This is a post that I’m not sure many people will connect with, so I’ll preface that this is me exercising some scholarly demons now that the summer semester is over. I’ll begin with saying that I have a had limited experience reading Dr. Leander’s work; really, it is one particular piece I’m writing about today that threw my conceptual framework into a tailspin. I did, however, have a few cohort mates this summer who studied his work in much greater depth. My reflections herein are simply my reaction, and the subsequent actions, to Leander and Boldt’s (2012) “Rereading ‘A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies:’ Bodies, Texts, and Emergence” and a few chats with my more well-read cohort mates. If you happen to be familiar with Leander’s work, then you know there is nothing easy about intaking or ingesting his writing. He does intense work that is typically steeped in a vernacular that a novice researcher (like myself) has difficulty deciphering. I try to bear in mind that I am not his number one audience in many cases. Whether my assumption of audience is correct or not, I learned this summer that when I think I’ve finally wrapped my head around the greater ongoing dialog about literacy, Dr. Leander found a way to kick me off that pedestal and rethink everything I think I know.I had convinced myself that Multiliteracies was the best way to help frame my future study. The New London Group (1996) constructed a way of looking at literacy through various design aspects that I was easily drawn to, and time and again their work “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies” is cited by other scholars as a way to frame various literacy studies that have saturated the field. I found it logical to lean heavily on such a seminal piece that could certainly prop up my own assumptions and understanding of literacies that form outside the classroom walls and are often kept out of those same walls. The New London Group had generated a metalanguage I could grab hold of to focus my own study that has a heavy interest in Henry Jenkins (2013) participatory culture and involving out-of-school literacies in an English language arts high school classroom. About midsummer I was feeling awfully good about the direction my framework was taking. Then Dr. Leander happened.
Leander and Boldt question heavily how mulitliteracies have been taken up by scholars after The New London Group’s theorized it. They take aim at the group itself, but the focus is certainly on how many scholars have treated multiliteracies as much more than a theory; they criticize those who have used multiliteracies in such a way that assumes they are a reality–that they indeed exist without question. Leander basically asks all those looking to multiliteracies as a tangible, describable matter need to slow down and take stock of what it means to claim that all acts a child commits are somehow also designed and somehow fit into a metalanguage. Leander and Boldt describe a young boy’s day to demonstrate the issue they take with using multiliteracies unquestioningly to describe the acts of youth as intertwined with literacy. Their strongest example illuminates the act of play between the young boy and his friend who comes over to play for most of the day. Their role playing derives from a popular anime series both boys read and watch; however, the play is also spontaneous and changes based on the interactions the boys have with one another. Leander and Boldt’s point here seems to be that the spontaneity of their play isn’t designed and that their gestures do not necessarily indicate some sort of literacy metalanguage. Sometimes play is simply play.
What I just explained is an oversimplification of the researchers’ article, and I may have not done the best job explaining one of the major points; still, my understanding of their article has caused me to take that pause in my own research they seemed to be aiming other researchers to take. I had easily taken for granted multiliteracies as a truth as though it exists empirically. I came precariously close to trying to add to the wide body of research that claims multiliteracies as more than theorized practice! Leander and Boldt’s piece immediately made me temper my enthusiasm and consider what my own research is attempting to accomplish moving forward. I didn’t like that. I wanted to fight it. I wanted to be angry with Leander and his protege Dr. Boldt. Believing unquestioningly that multiliteracies and their place in pedagogy exists irrevocably was much easier!
Alas! I must instead thank Dr. Leander and Dr. Boldt. The cognitive dissonance they caused me ultimately helped me shape a more reasonable understanding of what I will be trying to uncover about Jenkins’ participatory culture. Initially, I looked at participatory culture as a living, breathing thing–a tangible entity that I was to explore and see first hand. Now I will be looking at participatory culture as the theory that it is and caution myself as I analyze future data and decipher what is to be uncovered in them.
So while Dr. Leander has certainly complicated my novice scholarly life, he has also enlightened and refocused it, reminding me that I must investigate the world as I ask my own students to do.
Assume nothing. Question Everything.
Cazden, C., Cope, B., Fairclough, N., Gee, J., et al. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Leander, K. & Boldt, G. (2012). Rereading “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies”: Bodies, texts, and emergence. Journal of Literacy Research, 45(1), 22-46.