PhD Reflections


Digital technologies are a significant presence in society and in educational settings. They are a given mainstay and influence the way literacy is composed, taught, and, to some extent, assessed. When such new demands are made on language then we are, in the words of Michael Halliday (1989: p. 82) “making language work for us in ways it never had to do before” therefore “it will have to become a different language in order to cope”.

The “new language” called for by Halliday has been recognised by scholars in different ways, in order to understand the unique combination of sign systems prevalent in digital texts. A combination which takes account of confluence of words, images, sounds, gestures, and spatial elements across a range of digital formats.

Notably, the New London Group (1996) called for a reconceptualisation of literacy taking account of the effects of digitally-based literacy environments. In doing so, it seems literacy will remain a fluid concept with “fuzzy borders” (Barton, 2001), especially since digital tools become ever more ergonomic, appealing, and pervasive in societies across the world. Broadening the scope of the literacy research traditions has allowed what we construe as ‘literacy’ to include the new and emerging practices apparent with users of digital technologies.

But since digital tools are constantly becoming more user-friendly and ergonomic to satisfy the growing needs of oncoming ‘digital natives’, with such upgrading that is not seen with any other contemporary tool, digital artefacts are, as such, being increasingly accepted by societies across the globe.

So a question to ask is who is the driver of things? Humans? Or technologies?

How do the social—along with material—arrangements enable and develop activities like literacy, from moment to moment, place to place, and person to person? How and why are new sociomaterial relationships formed and what is the role of literacy within this process?

In technologies’ interactions with humans, everything we do is always—and simultaneously—social and material. So we cannot think about one or the other, but that every activity is borne in and through such an assemblage, and its relations. It’s never the case that technology determines everything that happens through its ‘affordances’, and it’s never the case that humans are always in control as sole agents in the social world. It’s always the case that we are continuously creating particular types of arrangements that make some things easier and possible for some and difficult and impossible for others (social, political, economic consequences of actions). The assemblage, arrangement, or (re)configuration is the driver; it gathers resources in some places and not in others.

BARTON, D. (2001). Directions for Literacy Research: Analysing Language and Social Practices in a Textually Mediated World. Language and Education, 15(2), 92-104.
HALLIDAY, M. A. K. (1989). Spoken and written language,Oxford: Oxford University Press.
THE NEW LONDON GROUP (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-93.

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