Latouracy: Using Latour to Construct a Literacy of Social Practice

I want to parse through Deborah Brandt and Katie Clinton’s “Limits of the Local: Expanding Perspectives on Literacy as a Social Practice”. In a future reading, I would like to compare it to Jenny Rice’s” Unframing Models of Public Distribution: from Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies” to look more closely at tracing local/global in an ecological frame, As someone interested in structures, systems, and models, Brandt and Clinton’s work to shift attention in how literacy is studied, that is, how it is accounted for and by who (and in this case, what). In literacy studies, Brandt and Clinton review scholarship that has brought research into the paradigm of literacy as contextualized.

“Rather than a brute consequence of a formidable technology, the achievement of literacy appeared as a delicate interplay of social, cultural, economic, political, and even geographic forces. In other words, social context organizes literacy, rather than the other way around.” (340)

“Generally, a literacy event is considered a social action going on around a piece of writing in which the writing matters to the way people interact. To this is added the more abstract concept of the literacy practice, usually treated as the socially regulated, recurrent, and patterned things that people do with literacy as well as the cultural significance they ascribe to those doings. Typically, literacy events are treated as discrete, observable happenings while practices are abstract, enduring, and not wholly observable.” (342)

But their goal in this text is to look at context with more nuance; instead of looking at local as a different sphere than global (though interconnected), they argue that the global is local.

“Context became associated with ethnographically-visible settings (the here and now), and the technology of literacy was demoted in relationship to the human agent who held power in assigning meaning to acts of literacy. But can we not recognize and theorize the transcontextual aspects of literacy without calling it decontexutualized? Can we not approach literacy as a technology – and even as an agent – without falling back into the autonomous model? Can we not see the ways that literacy arises out of local, particular, situated human interactions while also seeing how it also regularly arrives from other places – infiltrating, disjointing, and displacing local life?” (343)

Everything is local.

“With Latour’s insight we are no longer confined to thinking about “the local” as that which is present in a particular context and “global” as that which is somewhere else or as something that bears down on local contexts from the outside.” (347)

This divide between local and global is flattened into a more ontological rendering by the mattering of objects as mediators with (other) places and times.

“Bringing objects into play, according to Latour, allows us to understand that society exists nowhere else except in local situations but also to understand that, with the help of objects, lots of different kinds of activities can be going on in and across local situations – including aggregating, globalizing, objectifying, disrupting or dislocating.” (346)

“Objects are animated with human histories, vision, ingenuity, and will, yet they also have durable status and are resilient to our will. Our objects are us but more than us, bigger than we are; as they accumulate human investments in them over time, they can and do push back at us as “social facts” independent and to be reckoned with.” (345)

Brandt and Clinton replace the means of accounting for literacy, the literacy event, with a Latourian literacy in action.

from sponsors of literacy: We can think of sponsors as underwriters of acts of reading or writing – those agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable or induce literacy and gain advantage by it in some way

to agents of literacy: how things act as surrogates for the absence of others and in the multiple interest of agents; agency is multisourced

Brandt and Clinton describe how terms from Latour can bring new perspective to literacy as a social practice.

trancontextualizing moves of humans and nonhumans:

localizing moves: actions of humans and things in framing particular interactions

globalizing connects: the shifting out of individuals as well as the knitting together of interactions

folding in: expressing ontological relationships between people and things

“With these concepts, the literacy networks of individuals and social groups can be mapped. Maps of these networks (their density, reach, variety, stability, rates, and directions of change) can illuminate the processes by which diversity and inequity in literacy are actually sustained: the literal demarcations that separate the sponsoring or subsidizing networks of one locale from another.” (353)

I wonder how accounting for nonhumans informs the case study as textual model for literacy study—how tracing/mapping can become an ethnographic account(able) (and the literacy of reading/making Latourian diagrams – local/global joke).


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