Literature Summary – Chapter 3: Postcolonial Approaches to Literacy: Understanding the ‘Other’

Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies, 2015
Chapter 3: Postcolonial Approaches to Literacy: Understanding the ‘Other’

Dr. Rahat Naqvi is the author of Chapter 3: Postcolonial Approaches to Literacy: Understanding the ‘Other.’ She is an Associate Professor of Languages and Diversity Education at the University of Calgary, Canada. She was born and raised in Pakistan, where she received a “dual education” in English and Urdu, her native language, as well as in Christian and Muslim religious studies. She eventually moved to Paris to study and teach French. Her work centers on dual language pedagogies, and she lectures internationally on the subject.

I will begin by analyzing the title to this chapter’s essay. The first half of the title, “ Postcolonial Approaches to Literacy,” begins with the idea of post-colonialism, which is a sociological position that has been studied since the second half of the 20th century. Numerous scholars have shown how people who were colonized by European powers not only appropriated the manners and language of their colonizers, but they reworked the language and culture into a unique literacy, one that they could call their own. As Dr. Naqvi wrote, the colonized people were “speaking back” to the European colonialists that moved through Asia, Africa and other parts of the world in past centuries. They were “reframing the language, intellect and strategies” (p.50) of their colonizers. Dr. Naqvi states that the field of education needs to revisit and
re-examine this phenomenon, that “the focus of the teaching of critical literacy is to generate alternatives to dominant and taken-for-granted social imaginaries”(p.50).

The second half of the title, “ Understanding the ‘Other’,” refers to acknowledging this societal imbalance between people who have been colonized and the colonizers. She uses the terms “the oppressed” and “the oppressors” to highlight instances where power has forced a group of people into subservient social positions. She questions whether we can even see the distinctions between cultures anymore, since the impact of a distant colonization on our lives is not necessarily obvious. The term ‘the Other’ acknowledges people who have not had a voice, and her use of the word “Understanding” makes it clear that she hopes for deeper knowledge, and a more socially just environment for all.

Her choice of work to introduce under the heading, Historical Perspectives, is interesting, because the author she quoted was writing in the 1990’s, not usually considered a historical distance of time, but his perspective was brilliant. His name is Homi Bhabha and he is a scholar
from India who currently heads the Humanities Center at Harvard University. He coined the term, “third space” to define the area where two cultures collide. It is in this area where new cultural identities can be formed from the traditional ways of thinking of each culture. For true
success, this reformulation needs to occur with an integration of all aspects of a new, multicultural world; something that can be difficult when the colonized are migrant or nomadic people. Bhabha writes of “hybridity” and “mimicry” (p.53) to explain the blending between
these indigenous and colonial cultures. Dr. Naqvi deduces that, in this instance, the goal of critical literacy should include the development of an area, or boundary, where communication can occur, as opposed to defining the end result of integration as nothing less than the successful
blending between two cultures in order to form a new identity.

On the topic of current research, Dr. Naqvi begins with a very sensible appeal for the efforts of different cultures to appreciate each other. She writes of a civil society, where people can acknowledge their differences and learn from their unique experiences. She feels this is a much more realistic approach to the fact of a multicultural world than the efforts made historically to “eliminate the Other” (p.56). She also realizes how difficult a task this can be!

She suggests that children be educated from a young age with the skills for critical thinking and questioning. The power relationship between dominant and subordinate cultures can be examined with an unbiased understanding when the lessons of analysis are applied. She envisions classrooms that are open-minded and instructive when students are allowed to explore other cultures and form their own opinions. She also sees language instruction as an ideal method to introduce students to new cultural experiences.

In conclusion, Dr. Naqvi maintains that the goal of becoming aware of a post-colonial world includes an acknowledgment of multi-culturalism on every level of human interaction. She believes the process of personal cultural integration leads to integration on a much larger scale
within the world community. She also affirms that the duality of cultures is at the center of the immigrant experience and this duality can be seen as a bellwether for change with respect to the sharing of unique perspectives and experiences among the world’s cultures.

This is a very elegant and heart-felt study on the subject of multi-culturalism and the world’s response to co-habiting with people who may be seen as ‘the Other.’ At the beginning of the chapter, Dr. Naqvi quoted the African American writer, W.E.B. Du Bois, and she ends this chapter with the exact same quote, which is certainly worth repeating here:
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others. – Du Bois, 1903

Dr. Naqvi has lived the immigrant experience, first-hand. She grew up in an environment that was under British rule and she remembers well the efforts made during her schooling to expose her to both Western and Asian perspectives, as well as multiple languages and religions.

For myself, living in an urban area like Charlotte, NC, I have an opportunity to meet many different people from many cultures and to explore the various ways I can reach out and help create that bridge of understanding. The “third space” can be seen as an opportunity or a
threat depending on a person’s perspective, but as educators, it is imperative that we acknowledge our differences and embrace the sharing of cultures, in an effort to increase tolerance and educational enlightenment in our classroom environments.

