New Literacies, New Agencies?: A Brazilian Perspective on Mindsets, Digital Practices and Tools for Social Action In and Out of School
reviewed by Heather Casey - April 18, 2014
Title: New Literacies, New Agencies?: A Brazilian Perspective on Mindsets, Digital Practices and Tools for Social Action In and Out of School
Author(s): Eduardo S. Junqueira & Marcelo E. K. Buzato
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433121115, Pages: 185, Year: 2013
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New Literacies, New Agencies? raises the question of what agency means in relation to rapidly emerging and shifting technologies in the participatory culture that defines the 21st century. The editors and authors of this text take a focused look at what this means in Brazil, raising this challenge on the first page: In spite of recent improvements, insufficient access to health services, quality education, and cultural goods is a recurrent challenge for the majority of the population in the new Global Brazil, as we are now called. In short, inequalitybe it social, economic, or culturalhas been, and continues to be, a key element of Brazilian society (pp. 1-2). The editors, who are also the authors of Chapter One, paint a troubling portrait of the inequity of access to effective education in Brazil, and while they acknowledge that 91% of the population is considered literate, 75% are described as being functionally illiterate.
The new literacies movement, despite the logistical challenges of providing universal access to computers and other technological resources in Brazil, is described as offering a pathway of hope for many Brazilian communities. Junqueira and Buzato describe that new literacies based on networked digital technologies became the new mantra associated with the dream of the countrys modernization and development to eradicate the shaming shadow of illiteracy and poverty (p. 3). What the editors note, however, and the accompanying chapters describe in focused contexts, is that merging new literacies in a challenging socioeconomic and sociopolitical climate underscores the complexity of what it means to be literate when working across the multiple modalities that new literacies offer in situated contexts. As the editors describe early in the text, this volume aims to investigate the ways in which people are acting and being acted upon through (new, digital) literacies (p. 15). What emerges is an exploration of how these digital tools are offering the actorswhich include, in the accompanying chapters children, pre-service teachers, and practicing educatorslevels of agency that influence their developing literacy and subsequently the control they have over the contexts in which they are situated.
In Chapter Two, Buzato describes this dynamic in a rhetorical framework that is explored throughout Chapter Two and many of the chapters that follow. Buzato notes:
I was drawn into the extensive literature on agency because of two disturbing questions often addressed to new literacies scholars worldwide. What are we doing with technologies such as the Internet? and What are the technologies such as the Internet doing to us? It occurred to me that the best way to answer both questions was through a rhetorical tautology: what are we doing to them is what they are doing to us. (p. 22)
Buzato synthesizes multiple definitions of agency and offers this: the capacity to make a difference (p. 24) which refers both to the human actors and the non-human (technological) actors. Buzato explores this through the lens of ANT (Actor-Network-Theory) as way of understanding human and non-human interaction (in this case technology) having a Bahktinian dialogic influence on one another (Bahktin, 1981). Like gunman and gun, or manager and note, teenagers and smartphones, or consumers and the Web 2.0 redefine each other when they are together, just as they redefine the literacies in which they are engaged, and that is a feature of (new) literacies that we cant neglect anymore (p. 26).
The accompanying chapters in the text explore this paradigm of agency in specific Brazilian contexts. These include looking inside a computer lab in an inner-city school where the technology mediated collaboration among the students affords a sense of agency that offers new pathways for accomplishing goals with limited resources. This sociocultural perspective on the influence of collaboration on learning is looked at in relation to shared writing experience via Google docs where the tool offers a transformative learning experience for the students involved. Specific authors in the text also consider how particular types of technologies such as the use of avatars and working with multimodal text impact student learning in ways traditional literacy experiences cannot. Working with avatars and multiple media when reading and writing text offer an integrated and comprehensive learning experience that expands both traditional and non-traditional conceptions of what it means to develop as a reader and writer in the specific contexts in which these actions are situated. Authors in the text also examine how digital tools used in teacher education offer frameworks for developing professional identity such as the use of three dimensional environments.
In this text, the editors and authors of New Agencies New Literacies? bring together a range of scholars that offer anchored examples of the challenges of understanding agency in relation to new literacies through the lens of the disruptive educational and economic inequities that the editors describe many Brazilians facing. The editors are, in the end, hopeful. No matter what definition of agency they start from, all the contributors in this volume reaffirmed, in one way or another, their belief in peoples ability to make a difference in the (social) world, not only, but especially, through language and literacies mediated by specific technologies (p. 171). From this perspective, it is through these recursive relationships that new ideas and new possibilities emerge as actors and agents navigate the new literacies.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). From the prehistory of novelistic discourse (C. Emerson & M.
Holquist, Trans.). In M. Holquist (Ed.), The dialogic imagination (pp. 4183). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.