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:



Thinking about "Place is space that is imbued with meaning" and looking at how we use the terms place and space in everyday life.
Literacy, identity, place. I suppose I choose my identity to some extent but it's anchored in a place. I have some control over place,, shelter, relationships, workplace are realities. It keeps coming back to literacy (ies) as a way to sort it out. Deeply challenging presentation. Many thanks from MSVU Mississauga student (just finished!!)
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