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Literacy at the Crossroads?

  • When? 06 May 2020 , 13:30-15:30
  • Where? Wolverhampton University Walsall Campus, WN002, Samuel Johnson (WN) Building, Walsall, UK

Literacy is complex and problematic. The literacy ‘campaigns’ of the 1970s highlighted conflicting perspectives, from the functional - focussed on employability, training and conformity - to the openly critical and radically creative, exemplified by worker-writers and community publishing.


This century had seen the emergence of ‘new’, ‘multi-modal’ and ‘digital’ literacies, as new digital technologies have changed what it means to make and share meanings, and to participate in meaning-making cultures. Researchers, practitioners and policy makers have found new ways to define the capabilities required. Some, from a critical tradition, have looked beyond individual capability to ask what new forms of participation and emancipation, exploitation and inequality are emerging as different cultures take on digitally-mediated forms.

Digital media and networks have been promoted as great levellers of educational and cultural opportunity. More and more people, with less and less financial outlay, can publish, promote and participate online. But within and between cultures, there is less evidence that these opportunities are producing more equal outcomes.

Forms and modes of literacy are expressed differently in the developing regions of the global South, characterised sometimes by colonial legacy education systems, fragile indigenous languages, poor infrastructure and conflicts over access. These inequalities are not overwritten by the new digital forms: in some cases, they can be deepened.

This event, structured as an open conversation, explores three perspectives on literacy, drawn from the textual world, the digital world and the developing world. Three provocative thinkers, Sir Alan Tuckett, Helen Beetham and Professor John Traxler, discuss how their perspectives intersect and enrich each other. Participants are invited to help develop a layered and nuanced account of literacy at the crossroads of the 21st century.