Thursday, July 17, 2008

Travellers' Tales: Streetart into Cyberspace ... and Back Again

Julia Davies is speaking this morning. She is focussing on online spaces, the city and the people who interact with and across spaces. (View her slideshow here.)

Julia talks about her use of Flickr and how she began using Flickr when uploading photos to her blog wasn't automated. She ended up finding that Flickr itself to be very compelling. Gradually, she began titling her photos in her Flickr archive, and then adding tags. People began commenting on her photos and Julia began developing her use of tags even more so that people could more readily find her pictures.

She talks about folksonomies and how tag clouds these tell you much about the values of a group (keeping in mind that Flickr itself has censored the tags that are "counted" within their tag cloud; such as excluding rude words).

Julia talks about how she spent many hours looking at other people's photographs and how certain sets of images--such as "sugar dudes"--really captured Flick-ites' imaginations. People began discussing these little cakes in the comment threads below these images, and then talking about their birthdays and their life in general. Julia and her husband decided to go and liberate the "sugar dudes" and met up with other folk in the group in New York City.

The group documented the escape of the sugar dudes from the shop including the untimely death of one sugar dude under the wheel of a passing taxi.

Julia discusses how another Flickr user in Scandinavia enacted a similar event, and travellers from Sheffield--where Julia lives--on their next trip to New York City bought sugar dudes and took them to the same bar for drinks that Julia's group had.

Online social networking

Julia talked about how carefully everyone in the sugar dudes affinity space who met up online had clearly been reading each person's pictures and comments in order to evaluate the extent to which they could trust each other. She also paid attention to the ways in which people inserted hyperlinks into their comment posts and how these, too, added to the internetworked cohesion of the group.

Julia talks about another Flickr user, "Luna Park", and a list of testimonials posted to Luna's profile and how they endorse her as an expert on finding street art and helping to organise street art excursions etc., especially within New York City. Julia displays Luna's street art photo sets. Julia also discusses Julia Supine's photos and one set where she has taken photos from disparately placed in the real world into a new space so that they take on different meanings when placed together in this way. Julia Supine has also geo-tagged her photos, which shows the location where each one was taken etc, and displaying her expertise as a photographer and archivist.

Julia also talks about a portrait of Luna Park that was painted by a friend on a peice of found wood, and which was later placed back out in the street as a peice of street art--moving and mixing identity and space in very interesting ways. Luna Park is a librarian in the physical world, and has constructed a Flickr identity that is highly interactive through comments thread, her work to build up a group with similar expertise to establish a solid community within Flickr and working out what this group does and does not value.

Identity Issues

Julia links Gee's concept of "presentation og a particular self" and his notion of a "projected identity" to the identity work that gets done on Flickr. Her definition of identity is drawn from Rebecca Black's work: "being recognised as a 'kind of person'.. within a social context" (2008).

Julia discusses a range of street art images--including in cognito photos of street artists themselves.

Julia problematises mythic conceptions of identity erasure online, and explains that most people *do* want to be known as a person of a particular kind online and often work very carefully at crafting the identity they present.

Julia discusses the work of Elbow-Toe and the work he does in painting portraits of friends on walls etc.

Streetart as a New Literacy
Julia talks about the subversive streetart work of Banksy. His work is usually political commentary. He works anonymously and his identity is really only known through his artwork.

Julia defines street art using Schacter's work and explains that it's more than simply graffiti, but can include assemblages as well. She explains how she herself is not interested in whether streetart really is art or not, but in the phenomenon itself. For Julia, not all streetart fits the "new literacies" label, but some does in terms of being a new literacy practice. she's interested in the ways in which stretart cn produce new spaces within which to act.

