Posthuman Literacies?: Technologies and Hybrid Identities in Higher Education

Posthuman Literacies?: Technologies and Hybrid Identities in Higher Education

Lesley Gourlay (Institute of Education, UK)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 8
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1915-9.ch003


Social media and mobile technologies have introduced new means of networking, particularly in affluent post-industrial societies. However, the centrality of communication to these technologies is not always acknowledged. Drawing on the perspective of New Literacy Studies (e.g. Barton 2001), this chapter examines digital media from the point of view of meaning making, discussing the complex ways in which multimodal semiotic resources are used in creating and maintaining digital identities. It argues that the use of these resources engages the subject in hybridity across digital, analogue, and embodied practice. The notion of “posthuman literacies” is proposed, drawing on Haraway’s notion of the cyborg (1991) and Hayles’ examinations of the posthuman (1999, 2006), examining meaning making in a context where the boundaries between analogue and digital, “human” and “machine” are disrupted, blurred, and ideologically freighted. It concludes with a discussion of how this analysis might apply to the context of higher education.
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Meaning-Making And Literacies In The Digital University

The field of literacy studies has responded to the shift towards digital practices, with a recognition and exploration of the increasingly multimodal and visual nature of meaning making practices in ‘the digital age’ (Kress 2003). A literacies perspective has also been brought to bear more specifically on ‘elearning’ in the university (Goodfellow & Lea 2007), in a much-needed analysis recognising the textual and socially-situated nature of engagement with digital technologies in higher education. Crucially, technologies are recognised in this conception not as ‘tools’, but as sites of social practice. Studies have also investigated the uses of Web 2.0 digital technologies in pedagogies focused on literacies in school classroom practice (e.g. Carrington & Robinson 2009). The notion of literacies has also been employed in the analysis of virtual worlds and gaming, requiring what Steinkueler has called a ‘constellation of literacy practices’ (2007: 297).

This has provided a long-overdue perspective on engagement with digital technologies as a set of socially-situated textual and cultural practices, moving us away from the rather sterile, technically-focused discourse which has tended to dominate ‘elearning’. In doing so, this work has also served to direct attention to student / staff identiies as those of embodied and situated social actors. The next section of this chapter will draw attention to the notion of hybridity and blurring between the digital and analogue, suggesting a ‘posthuman’ reading of particularly controversial educational phenomena may shed light on how this complex field of social practice constitutes identities within contemporary higher education.

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