Literature Summary – Chapter 13: Postmodernism and Literacy Studies

Routledge Handbook of Literacy Studies, 2015 – Chapter 13: Postmodernism and Literacy Studies

Four scholars from Columbia University, Lalitha Vasudevan, Kristine Rodriguez Kerr, Tara L. Conley, and Joseph Riina-Ferrie, have contributed to the chapter, Postmodernism and Literacy Studies. In their introduction, they are careful to define the title to this essay. Postmodernism is a large concept, and encompasses a socio-cultural philosophy that influences historical research, the arts, modern education, as well as the study of literacy. They quote Berger and Luckmann (1966) by stating that postmodernism is concerned with undoing the fixity of the perception of an objective reality and doing so by bringing forth multiple perspectives, orientations, and points of view. They state that our perception of life and the social order in which we live has been created by humans and, as a human construction, we are capable of deconstructing as well as re-constructing this social environment. They are quick to explain how the issue of power is intricately woven into the context of what we learn, how we perceive ourselves in the social order and what information is gathered to influence our opinions. Inequality and unjust social practices can be created, reinforced or disbanded, depending on the perception of this behavior, therefore, much is at stake with regard to who controls the “grand narrative” of a culture.

The gathering of literacy data and the consequences of that data shaping social understanding is central to the research in this chapter. Modern-day adolescents are the age group the writers study and they frame their research along four central themes:
1. They identify key elements to the postmodern study of literacy.
2. They review studies that have been influential in postmodern literacies.
3. They examine studies that have embraced new media and other new technology.
4. They recommend various new literacy research methods that take advantage of the changes in today’s social culture, with an emphasis on new media tools, as well as a deeper understanding of literacy learning in people’s lives.

The authors use a wonderful metaphor to describe a postmodern approach to the deconstruction of social literacies. They write, Postmodernism’s inherent skepticism seeks to look beneath and beyond what is presented, to peer not only under the surface or behind the curtain, but to take the curtain itself apart. (p. 208)

With regard to “taking the curtain itself apart” or, in other terms, taking a close examination of societal knowledge, postmodernism removes the assumption that literacy practices are neutral and universal. The realization that literacy pedagogy is context-dependent and that school curricula can include multiple literacies reflects a postmodernist perspective that is in line with current societal changes.

An examination of literacies from a recent historical perspective, starting from the 1980’s, is the next topic. Earlier views of literacy assumed a common skill-set that was linear and sequential. The social changes that occurred at the end of the 20th century, fueled by new technology, allowed multiple new paths of information to develop. These new avenues, in which literacy learning could occur, created even more opportunities to examine social culture. New media such as video games and tools such as blogs and podcasts, became more accessible and increased the global, digital worlds where literate engagement was shared. Recognizing that
multiple paths toward literacy were evolving brought forth a concern for “criticality” in relation to new literacy studies.

Criticality involves the intellectual discernment of materials and research for academic purposes. A postmodern view of the issue encourages educators to consider a multiplicative approach to new media integration in their classrooms. The authors cited numerous examples where instructors placed popular culture items in traditional assignments, with the hope of engaging adolescents in deeper learning. One example was to pair the Godfather movie with a reading of the Odyssey. Another example was to match hip-hop songs with canonical poets. An observation written by an instructor who had completed a video project with adolescents made a strong point regarding how youth are engaging literacy. He wrote:
The failure of programs to address the media as the predominant language of youth today, or to recognize the social and cultural contexts in which students live, has resulted in a profound disconnect. It’s a disconnect that occurs between the experiences that most students have during their time in school and those they have during their time outside of school. Until corrected, this disconnect will lead to the increased alienation of low-income urban youth from the dominant social, political and economic mainstream. (Goodman, 2003)

With regard to addressing this disconnect, the authors suggest that participation can be a successful resource, noting that a participatory approach is also considered a characteristic of postmodernism’s focus on literacy studies. One of the best examples of participation is the ability of youth to create cultural productions that reach across the digital world. They have access to online tools that allow them to create visual and audio content which can be shared. They can create websites and blogs as well as share music and videos they have created. This is participation on a scale that allows them to design their own environments and to gather information from a multitude of sources. Instead of passively receiving information, they are participants in the social structure of their own education.

The authors conclude with a section offering recommendations for practice. They reiterate the use of multiple literacies as technology expands and evolves. They list new tools that invite users to engage in literacy sharing, such as mobile devices and customizable media
platforms. They encourage the use of participation, with an emphasis on criticality, when selecting educational resources for learners. In an ever-shifting, evolving landscape of literacy study, they see a postmodern approach as the most adaptable choice for student engagement.