Julia uses the concept of "memes" as contagious ideas that are replicated and passed from mind to mind, with robust memes having longevity and fecundity. this concept helps to explain how streetart is often shared, circulated, replicated etc.--especially online. Banky's "This is not a photo opportunity" stencil has been remixed, distributed and become part of a community thread narrative (e.g., stencilled onto a rubbish bin, sprayed onto a war monument). these shared memes work like hyperlinks to link together disparate people and places. People's take-up of this meme adds to and extends the meaning of Banksy's original streetart.

Streetart: Narrative
Julia talks about a particular image of a stencilled "This is not a photo opportunity" that has been erased and re-stencilled many, many times, as well as talks of photos of old, almost disappeared signs. She talks about them in terms of "palimpsest" and how we write-over texts with the original texts nonetheless still visible.

She talks about the provenance of streetart--poaching the term of typically talk about "high art"--and how it comes to acquire a rich depth and breadth of meaning and how many pieces--especially Bansky's work--themselves become iconic within people's travel photographs.

Julia draws on Highmore's work to discuss city spaces and how histories accrue for urban landscape photos posted online by how they are taken up, commented upon, linked to, and the like. she exemplifies this with the Flickr group "Banksy - The Complete Works" - to which anyone can contribute, but no duplicates of his work can be included. The collection is therefore curated by a widely dispersed body of people and brought together within this Flickr group. Other people interested in Banksy's work have also mashed up images of is work (e.g., Banksy - Barely Legal) and posted these to Flickr. This last image "belongs" to a large number of different groups, too, which adds additional layers of meaning as the photo appears in different group sets of photos and thus new contexts.

Julia talks about the gentrification of New York City and how local people are often being driven out as real estate is being bought up, and street artists are making their own comments on walls and suchlike. This is a space where speech becomes writing
and creates opportunities for making all kinds of social comments. These images and comments when uploaded to Flickr can continue this commentary in a rang of ways.

In closing
Julia closes with a discussion of how street art can be seen as an "attempt to embody themselves into the very fabric of the city, to smudge the landscape with the stigmata of personhood" (Mitchell 1994).


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Practices of remix are opening up avenues for young people to become and be "kinds of people" – including lots of young people who do poorly in formal education




The talk begins with a definition of literacies as "socially recognized ways of generating, communicating and negotiating meaningful content as members of Discourses through the medium of encoded texts."  This definition approaches text in relation to contexts and practices. The talk will focus on the Discourse aspect of "literacies", with reference to two "new" literacies that draw on new technology affordances that enable activities of kinds and/or on scales that were never before possible.




Michele goes on to define remix in terms of practices that involve taking cultural artifacts and combining and manipulating them into a new kind of creative blend. Nothing new about remix per se – as Lawrence Lessig reminds us in his work on Free Culture.


Numerous kinds of "new" remixing practices exist that are predicated on new technology affordances. E.g., photoshopping remixes, music and music video remixes, machinima remixs, moving image remixes, original manga and anime fan art, remixes of TV, movies, books in fanfiction, and serviceware mashups (e.g.,


Michele works through a range of examples and some of the issues – e.g., copyright – associated with remix practices.


Identity and learning


Begins from Rebecca Black's definition of identity as "the ability to be recognized as a "kind of person … within a given context".


The talk approaches identity as discursive and multiple and emphasizes "learning to be" rather than "learning about" (as discussed by Gee in his 2007 book); with particular references to the link between learning and identity, and to developing "appreciative systems" that come with deep learning within contexts of practices.


Will be looking at two young people in terms of this framework (Rebecca Black's case study subject, Tanaka Nanako, and Michele's own case study of am AMV fan known as Dynamite Breakdown).


Place and space (as theorized by Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life)


Michele describes the distinction between "place" and "space", in terms of place being a property of the powerful, and space being the fleeting "locations" from which the less powerful operate on the fly to negotiate through the places of the powerful – making do and enacting the arts of the weak; working around the strategies of the strong by practicing tactics of the weak.


As Henry Jenkins has argued since the early 90s, this is a useful way for thinking about remix in terms of poaching on the resources of the powerful.


