Tag Archives: Amy Zenger

Popular Culture and Representations of Literacy – Out in Paperback!

Five years ago Amy Zenger and I published a book about the everyday literacy practices represented in popular culture, specifically in mainstream movies. We found that, when you pay attention to these representations, you begin to see interesting patterns that reflect cultural attitudes about who is allowed to read and write, in what settings, and for what social goals. I loved writing this book. Not only was it intriguing to work through these ideas, but I’ve never had more fun writing a book than I did working on this project. It’s a book I’m proud of, image_previewand liked writing and talking about. The only problem at all was that Routledge initially only published the book in hardcover – making it prohibitively expensive for most people to buy, and certainly out of the range of most students. So I was delighted to find out that Routledge has now published a paperback version of the book! I don’t know if this will result in the book getting a broader reading, but I’m just happy that there is a less expensive version out there (versions, actually, with the e-book out too). Not cheap, but less expensive, and that’s a start.

What we found in the book was that movies – from romantic comedies to dramas to action blockbusters – are filled with scenes of people of all ages, sexes, races, and social classes reading and writing in widely varied contexts and purposes. Yet these scenes go largely unnoticed, even by literacy scholars, despite the fact that these images recreate and reinforce pervasive concepts and perceptions of literacy. We argued that in popular culture representations of literacy we can see a reflection of the dominant functions and perceptions that shape our conceptions of literacy in our culture. I have found that this project has changed my sense of how literacy is perceived in the culture, and has also offered me representations of literacy that I draw on in my teaching time and I again.
And I keep seeing these patterns of literacy representations, from recent superhero movies to the films being discussed as award-winning favorites.

I won’t go on and on here, tempting as it may be. And I apologize for the shameless self-promotion. As I said, I’m fond of this book and get carried away talking about it. I understand the economic forces that publishers face and I want to make it clear that Routledge has been a splendid publisher to work with over the years. I have no complaints about them, at all – and with the paperback edition of this book, one more reason to be pleased to publish with them. Sorry to go on and on. But I am so happy to see the book out in more accessible and less expensive versions.


New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders – It’s out and about!

It’s out and about. New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders is officially published. You can follow the link above or just click on the book cover to the left. It’s been a great experience, from the fine work by the authors to the ease of working with Routledge.  Now to see if anyone else will read it.

As always with a project like this, I get to the end and the people involved have just raised so many thoughtful questions that I find myself wishing to have the time to do another volume, and another, and…. But today, it’s enough just to say this book is out. Thanks to one and all.

New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders – Getting Closer!

The page proofs are in and the book is listed on the publisher’s website, so that must mean it’s going to happen. While the book won’t be out until later this spring, here’s a look at the cover. I have to say, I’m rather partial to the purple. This has been a fascinating book to work on, and I’ve learned so much from the contributors and their chapters and, as always, from my friend and collaborator, Amy Zenger. I hope this book will help start conversations in a many different directions. I also like the fact that other books, like the new one Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times (from Patrick Berry, Gail Hawisher, and Cindy Selfe) are coming at similar issues from different perspectives and making the conversation richer and more thought provoking. Anyway, here is the cover, and thanks to all the wonderful people at Routledge. More to come on this soon as well.

Learning to Play Well with Others

Sometimes I can’t decide what kind of writer and scholar I am. I don’t mean in terms of the quality of my work (I have my own anxieties and suspicions there). No, I mean in terms of how I prefer to work. I used to think I was best on my own. I like conceiving of projects by myself, researching alone, certainly writing alone. I used to encourage students to collaborate, and admire people like Kate Ronald and Hepsi Roskelly who seemed to collaborate so productively and imaginatively, all the while thinking of how I wasn’t much in favor of it myself.

Yet, having just finished work on an edited collection – a collaborative project with my dear friend, Amy Zenger that we just sent off to the publishers this week, I realize that I’m not the moody loner I sometimes imagine myself to be in my more flamboyantly romantic moments. And when I look back over the books and articles I’ve done in the last few years – and what projects I’m contemplating in the future – I see, along with my single-authored pieces, collaborative work with a number of different people. So clearly I do enjoy working with others. Part of what I’ve realized is that, sometimes, collaborations in which I’m invited to join a friend’s project, push me into new areas of ideas and scholarship, and pull me out of any tendency toward scholarly isolation. On top of that, they often force me to follow through with work I might otherwise leave aside.

But this latest project also helped me remember that sometimes loosening my grip on an idea, actually helps it grow. I had the idea for New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders when I was writing Shimmering Literacies. I realized while researching Shimmering Literacies that the students I was talking with and observing were often engaged with popular culture and other fans from countries around the world. Clearly, then, studying how participatory popular culture expanded and shaped literacy practices needed to look at students and texts beyond the U.S. Initially I thought this would be a chapter in Shimmering Literacies, but then also realized it was too big a topic for one chapter. In addition, I knew that it was a project I could not study adequately from Louisville, Kentucky, or understand fully from my perspective as a white, male from the U.S. If any project called out for the diverse voices of an edited collection, it was this. And I also knew I needed help to think about this project from someone who could broaden my thinking about texts and about crossing cultures, and thankfully Amy agreed to go in with me on the book.

