Literacy in a Social Media Culture (PhD Dissertation)

25 nov 2014 /

Literacy is often considered a cornerstone of education that empowers people to participate in economic, social and cultural life. But what does it mean “to be literate”? Educational researchers, policy makers and teachers often feel tempted to present literacy as a fixed and universal set of skills, knowledge and attitudes. This conceptualization facilitates the construction of tests, benchmarks and teaching materials. However, scholars have demonstrated that literacy is not fixed or universal, but always situated in a social and cultural context. They have questioned the dominant “skills and benchmarks” approach in education which conceives literacy as neutral, monolithic and measurable.

The research presented in this dissertation considers how the development and use of social media inspire new practices and understandings of literacy and how this contributes to the innovation of cultural institutions. It involves an ethnographic and linguistic exploration of various literacy events that occur in environments mediated by social media. Each study focuses on a particular event that includes descriptions and analysis of literacy practices and the context of social media. In addition, each chapter includes discussion of the discourse that surrounds these events and practices, focusing on one perspective at a time. Based on these thick descriptions, Joachim Vlieghe tries to answer the following questions:

  1. What counts as “literacy” in a social media culture by exploring the meaning and limits of literacy events and practices from the perspective of different users and user groups?
  2. How do these new “literacies” or instructions affect perceptions of media and media engagement, of identity and participation, and of power and hierarchy in the social system surrounding literature?

The field of social media covers a vast array of platforms and practices: from documenting one’s life on Facebook, to editing videos on Youtube, sharing music on Soundcloud, reviewing books on Goodreads, and much more. Joachim Vlieghe decided to direct his attention on literacy events that focus on literature and literary communication. This choice was informed by the following observations: literature and literacy have a strong historical connection, literature and books continue to be very important in formal education, and literature and literary communication are surrounded by a wide variety of discourses – including a rich body of academic publications.

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