Monday, October 31, 2005

Constituencies



The time in Oslo was partly spent working on the author questionnaire for the new edition of New Literacies. Not only was this a pretty onerous and time-consuming task -- it took a lot of hours -- but it also brought us face to face with having to find crisp answers to questions that basically ask 'How is this book going to convince the audience you are pitching at?'

In our case this meant asking ourselves yet again 'who is our audience?' This in turn got us caught up in reflecting on reviews the first edition received and on the reviews solicited by the publishers to get guidance for the second edition. Hence, it meant recalling reviews that pull in different directions. Some ask for more explicit theory, others say there is more theory and conceptual stuff for at least one audience we would desperately love to meet: the undergraduate textbook buying audience.

During these reflections we affirmed a few things for ourselves. We know we don't want to write just for people who are looking for a book that mainly makes a theoretical contribution -- although we want the book to be sufficiently theoretically robust to be respected by people whose opinions we care about. At the same time we want to continue the line we ran in the first edition: namely, that the kind of theory we are most interested in pertains to phenomena like an attention economy, and includes constructs like 'second phase automation', and looks at things going on around the take up of new technologies in education in terms of different kinds of mindsets. We aren't especially interested in trying to advance, for example, social semiotic theory about multimodal texts, or space theory pertaining to where online and offline lives take up and leave off. There are plenty of top theorists around doing that kind of work. There are fewer folk, however, tryng to push academic theory into areas we think need to be explored.

For example, in one of our email exchanges today Michele commented that there are many interesting phenomena out there to think and write about that very few people in education are getting at. "This is the part I really don't get and find really troubling. Like, something that's intrigued me for a while is what I've been calling 'just because' phenomena -- like the photoshopping stuff on fark.com and worth1000.com and especially like what's happening on flickr such as this. I noticed the other day that Anil Dash, an A-list blogger, is developing a concept called 'interestingness' to describe similar observations."

Beyond interests around theory, however, there are other constituencies and purposes we really want to address. For example, we have long believed it is very important to try and provide sound 'insider' descriptions of social practices we think educators and educational researchers should be aware of, and of some of the issues arising around such practices. At times we really struggle with the extent to which we can meet our aspirations in this regard. It is easy to have doubts and to wonder whether maybe we should not just have left things at the first edition and had a long vacation instead.

Needless to say, then, it was a wonderful thing to find some of the work that will go into the new edition of New Literacies blogged by one of our favourite bloggers, Ernie Hsiung, in his mini blog at little.yellow.different. Ernie's blog won the overall Bloggies award for excellence in 2003. Partly for this reason, and partly because we just love his take on life as reflected in his blogging, we use little.yellow.different as an 'exemplary blog' when writing about weblogs. Somehow the text we produced out of our plenary address to the 2004 National Reading Conference came Ernie's way. He comments that 'it is weird to see yourself as the subject of a research and social practice literary paper'. Maybe it is, Ernie, although it shouldn't be, because if what you are doing is not among the things such papers should be paying serious attention to, then we don't know what is.

But the real buzz for us came from what Ernie said about what we said about him and his work: namely, 'cool, but weird. And a pretty right-on description of my blog style, albeit in "smart speak".' That is close enough for us just now. The kind of feedback that will sustain the hard writing work that lies ahead when the going gets toughest. After all, the people who esteem exemplary blogging are certainly an audience -- indeed, a constituency -- we want to reach.

Ojala que some of them have good sized classes looking for a textbook ......

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