Vlieghe, J. (2013, July) Social Reading: How social media are changing literacies related to literature. Paper presented at ISATT 2013 (Ghent, 03/07/2013)
Social Reading: How social media are changing literacies related to literature.
Until the mid-20th century, literacy was defined in terms of reading and writing printed literary texts. As the multiplicity and diversity of media, culture and language grew, this notion of a single univocal literacy became increasingly problematic (New London Group). The concept of literacy had to be redefined as “multiliteracies”, a concept which refers to institutionally stabilized and multimodal uses of language. These conventionalized uses of language mark and prescribe a multitude of “distinctive ways of acting, interacting, valuing, feeling, dressing, thinking, believing, with other people and with various objects, tools, and technologies, so as to enact specific socially recognizable identities engaged in specific socially recognizable activities” (Gee, 155). Thus, the concept of multiliteracies refers to sets of instructions on how to act and talk within specific sociocultural institutions by using particular media. Stated differently, multiliteracies express through language a set of motives for acting which people can ascribe to. When new media emerge and converge with ”older” media, these instructions and motives change.
In this paper, we focus on literacies relating to literature and how they are being transformed by the social media system. We direct our attention exclusively towards the phenomenon of “social reading”and “social reading platforms”. We define social reading platforms as internet-based services that allow individuals (a) to construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (b) to articulate a list of preferences and experiences related to literature as well as a list of other users with whom they share these preferences and experiences, and finally (c) to viewthese lists and those made by others withinthe system (see also: boyd & Ellison’s, 211). We have identified 27 unique platforms that comply with this definition.
From a rhetorical perspective, language use is considered an indicator of people’s perception of a situation and the choices and actions they see available to them (Foss). Tools from rhetorical criticism enable research to focus on the situatedness and motive-generating functions of language use (Brummett). Kenneth Burke’s Dramatistic Pentad is an important tool for “analyzing discourse by focusing on how it attributes motivation to human action” (Blakesley, 32). Burke’s Dramatistic Pentad incorporates and divides this question into five distinct segments or elements: the act (what happens), agent (who does the act), scene (the setting in which an action takes place), agency (the means by which the act is carried out), and purpose (the goal or objective of the act) (Burke). The technique of pentadic cartography is an addition to this tool which was developed in order to “locate the featured term[s] that coordinate transformation of one vocabulary into the terms of another at pivotal sites of ambiguity” (Anderson and Prelli, 80). By applying the technique of pentadic cartography research can identify the strategic points of ambiguity and to trace transformations and shifts in the uses and meanings of concepts relating to media use and sociocultural participation.
While various perspectives can be analyzed successively when using the techniques of pentadic analysis and pentadic cartography, we only focus on the perspective of the developers of social reading platforms. Based on a study of social media participation, danah boyd points out that institutionalization of socio-cultural practices is influenced by ongoing debates and negotiations as well as developers’ efforts to monitor and regulated these practices (boyd, 95). By focusing on the discourse of developers we identify the attributed motives for innovating the literary system by constructing, design and hosting social reading platforms. Because this discourse functions as a monitoring and regulating mechanism, it also informs us about how participants of social reading platforms are instructed to act and talk.
Our research shows how concepts related to literary phenomena are changing within the “social media” system. In the traditional literary system, “the acting possibilities of actors are institutionally distributed onto four action dimensions: production, mediation, reception, and post-processing” (Schmidt, 124). In the “social media” system, however, literary phenomena are redefined in terms of continuous “post-processing” which transforms the relationships between “production”, “mediation” and “reception”. The changes indicate how developers actively seek to change the literary system by reducing the notions of hierarchy related to it. Social reading platforms are presented as democratic social spaces where people can easily switch position and are encouraged to try out multiple roles.
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Schmidt, Siegfried J. ”A Systems-Oriented Approach to Literary Studies.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de Littérature Comparée 24.1 (1997): 119-36.
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