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Researching New Literacies: Design, Theory, and Data in Sociocultural Investigation

reviewed by Susan Cridland-Hughes - September 05, 2017

coverTitle: Researching New Literacies: Design, Theory, and Data in Sociocultural Investigation
Author(s): Michele Knobel & Colin Lankshear (Eds.)
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433131455, Pages: 254, Year: 2017
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Knoebel and Lankshear’s contribution to the theoretical and methodological analysis of new literacy studies, Researching New Literacies: Design, Theory, and Data in Sociocultural Investigation, holds as its central premise the notion that new literacies emerge with a new “ethos,” which offers the opportunity to “cooperate and participate and collaborate in forms of meaningful practices with a degree of interactivity and immediacy previously unthinkable” (p. 7). The idea of ethos is a central thread in Knoebel and Lankshear’s recent work, and they highlight how new literacies can be divided between those that primarily take up a new technology and those that reshape the ways participants engage with and manipulate acts of literacy-shaping and making (2007). Most important for this text, however, is the idea that these new literacies require new frameworks and methodologies to understand and investigate networked literacies occurring in digitally-linked communities.

This edited volume incorporates 10 individual examples of new literacies research across a continuum of theoretical frameworks, spaces, methodologies and data sources. It is structured to move from the design of a research study to data collection and to analysis, all within the framework of new literacies research. As a methodological text, this collection of studies offers the opportunity to explore new literacies studies from conception to analysis, and the included authors provide a wide range of ways to approach digital literacy research. The breadth of the methodologies and research spaces included is a significant strength of the text, in that each of the ten representative chapters includes a discussion of methodological decisions and the navigation of IRB specifically tied to the challenges of researching discrete technologies that generate a new ethos. These digital spaces range from online writing hangouts (Lammers, Magnificado) to gaming (Hung) to laptop-based videography that captures the online composition process within the classroom setting (Burn). The spaces are different from each other but also different from previous research sites, and the range of methodologies chosen reflects the hybridization of traditional ethnographic methods and those that Lammers refers to as affinity space ethnography.  

In one example, Aaron Hung uses conversational analysis to explore the difference between participating in an online game world entirely virtually and being physically present in a room with three adolescents as they engage in gaming. Although conversational analysis has been central to literacy research since the work of Sacks and Schegloff among others (Sacks, 1984; Schegloff, 1968), Hung highlights how the addition of gaming norms changes the focus from vocal pauses and drawn-out phrases to delays in typing and the experience of turn taking in a digital environment. In this shift from the interpersonal to the digital- interpersonal, the specifics of conversational analysis also shift. One of the benefits of this text is that the reader gets an in-depth exploration of how current researchers hybridize existing methodologies to account for technological changes in interaction and communication.

Additionally, the authors focus on research that emphasizes an ethos-driven analysis of an affinity space, defined by Gee as “a place or set of places where people affiliate with others based primarily on shared activities, interests, and goals, not shared race, class culture, ethnicity, or gender" (2004, p. 67). Although researchers have previously looked at technologies in sociocultural spaces, this work explores how participants push beyond one specific technological advance, such as a new social networking technology, into a manipulation and reimagination of a previously technologically-bounded space. Magnificado highlights this with her discussion of an online writer’s hangout, Figment, which emerges from corporate interests but subsequently becomes defined and shaped by the participants. Magnificado spends a substantial part of her chapter discussing access, and how to build relationships as both a participant in a community and as a researcher interested in the ways affinity spaces draw people together even when they are geographically separate. This idea of how people come together for shared interests and then create a home is a particularly compelling notion of ethos; a place where the shell of the new literacies community gives way to a complex ecosystem made up of individual users establishing community norms. In contrast, Bhatt offers an analysis of classroom digital literacies and how the formalized learning space of a classroom can affect students’ perceptions of their digital literacy competency. In Bhatt’s research, the physical colocation of students does not appear to contribute to connections or community, and technology serves to limit rather than expand engagement.

One of the themes that recurs in many of the submissions explores how general expectations of “humanizing research” (Paris and Winn, 2013) continue to inform research in new literacy spaces. Paris and Winn argue specifically for “care and dignity and dialogic consciousness-raising for both researchers and participants” (p. xvi). Although this text presents a range of spaces for research, a framework from which to build the analysis, and recommendations for how to gather, organize, and analyze data for new literacies, there are key places where the conversation resembles other conversations about qualitative research: how do we build knowledge with participants rather than simply theorize about them, how do we weave place and space into our research even when we think about technology as simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, and how do we ground our work in collaborative meaning making? These questions are at the heart of qualitative and sociocultural research, and it is important to see them showcased in a text that represents the cutting edge of sociocultural inquiry and in spaces where that shared relationship building and sense-making primarily occurs virtually.

Knobel and Lankshear have compiled an edited volume that offers specific examples of research that will help new researchers become familiar with the idea of affinity spaces and their connection to new literacies spaces. The authors of the individual sections introduce new complications and insights specifically tied to making sense of an increasingly digital and affinity-space driven world, as people search for and build communities that fill their needs for sociocultural literacy engagement. Even though the target audience for a book like this would be young scholars building their research skills tied to new literacies, (and it is probably most appropriate for doctoral programs training new researchers), it is worth noting that more and more of our writing, reading and communicating occur online. One of the most exciting aspects of the text focuses on the wide expanse of digital spaces of literacy engagement and the multiplying of literacies that occurs with the broadening of options. The blending of literacy spaces means that these questions of access, the collection of data, and the multiple spaces of literacy interaction will affect the decisions researchers make even if they do not identify their work as new literacies research.



Gee, J. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York, NY: Routledge.

Knoebel, M. & Lankshear, C. Eds. (2007). A new literacies Sampler. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Paris, D. and Winn, M. T. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sacks, H. (1984). Notes on methodology. In J.M. Atkinson & J. Heritage (Eds.), Structures of social action: Studies in conversation analysis (pp. 21-27). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Schegloff, E.A. (1968). Sequencing in conversational openings. American Anthropologist, 70, 1075–1095.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 05, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22158, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 5:40:09 PM

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About the Author
  • Susan Cridland-Hughes
    Clemson University
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN CRIDLAND-HUGHES is Assistant Professor of English Education at Clemson University. Her research focuses include critical literacy, ethnohistory, English education, discussion, and orality.
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