Blog #2 – Literacy As A Social Practice

1) “Much of what we come by in life, after our initial enculturation, involves a mixture of acquisition and learning. However, the  balance between the two can be quite different in different cases and at different stages in the process…I learned to drive a car by instruction, but thereafter acquired, rather than learned, most of what I know.”

In his article, What Is Literacy? communications writer James Paul Gee explains the inherent difference between two styles of literacy – acquisition (hands on, trial and error experiences) and learning (facts from a commonly respected source taught directly as information as opposed to experience). In his anecdote on learning to drive, Gee illustrates just exactly how both of these styles are used in the real world. Before he can safely start up his car, Gee had to learn the rules of the road. After learning the basics, Gee, like most, probably drove short distances in familiar surroundings until he got more comfortable interacting with other drivers. If he had just gotten behind the wheel instead, things may have gone horribly awry.

compliments of Google Image Search

2) “While social interaction can and does take place in private environments, the challenges of doing so in public life are part of what help youth grow. Making mistakes and testing limits are fundamental parts of this. Yet…teens must be protected form their mistakes.”

On the same wavelength as James Paul Gee, the author of Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life, expresses the need for the acquisition in the development of our socially aware selves. Danah Boyd, who wrote the article on social networks and their role in teen social development explains that websites like and offer teens a sandbox to define themselves and the social groups the participate in.

compliments of Google Image Search

3) “People seek to define social situations by using contextual cues from the environment around them. Social norms develop out of social definitions, as people learn to read cues from the environment and the people present to understand what is appropriate behavior.”

In this section, Boyd touches on the world of Erving Goffman’s impression management. Boyd asserts that in choosing which information they want to display, who they list as their top friends,  what they choose as their favorite bands, teams, movies and so on – they are learning the ins-and-outs of social interaction. Based on the reactions of their peers, their attempts at identity performance are either verified or contested. The teens readjust their behavior, or moreover their projected behavior, and try again striving to be considered “cool on myspace” or in whichever of Gee’s discourse communities they are trying to belong to.

4) “Discourses are resistant to internal criticism and self-scrutiny since uttering viewpoints that seriously undermine them defines one as being outside them. The discourse itself defines what counts as acceptable criticism. Of course one can criticize a particular discourse from the viewpoint of another one.”

In Gee’s article, What Is Literacy?, he discusses the role of self criticism in discourse communities. Essentially, Gee is saying that in order to belong to a group – that is to be recognized by the others in that group – one must agree with their views to such a degree that is internally understood. For example, a religious community may tollerate certain opposing views so long as there is agreement on what are considered to be major issues.

compliments of Google Image Search

5) “The desire tobe cool on [social networks like] MySpace is part of the more general desire to be validated by one’s peers…Social hierarchies that regulate “coolness” offline are also present online. For example, it’s cool to have Friends on MySpace but if you have too many Friends, you are seen as a MySpace Whore

Boyd taps into the utter essence of “fitting in” in a high school setting in this section of her article on social networks. Try too little and the pack will scoff, try too hard and they’ll scoff twice as much. This balancing act takes place in the hallways at school but also in the digital domain – in real time, simultaneously and as fast as Facebook mobile can keep up. Brilliant observation on Boyd’s part.

In Alex Koppelman’s piece MySpace or OurSpace?, he examines the privacy and freedom of speech implications of social networking sites and their high school users. I found this article by thumbing through Danah Boyd’s citations – her views most closely represent my own and I figured that her referenced work would be of interest to me.

In response to sharing a “photoshopped” image of a high school official, 17-year-old Dimitri Arethas was suspended from school. Arethas, who claims to have only passed along the image, stood up for his freedom of expression and repealed the suspension. “Maybe what I did was wrong, morally,” Arethas said in a recent e-mail, “but I had every right to express myself. I just chose to do it as a picture, instead of rambling down the hallways yelling, ‘Man! This school sucks.'” The implications of such a situation strike me as particularly interesting – it brings up a double standard.

“The question of what public school students have the right to say, and where they have the right to say it, remains murky, with little in the way of definitive jurisprudence to guide schools and courts. Indeed, just about the only thing experts on the topic seem to agree on is that no one really knows what the law is.”

Students utilize social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace as outlets for expression, as an extension of their hallway social lives, and as a socializing tool (as in one that socializes, or forms social norms) that continues to redefine the infrastructure of teenage life. They turn to websites like these to define themselves as members of their communities and sub-communities. Yet at the same time, wish to have the content they post remain relatively private – that is to stay among themselves and their friends. Should they / could they be held responsible for the content they post?


Koppelman, A . (2006). MySpace Or OurSpace?. Salon Media Group.


One response to this post.

  1. Corey: You have summarized the key idea of the quote coherently. The intriguing choice of “Karate kid” frames made me wonder about the connection between the three articles the reference and the movie. I wish you had told us more deeply.
    The choice of Koppelman’s article is not clear enough. Though the summary is interesting and relevant as well as the story of Dimitri.
    Notice that the quote reference does not have a quotation mark with the name of the author the published year and the page. Furthermore, the three articles are not written as a reference at the end of the blog as they should in an academic paper.
    You did good work.
    Make sure next time you’re meeting the expectations of an academic paper.
    Yonty 🙂


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