Yet even as I realized I wanted to bring in diverse perspectives around the world for the project, deep inside I can now also see that I still had a particular approach to the subject matter that I wanted to see in the book. Deep inside, I was still writing the missing chapter of Shimmering Literacies. The thing is, when you get an edited collection in which the contributors come from Australia, Nepal, Lebanon, the U.S. South Africa, Qatar, and Turkey, not only is the subject matter going to be varied, but so are the perspectives on the subject, on how to engage in research and scholarship, on theory, and on the writing itself. While I was fascinated by the material we were receiving, I realized I was becoming frustrated because it was not always conforming to my initial vision. This was not going to be the tightly focused book I had originally been thinking about.

I was fortunate that Amy helped me get over myself. She helped me realize the power in having a more creative, varied, and expansive set of views of the focus of the book. She was right, of course, because that was the whole point of doing an edited collection. When I finally embraced that expansive conception of the book and realized the power of the different writing voices, different approaches to epistemology, different cultural contexts, I became even more excited about the collection we were putting together. It was a lesson that I need to keep in mind, not only for my scholarship, but also for my teaching – but more on that in a coming post.

So what we wrote in the introduction, is very true:

The collection itself also reflects the diverse opportunities and practices within participatory popular culture. As the contributors sent us their chapters, we found that their conceptions of participatory popular culture and literacy often challenged us to expand and rethink our own. What you will not find in this book is a lock-step set of definitions or scholarly approaches to this subject matter. The contributors not only represent a number of different countries, but also several different academic fields and approaches to research and scholarship. We encouraged these authors to demonstrate how their scholarly backgrounds and local cultural contexts led them to conceive of the issues involved with participatory popular culture across borders. The result is a book that ranges widely on this subject, but around every corner provides new and provocative ways of thinking about how people in different cultures work with and respond to the affordances of new media and popular culture. The effect is a book with intriguing juxtapositions, unusual connections, and often unexpected tensions and insights, all drawn together by the idea that literacy as a social practice is being changed by participatory popular culture in a transnational world.

Letting go a bit, listening to others, and learning from them – I may need to be reminded about it now and again, but I am glad I can still learn to let it happen.

New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders

The edited collection Amy Zenger and I have been working on, New Media Literacies and Participatory Popular Culture Across Borders, has been accepted for publication by Routledge Press.  The book will include contributors from South Africa, Nepal, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey, Australia, and the U.S.  We’ve got some great and eclectic chapters and are excited about this project (and grateful for Routledge for agreeing to publish it).

The book has two central areas of focus. First, the book explores the ways in which new media and online technologies are shaped by, and influence, the connections and tensions between transnational popular culture and local cultural practices. Participatory popular culture raises new questions about the interplay between the mass popular culture and local audience members. This collection will explore the role of new media in the economic and cultural debates about “globalization” and how those are complicated by the local uses of popular culture texts. Technologies that allow an individual to not only access popular culture texts from around the world in an instant, but also share, comment on, appropriate, and remix those same texts alter the way the way the individual perceives popular culture, and alter his or her sense of agency in regard to the texts. New media technologies have changed the relationship between mass popular culture text and individual users, and they engage individuals in new ways of negotiating language and culture.

Those negotiations of language and culture define the second focus of the collection: the influence of participatory popular culture on the literacy practices of young people. Through cross-cultural participatory popular culture, young people are engaging with and responding to global audiences in ways and to an extent simply not available to previous generations. Though we should, of course, be wary of being naively celebratory in our approach to studying these practices, there is no denying that many young people are in contact with texts and people around the world through the lenses of popular culture: Popular culture provides the rhetorical, linguistic, and semiotic building blocks through which they engage in cross-cultural discourse. They encounter these texts on a global stage, deal with issues of difference and unfamiliarity, and then rebuild them in local contexts. While their practices and ideas are certainly shaped by the popular culture content that corporations produce and distribute around the world, it is also the case that young people are appropriating and reusing these same texts to perform identities and make meaning in their own lives.

The chapters in this book, then, analyze how young people are interpreting, creating, and distributing popular culture texts across cultures, and study how young people are thinking about the role of culture in defining the nature of texts, the negotiations of language use, the employment of rhetoric, and the construction and performance of identity.  The individual chapters offer many different perspectives about local responses to these global forces from scholars working in a wide range of international contexts.  How do young people access transnational texts online, but then respond and rework them according to their local contexts and concerns about identity? How do these online practices influence their approaches to reading and writing, both with print as well as with images, sound, and video?

It’s a very different world we live in now, and exciting to be around.