about it today.  I wanted to belong to the dominant culture, even if it meant altering my behavior, and quieting my voice, in order to fit in.

The Budweiser Clydesdale horses are a  classic example of an American literacy artifact.  I probably don't need to write about the numerous meanings, slang phrases, and metaphors Americans have about horses.   However, Schein (xxxx) cautions that deciphering  the true meaning of artifacts requires an understanding of the deeper, basic assumptions of the culture.   Schein says artifacts are superficial, they are the top layer of  literacy meaning and practice.  If we dig one layer deeper, we find cultural beliefs and values (things we believe and love about horses, the connection to being a parent).   We can dig even deeper and discover that our basic cultural assumption is to be humane and value all life.  

But wait, it's not just Americans who love and value horses and have parental heartstrings.  Furthermore,  it's not only Americans who are humane and value all life.  The beautiful, American Clydesdales are an artifact with shared basic assumptions of many cultures.  The superficial meanings may vary, the values and beliefs may vary, but the basic underlying cultural assumption is the same. The Budweiser advertisement  is an artifact representing universal basic assumptions, it reaches out to other Cultures with it's universal appeal.  It doesn't require English to be understood. 

OK, that's not rocket science;  I'm sure all humans value cute, fuzzy animals and sad songs.  Here's my delightful discovery using a sociocultural literacy perspective: there are powerful, positive interactions between dominant-Social and submissive-Cultural literacy practices through certain artifacts that share deeper, basic assumptions.  While we students (I) have been looking for ways dominant literacy overpowers another literacy (the negative), we (I) have not taken the time to look for ways they come together (the positive).  I will go one step further and suggest positive interactions require more awareness of each other's (Social v. Cultural) literacy practices because they are based on deeper assumptions.  Schein (xxxx) discusses the ways basic assumptions can lead people to see good or the bad in others.   I am so happy to find good;  I need to find positive ways literacy practices interact.   There is power and resistance, there is also sharing and uniting. The advertisement reminded me to look for both.

So, if you have a moment, indulge one more time and watch the video.  Thanks for taking the time to read my post.  Susan



  1. Susan, you are so right - it is by focusing on the good things (the shared literacies) that we can build a foundation for learning that acknowledges our differences and respects our lived practices. This is great - thanks!

  2. I'm learning to look at things through a literacy lens, something I've done in the past but not really identified. The Clydesdales are more than the artifact of a literacy. There's also the ownership of the literacy. I lived in St. Louis, and the Clydesdales are part of the culture there. During Cardinals games, during the seventh inning stretch, on special occasions the Clydesdales were brought out into the stadium. What is sometimes called socio-cultural literacy I've thought of as what is good about a society.

  3. Susan, I appreciate your point about always looking for the negative. On the other hand, being critical and being negative are not the same thing, yes? For instance, we can look at a BP commercial celebrating the goodness of the Gulf Coast, and take all those sweet images at face value, even recognizing our humanity in those scrappy happy coastal blokes. But as a literacy event, these commercials have ulterior purposes as well, yes? We are asked--or manipulated-- to see BP as Eco-friendly, as on our side. Is being critical here anti-ecology or pro-ecology?

  4. I don't know that I think of reading critically as being anti- or pro- anything. In class we learn to read things critically, which seems to be looking at not just what's being said, but what's unwritten but said.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.