On the Social Consequences of Literacy
What are the consequences of literacy? I would like to know the answer. And I believe Composition Studies is an ideal disciplinary space from which to approach it. Some of us may make use of ethnographic methodologies, but we are not shackled to anthropological debates. Our unit of analysis is not culture, at least not centrally, but writing—how it happens, what it means, where it circulates, how it accomplishes its goals, whom it advances, whom it leaves behind, what it is worth and why. These processes entail the social, but do not require us to pin it down and watch it wriggle. Our attention can be more centrally trained on literacy.
There are consequences to literacy—large ones and, my own fieldwork suggests, often troubling ones. Can we explore them without dividing the world into oral and literate, without having to take on debates that are not of our moment, and without sacrificing the crucial insights of New Literacy Studies? Are there new answers to old questions?
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