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The Wing Chair: Where is the Critical in Literacy?
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education and Teacher's Practice. (Studies of Curriculum, Teaching and Evaluation (SITE))ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5554-6041
Örebro universitet.
2018 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The objective of this paper is to contribute to a contemporary discussion about new aspects of critical literacy and literature instruction by focusing on what might be seen as the critical in reading. Critical literacy theories (Freire & Macedo 1987; Luke & Freebody 1997; Janks 2013; Vasquez 2016) focus on the transformative aspects of learning, on learning as taking action and seeing oneself as an agent with self-empowering potential, whereby the learner is an active agent in transforming and acting upon his or her world: “[the world] is a problem to be worked on and solved” (Freire 1970/1993, in the foreword by Shaull). The critical, the urgency, and the value of literacy in critical literacy are in action in the subject-ness of education. It is about seeing oneself as a right holder and an equal citizen in a community, being drawn out into a world of communal existence (cf. Biesta 2014). In education, not least in literature education, there is always the potential of unpredictable critical moments in the student’s encounter with different forms of text situations.

The purpose of this paper is to explore where the critical becomes burning and urgent, moral and political, challenging, transformative, and liberating in a text situation. The research question is: how can the critical in the sense of an urgency, a disturbance, a vibrant affectivity in the classroom be understood in an actual teaching situation? As Janks (2002) notes, we cannot know in advance which texts are dangerous for whom and how they will impinge on the diverse and multiple identities and identifications of the students in our classes” (p. 20). To emphasize the impossibility of determining in advance which situations can develop into textual experiences, we use the term “text situations” to mark the contingency in the concepts of text, reader, and reading. In the study, we trace specific actors in the networked activity that constitutes a delimited aspect of reading and literature instruction in a story from a closed ward in a detention home in Sweden.

 

Theoretical framework

The paper is based on a view of reality that is “performance-based,” drawing on John Dewey’s piecemeal realism and the infinite meaning potential expressed through his carefully elaborated concept of experience. “The same existential events are capable of an infinite number of meanings” (Dewey 1981, p. 241). The endless potential of meanings in experience, as well as the temporality and contingency of space, have an affinity with the actor-network theory (ANT) understanding of “the social” as assemblages that exceed time and space in the performance of the social (Latour 2007). Thus, temporality and potentiality constitute an intersection between transactional realism and ANT (Authors 2017). Our interest centers on critical literacy, where reading is regarded as political action. From this perspective, the concept of literature, together with other art forms and aesthetic expressions, can be included in the concept of “radical aesthetics” (Thavenius 2005). Thavenius contrasts the function of literature in school: modest aesthetics, with its divide between the creative and the intellectual, with radical aesthetics, where difficult and hidden experiences are verbalized and emerge from curiosity and questioning, contradictions, and ambiguities. From the ability of radical aesthetics to portray the uncertain, unfinished, contradictory, and ambiguous in our experiences, it shares the characteristics of the critical.

The study draws on a performative and relational conception of literature and reading, which refers to the notion that what constitutes the world is what is taking form and shape through its performance in webs of relations (Law 2004; Mol 1999). Poststructuralist theorists (e.g. Butler, 2008; Derrida, 2001) address not only the performativity of specific speech acts, but also in the construction and maintenance of identities in most communication and action. The concept of actor-network takes the notion that actors are produced in relations with performative effects and applies it to all materials, not only human and not only discursive (Law 2006). This provides an innovative analytical approach to how relations are created, mobilized, sustained, and challenged in various phenomena or practices, and it distributes agency to a provocative, wide range of actors. The hyphenated term “actor-network” refers to the reciprocity of the relations: actors and the network are mutually co-constructed; an actor becomes an actor when participating in the network; and the network is only kept in place because of the actor's participation (cf. Latour 2007).

According to Johnson and Vasudevan (2012), current definitions of critical literacy need to be expanded to include a performance lens that recognizes embodied texts and responses (p. 35). Students perform critical literacy in ways that “are underrecognized, may defy rationality, or transgress teacher expectations for the politically correct or classroom appropriate” (p. 35; cf. Janks 2002). In this paper, we argue in line with Johnson and Vasudevan (2012) that “the critical” is performed in transactions between human and nonhuman actors in specific situations. It becomes possible to trace where these situated experiences are actually performed by exploring the assemblages of actors operating as mediators in creating the social in a situation. The critical effect is not a merely human activity; it is performed in the networked relations of whatever actors – human, discursive, and material – through which the critical can emerge.

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
Keywords [en]
transactional realism, ANT, critical literacy
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Pedagogics and Educational Sciences, Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-77078OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-77078DiVA, id: diva2:1237267
Conference
The American Educational Research Association Congress, New York, April 13-17.
Note

Ej belagd 20190212

Available from: 2018-08-08 Created: 2018-08-08 Last updated: 2019-02-12Bibliographically approved

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Wahlström, Ninni

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