new literacies


Literacy as a metaphor has been applied to wide set of practices, however it works better in some instances than in others. Digital practices, such as making video, should they be seen as s form of literacy or not? Burn and Durran state here that: „there are times when the literacy metaphor seems less appropriate.“ Referring to the making of videos, creating animated voices for animated or computer games characters or role playing they state „These forms and representations resemble print literacy less than they resemble traditions of oral composition and performance.” pointing to the work on Walter Ong. “The scholar of language, literacy and literature, Walter Ong, laments the demise of oral tradition as print literacy comes to dominate the cultures of developed societies, but he also argues that residues of oral culture persist, and even transmute into new forms through new technologies of communication, a phenomenon he terms‚ second orality.“

An interesting account of this is given by visual anthropologist Marcus Banks. Anthropologist Lawrence Turner had been working with the „Kayapo, a Brazilian indigenous group since the 1960s, had on various occasions facilitated access for British television crews wishing to make ethnographic film on Kayapo life.”

As a result the Kayapo eventually acquired their own video cameras in the eighties and editing facilities a few years after that and started to produce their own videos. They used video for complex purposes as documented by Turner, partially summed up here:

1. for documenting rituals and ceremonies developing their own narrative and developing their own aesthetics

2. for documenting their own history for future times to come, constructing their own history as narrative for example through restaging important moments.

3. Moreover they knew how to use the power of the medium in negotiating their relationship with the Brazilian state, over a proposed dam project, where the Brazilian government eventually had to back down. “The Kazapo knew that national and international media would be present at the protests, they were also well aware that the sight of a ‘primitive’ Indian, bedecked in paint and feathers and wielding a highly sophisticated example of late twentieth century technology would make an arresting image. Such images duly appeared in the international media. …”

4. “For the Kazapo, the contact with outside society that becoming a camera operator or video editor entails, creates a form of cultural capital, enabling the individual to act as mediator and cultural broker between Kayapo society and the outside world.” (Banks)

I find this a fascinating tale. Through Banks does not state whether the Kazapo were literate in the traditional sense, their use of the video camera and editing facilities proved that they (or some of them anyway) were able to become literate in learn to use these technologies for their own uses.

It indicates that the use of digital media such a video making requires understanding, learning, and leads to literacy practices creating text for purposes in some ways are similar to print literacy,
for example:

1 by creating text to “write history”
2 understanding how to create and use text for ones own arguments, in sophisticated ways, even in playing the “media game”
3 furthermore, just as print literacy video literacy provides cultural capital.

I would argue that this new literacy or second orality as the ability to present a statement or argue a case though digital media will become more important in this century, will take on new shapes and will develop new aesthetic and rhetoric forms.

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