Rebecca Black's case of Tanaka Nanoko


Michele moves on to Rebecca Black's work, (especially her 2008 book on Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction)  to discuss the case of Tanaka Nanako as a non English speaking migrant arriving in Canada from China, having to learn a new language, and finding the site; picking up on the stories of migrant peers, and learning "how to be a successful fanfic practitioner".  Michele is working through some key aspects of be(com)ing a proficient fanfic writer – e.g., making use of the author notes facet of writing a fic, as a means of articulating aspects of identity whilst taking on a new identity as a fanfic writer.


She turns to the ways Black describes Nanako developing an appreciative system as a fanfic writer, and the dimensions of doing so. E.g.,


  • having regard for a postivie and productive reviewing culture and practices
  • displaying close knowledge of anime
  • showing facility with multiple languages in the narratives appropriate for anime fanfic
  • interacting with and appreciating one's reviewers
  • good grammar and good plot lines and character development
  • honoring the importance of attending to original storylines and characters
  • recognizing that good narratives are informed by good background research


Draws on the rich account of her case provided by Black to discuss identity and deep learning in relation to space. Notes how Nanako shifted aspects of her presentation of self in her author notes over time – identified differently as her work became increasingly popular. No longer had to present herself as an English language learner, etc.


Dynamite Breakdown (one of Michele's research cases)


Michele provides a short description of Dynamite Breakdown as an "average student" with an interest in Naruto anime and developing an interest in creating anime music videos. He spent a long time developing deep knowledge of the series and wider anime, and exploring AMVs.


She plays Dynamite's "Konoha Memory Book" AMV – which is DB's favourite creation, and which won awards at the 2006 Los Angeles Anime Expo.

"Konoha Memory book" - DynamiteBreakdown (2006)


DB's interview relates his ideas about what is involved in becoming a proficient AMV remixer.


  • Watching countless AMVs
  • Attention to synch, transitions and effects
  • Participating actively within – having a strong profile, keeping it updated and provide opportunities for interaction
    • "linar notes"for each posted AMV
    • Invitations to comment on an AMV
  • Being an anime fan
  • Making submissions to AMV competitions
  • Balancing the tension between making his AMVs freely available and getting due credit (e.g., between putting his stuff online for people to enjoy and upload to their own sites and developing his own profile in order to claim authorship of his own work. Initially we found his work on an AMV fan's site and had to track DB down. Today the views of Konaha memory book are still much larger on other sites than on his own, although his own presence is now strong).


Developing an AMV appreciative system


  • Need to use good quality video resources (hi res)
  • Relevance of song to the anime resources ised needs to be apparent, clear, appropriate
  • Good quality relationship between the song and the video itself (synch, mood, concept)
  • Not using clips containing subtitles, series titles, or final credits – but balances this with his economic resources and what he has to hand (making do).
  • This extends to software resources as well. To be "the best" you really need top gear, but where this is not possible it is crucial to know how to "make do" as effectively as possible.


So what?


(a) Challenges the dominance of "learning about" within pre-packaged curriculum programs and resources


  • Teachers can challenge the "content fetish" (Gee 2007) of schools. (content fetish and who owns/pronounces on knowledge)
  • This locked-down, one-size-fits-all "place" leaves little room for paying attention to the relationship between literacy and identity, and leaves no space at all for young people to poach on popular culture resources in informed and savvy ways. 


(b) Challenges top-down, imposed notions of "expertise" and "effective participation"

cf.'s "iSkills" test


  • challenges old "expert-novice" distinctions
  • through their understanding and development of appreciative systems within their own fan uses of anime, both Nanako and DynamiteBreakdown have developed their own lived understandings of what it means to "be a [popular/proficient] remixer" of a certain kind.

AMV remixing cannot be described by a generic set of quality indicators or competencies; because it is so thoroughly embedded in a particular social practice that is shaped by the anime, popular music, fan practices, and the sophistication of low-cost editing software, markers of "proficiency" will always be considered contingent and "in process" rather than fixed and statically authoritative.




