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To Seem and To Feel: Situated Identities and Literacy Practices

by Lesley Bartlett - 2007


This study draws upon and contributes to sociocultural studies of literacy (a.k.a. New Literacy Studies), sociohistorical theories of identity formation, and practice theories of language interaction to argue that “becoming literate” requires critical inter- and intra-personal identity work accomplished through engagement with cultural artifacts.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study:

This research project asked: How do social and cultural factors affect the acquisition and use of literacy among youth and adult students in basic literacy programs in Brazil?


The research took place in literacy programs for youth and adults in Rio de Janeiro and João Pessoa, Brazil.


41 youth and adult literacy students were interviewed for this article.

Research Design:

Ethnographic research was conducted over a period of twenty-four months. The data used for this particular article includes interviews with literacy students as well as observations in three public schools and two NGO classrooms.


The study found that informants relied on cultural resources or artifacts as they engaged in the social process of “performing literacy” or “becoming more literate.” The study concludes that intra- and inter-personal identity work, conducted in part through the use of cultural artifacts, is central to the process of adopting new literacy practices.


The study illuminates the centrality of situated identities to the inherently social and continuous process of becoming more literate. The author suggests that the concept of cultural artifacts should be applied to the examination of several other current topics in the field of literacy studies, including students’ use of popular culture in their literacy practices and the development of multilingual literacies.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 1, 2007, p. 51-69
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12736, Date Accessed: 4/16/2021 6:42:51 AM

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About the Author
  • Lesley Bartlett
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    LESLEY BARTLETT is assistant professor at the Department of International and Transcultural Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include sociocultural studies of literacy, comparative and international education, Freirean or “popular” education, and transnational education. Her recent articles include “Dialogue, Knowledge, and Teacher-Student Relations: Freirean Pedagogy in Theory and Practice,” (Comparative Education Review, 2005) and “Identity Work and Cultural Artifacts in Literacy Learning and Use: A Sociocultural Analysis,” (Language and Education, 2005).
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