Background of Metamodernism and Metaliteracy

Background of Metamodernism and Metaliteracy

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3534-9.ch001


This chapter introduces metamodernism and metaliteracy with a background in both philosophical and historical contexts. Setting the scene for understanding literacy in the early part of the 21st century may help educators and learners at any age balance communication in physical, virtual, and augmented spaces through an understanding of the constantly swinging pendulum of polar extremes in a rapidly changing cultural era. Metamodernism, as a philosophical movement, allows room to respect traditional knowledge and wisdom of the past alongside the excitement of innovation, creating optimism about learning in the future. Definitions of current nomenclature are introduced with the goal of examining literacy through an emerging cultural lens leading to a discussion of both theory and practice.
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“We are not going in circles, we are going upwards. The path is a spiral; we have already climbed many steps.” ---Hermann Hesse

Spiraling through the universe, life on earth is full of mysteries, contradictions, and oscillations. We meander through the seasons throughout our lives, repeating patterns again and again yet encountering ever-changing new experiences. We live and learn, expanding knowledge and ideas, only to acquire new information sometimes crushing our “truths” as prior concepts become clear or obsolete. The scientific world is built upon a plethora of spirals all around us, even inside our bodies and the record of this ‘mystery we call life’ is made available through literacy (See Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Logarithmic Spiral in Flower Growth (Popular Science Monthly, 1911, Used by permission)


The way we learn through reading, talking with others, and spiraling through concepts, circling back again and again, can be compared to the mystery of the Golden Number. An astrophysicist writes,

Nature just loves logarithmic spirals. You can find them in phenomena ranging from the shell of the chambered nautilus to hurricanes and spiral galaxies. Sometimes, as in the case of the nautilus, they are a natural outcome of a pattern of additive growth. And it is through that pattern that the golden ratio is intimately related to the Fibonacci sequence, a celebrated series of numbers discovered by the early thirteenth-century Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci. (Livio, 2003, p. 67).

Italian psychologist, Roberto Assagioli, wrote about polarity as an inescapable universal fact apparent in the cosmos, across our planet, in the biological, spiritual, and psychological nature of our individual bodies recognizing the most common examples being the positive and negative poles in electricity. Within the psychological realm, we swing between the “mind” and the “heart”, sympathy and antipathy, optimism and pessimism, rebellion and submission. In the mental realm, we oscillate between the analytical activity of concrete thought and the synthetic operation of abstract intelligence. The human body is made up of polarities in the different endocrine glands and, certainly, evidence of opposites is apparent in the male and female elements of organic life. “In the fields of drives, emotions and feelings, the balancing of opposite qualities requires the intervention of a higher regulating principle of a mental or transpersonal nature” (Assagioli, 1972, p. 3). Discussion on the oscillation of opposites as a foundation for understanding the term metamodernism will be forthcoming; and the concept of the spiral in nature, ever-moving, oscillating through opposites will be illuminated in relation to literacy.

This swinging pendulum which moves us through a universe of polarities is experienced by humans through all the moments, hours and years we call “time”. Eva Hoffman, novelist, cultural commentator, memoirist, and historian, writes about the biological clocks of living organisms, even the circadian rhythms found in living cells and bacteria. “The measurement of time through oscillation also echoes philosophical intuitions dating back to Aristotle, who thought that time is the measure of motion (“the numeration of continuous movement”)” (Hoffman, 2009, pp. 22-23). Time is experienced (according to Hoffman) in our bodies, our environment, our mind and in our culture, which suggests a relationship between culture and literacy. Reading and writing require fluency of expression. “And rhythmic forms of expression- in music and dance, as well as in poetry and gesture—are great carriers of temporality; it is within these that specific cultural valences of time are often most directly and intelligently articulated” (Hoffman, 2009, p. 128).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Portfolio: A digital collection of student work and projects created over time.

Simulacrum: A representation, image, or imitation of a person or thing.

Meme: A rapidly spread online message in the form of an image, video, or text, that is repurposed, usually with cultural reference and humor.

Recursive Writing: The composing process of pre-writing, drafting, revising and editing thoughts words and ideas for meaningful communication.

Metaliteracy: A literacy model, developed by Thomas Mackey and Trudi Jacobson, developed to support the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities, social media platforms and digital culture.

Metamodernism: A proposed name for the dominant cultural logic of our current philosophical moment in time.

Golden Number: A special number, often represented by the Greek letter Phi, which can be found by dividing a line into two parts in which the longer part divided by the smaller part equals the whole length divided by the longer part.

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