Black, R. (2008). Adolescents and Online Fan Fiction. New York: Peter Lang.

Gee, J. (2007). Video Games + Good Learning. New York: Peter Lang.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Digital Literacies" is out

Our new edited collection, Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices, has just been published by Peter Lang.

The book presents a rich range of perspectives on digital literacies and we are thrilled to have had the opportunity to present work by so many leading researchers and writers on the topic of digital literacy in the one place. As always, we are deeply appreciative of the generous efforts of our contributors and commend their work to you.

The book's contents are as follows:

Literacy and identity in virtual Worlds

How we see childhood, education and “growing up” depends on our theoretical lens. Guy discusses the rise of the sociocultural view of children and the increasing attention to the significance of interaction and networking.

There are at least two options available to us in terms of thinking about the internet and everyday life: To go the route of security—lock-stepped curriculum, filters etc. The other option is distributed learning that is open, fluid and interactive. This second position shapes Guy’s own position.

Guy shows us Google’s new Lively virtual world, and speaks about how identity is tied up with what the producers make

A virtual world is "an online space you feel as if you're there" (Schroeder 2002). Markham, in "Life Online", talks about the internet in three ways: the internet as a tool, the internet as a place, and the internet as a way of being. An online space, usually with the look of three dimensions, where you can move about and some sense of "network effect" (i.e., to interact in different ways with others). Some virtual worlds allow you to customize spaces, too (e.g., upload videos, build things).

Guy talks about a range of popular virtual worlds:

These are examples of the "tools to hand for meaning making". A large percentage of school students are inhabiting these kinds of virtual worlds.

A brief history of virtual worlds for children:

1993 - CitySpace
1995 - Neopets
2000 - Habbo Hotel
2004 - Ketnetkick
2005 - Virtual Magic Kingdom
2005 - WebKinz
2007 - Club Penguin
2007 - Nicktropolis
2008 - Moshi Monsters
2008 - Adventure Rock
2008 - My Tiny Planets
2009 - Lego World

Market research strongly suggests that 10 year-olds are the fastest growing "markets" for virtual worlds.

Guy presents an analysis from a study that categorises child users into a range of types:

Guy asks, given all this, what use of these virtual worlds can or should we make with these virtual worlds?

Guy introduces us to his case study of "Barnsborough"--a virtual world project involving students, children and programmers. The world itself is located within "Active Worlds". The aims of this study include:

Participants included at the start 10 schools (now 15) and students aged 9-11 years. the planning group comprised local literacy and drama specialists, ICT advisory staff, primary school teachers and myself as consultant and researcher. The development company was virtually Learning, which is based in Finland.


The "brief" upon entering this world is that the previous inhabitants of Barnsborough have disappeared and your task is to work out why.

The interface includes rich media, tool-tip clues (e.g., "The room apepars to have been trashed"), hyperlinked and downloadable texts. Different possible scanerios are hinted at: major bio-hazard issue (barrels lying around and polluting a local lake), alien abduction scenario, a political or big business disaster, or suggest something more mysterious (e.g., Big Brother).

In all, Barnsborough comprises a "constellation of literacy practices" -- chat functions, clues posted around the world, videos etc.

Research issues

Guy displays some of his conversation/interview data and discusses some of the conventions they use that signals their understanding of how conventional print literacy works (the students are typing their speech).


  • truancy online - the teachers were upset about the kids leaving the town and going up the hill to the castle to explore that, but the teachers wanted them to tay in th town because it matched their curriculum; the town was walled off, but the kids worked out how to escape--and had to be forcibly brought back etc.)

  • finding guns - the kids looked for weapons on the ground to use based on their cultural understanding of how games work

  • discovering secret functions (e.g., flying by tapping the F12 button)

  • hide and seek became a popular game (even some of the teachers joined in)
  • avatar play - changing their appearance etc.

  • The students' and teachers' discussions of their avatar experience proved to be particularly interesting to Guy.

    Overall observations


    Students are well-aware that literacy is being "done to" them in schools. they understand that progress is measured by individual results on test scores. they *also* are aware of the dissonances (e.g., trying to pick up guns as in games, escping from the town). The teachers replicate traditional classroom practices inside this virtual world, but it doesn't have to be that way. Virtual places like Barnsborough offer all sorts of real opportunities for exploring alternatives.


    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Postmodern "Migrations": Literacy, Identity and Place

    We're currently in session at the Mount Saint Vincent University's Masters of Literacy Summer Institute in Toronto. Colin is about to speak on matters of literacy, identity and place.

    He opens by framing two moments in time tat exist about 30 years apart: Chris Searle's "Classrooms of Resistance" (1975) and Southpark's "Make Love not Warcraft" episode (2006). The theme on which he's focussing is on these two texts as "solidarity tales" that are to a large extent not only set in different times but are worlds apart.

    Searle's approach engaged students in examining their immediate contexts within larger spheres with respect to living within a post-industrial town struggling at the time to reinvent itself.

    Colin explains that for him, place is space that is imbued with meaning. Place in this sense impacts directly on our identities. You can imagine a dinosaur's skeleton--you can imagine it in a theme park, or you can imagine it as a museum. If you are in the theme park, the dinosaur is used as a playful ride, while if you are in the museum, the dinosaur skeleton becomes catalyst for learning and/or for thinking about history. In this example,it becomes clear how place shapes and informs and constructs one's identity (e.g., as a theme park player, as a learner etc.).

    Colin then provides an overview of Chris Searle and his work with students in Sheffield, England, who actively built on social class identity in order to foster solidarity among his very diverse students. He was thoroughly engaged with the lcoal school community and aimed at getting his students to think about who they were in class terms, race/ethnicity terms, etc. and how the social system worked to enable some people to buy a half-million pound apartment in the gentrified docks area, while the students' own families in the area struggled to make ends meet.

    Colin plays a clip from the "Make Love, Not Warcraft" from Southpark and gives a precis of the episode. He explains how he reads it as a solidarity tale--where a group of very diverse people (from the four Southpark lads, to Stan's dad, to the developers of the World of Warcraft--Blizzard) as they work together to defeat a rogue player who--in this episode of the show--threatened the very existence of the "World of Warcraft". He explains that this particular tale of solidarity is not built around issues of class or ethnicity, but around shared affinities. The place in this case is not a physical location, but virtual. The boys triumphed largely by engaging in menial game work by the incredibly tedious strategy of killing boars in order to "level up", whereas Searle's students read newspapers and watched documentary films as part of their solidarity work etc. Both are very different literacy practices. another difference was that the Southpark kids were the "leaders" and the agents, with the adults more or less falling in behind to solve the problem of the rogue plaer. In Searle's case, he was very much the leader with respect to helping stduents to analyse their own lives and identities.

    Key changes
    Colin then discusses key changes he sees having taken place in the past 30 years--and which he refers to as a "world of difference".

    Changes over the past 30 years

    Literacy is:

    Place is:

    Identity is:

    Colin speaks about the case of "Violetta" in Angela Thomas' Youth Online and how she very much embodies these changes in identities and who is very well rpepared to be a "shape shifting portfolio worker" (Gee 2004).

    He speaks about identity as discussed by Bauman; about the construction of identity as a fundamental social act. Allan Martin (2008) similarly talk about identity now as a "major life project." Shared affinities become central to identity work within current contexts.

    Erich Fromm identified five human needs contingent upon their consciousness:

    Colin discusses how these needs can be met in different ways, although not all of these ways are "healthy".

    Bauman's trends of "liquid modernity":

    Bauman argues that some key outcomes are:



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