Barton – Vernacular Writing on the Web

Barton, David. “Vernacular Writing on the Web.” The Anthropology of Writing :Understanding Textually Mediated Worlds. Eds. David Barton and Uta Papen. London; New York: Continuum, 2010. 109-125. Print.

This chapter, “Vernacular Writing on the Web,” from Anthropology of Writing: Understanding Textually Mediated Worlds examines characteristics of vernacular writing in online spaces, specifically the photo sharing site, Flickr. Vernacular writing, such as graffiti, has typically been identified and analyzed in face-to-face environments; however, due to increased technological development and globalization vernacular writing is also taking place in the form of computer-mediated-communication online.

David Barton provides the following definitions/descriptions for his reader:

Vernacular literacy practices: local, every day literacies, often “voluntary, self-generated and learned informally;” not under the governance of the formal rules and procedures of dominant social institutions and associated literacies. These practices can also overlap and be intertwined with dominant literacies. These practices draw upon and contribute to “local funds of knowledge” and are linked to self-education and local expertise.

Vernacular Writing: “that ‘which is closely associated with culture that is neither elite nor institutional, which is traditional and indigenous to the diverse cultural processes of communities as distinguished from the uniform, inflexible standards of institutions’ ([Camitta,] 1993:228-229)”. Not tied to a particular language.

Vernacular Language: local languages associated with traditional and indigenous cultures and can be seen in contrast to dominant, colonial languages, such as English and French.

Because of the ways in which technologies have changed the ways that people “can be” in the world, including writing, Barton is interested in examining the impact of the social media site Flickr on vernacular writing. In this care, the function of Flickr, primarily visual, is similar to that of graffiti, which allows for a focus on how the writing takes place instead of a sole focus on  the meaning of the text.

Barton had to adapt, or as Spinuzzi might say translate existing methodologies and develop new approaches to analyzing vernacular writing for the internet study. Barton describes the study as multi-method consisting of five “interlinked” sources of data: 1)the initial study of 100 Flickr members’ sites, 2-3) tw0-stage online interviews with 30 Flickr users (starting out general and leading to specific questions re: at least 100 of their photos), 4) sites of Flickr users of other languages, including French Norwegian and Greek, as well as, 5) autoethnographies from Barton and Lee  based on their own Flickr activities. Here we can see Barton’s desire to capture data related to global communication resulted in his focus on multilingual activity on Flickr.

The various sources of data in addition to the abundance of data within the Flickr sites themselves, such as: tags, titles, and photo descriptions provided a great deal of data for analysis. The examination of the specific features of Flickr also contributed to an understanding of how the medium also shapes the writing activity. Users:

  • developed new practices and carrying out older practices in new ways (in part due to the new medium of Flickr)
  • contributed to broader social practices; people relate to the world in new ways, i.e. seeking more”views” of photos

Barton found that vernacular writing on the web also contributes to  new understandings of vernacular writing:

  • Vernacular writing is not always self-sponsored, but can be sponsored by private companies like Yahoo, the owner of Flickr.
  • Vernacular practices online exhibit different values than dominant literacies do
  • Vernacular literacy practices on the web still learned informally and is integrated into everyday activities
  • Vernacular practices are typically valued less by society, but now they are valued more particularly by media professionals.
  • Vernacular practices have typically been seen as limited to the personal sphere, but are now public

These findings led Barton to conclude that not only is writing still central to daily life, but it is growing in importance due to the increase of multimodal activity on the internet.

In this chapter, we are only given the methodological approach, findings, and implications; Peter Smagorinsky might call this methods section superficial in some areas, i.e. data collection and reduction. However, I am not particularly distrustful of this study. Based on the best practices recommended by the authors we’ve read so far, I’m curious to know what you think Barton does well here? In other words, do you think this chapter “works” in explaining how vernacular writing on the web works? Why or why not?


Power Carter – “She Would’ve Still Made That Face Expression”: The Use of Multiple Literacies by Two African American Young Women

Power Carter, Stephanie. “”She Would’ve Still made that Face Expression”: The use of Multiple Literacies by Two African American Women.” Theory into Practice 45.4 (2006): 352-8. Print.

In this article Stephanie Power Carter advocates for a multiple literacies approach in education. She argues that teachers who use a more traditional (autonomous) literacy approach are more likely to view underrepresented students as “powerless, failing, struggling, and/ or having low literacy abilities,” whereas teachers using multiple literacy approach were more likely to interrogate power relations, understand students of color’s use of multiple socio-cultural frame and create spaces of agency within the classroom. While Carter Power does not present any evidence to prove that the use of a multiple literacies approach could achieve these outcomes, she does present enough evidence to show the detrimental outcomes for Black girls in her study when an autonomous literacy approach was used.

Power Carter uses two examples of classroom interactions between two African American students in a High School British literature class. Through Power Carter’s examples we can see that Pam and Natonya use nonverbal communication such as “eye squinting” and eye contact in their British literature classroom to combat its hostile and oppressive environment, and to support one another. Power Carter argues that because the teacher is focused on autonomous literacy, reading and writing in particular ways that typically favor Eurocentric, male, upper-class ways of knowing, she is unaware of the multiple literacies that the girls use, misunderstands them as “passive”, uninterested in learning and succeeding, and at times disruptive. These Black girls are stripped of their power inthis scenario:

“A traditional view of literacy also fails to take into consideration that Pam and Natonya are not powerless, sitting and waiting passively. They are acting, interacting, and reacting to their environment in ways that protect them and affirm their cultural ways of knowing and meaning making.” (356)

Power Carter points out that these epistemological differences have serious consequences for underrepresented students, such as Pam and Natonya. The negative perceptions of Black girls’ literacies, such as speaking with increased volume and passion, results in othering and can foster inequitable treatment and low expectations for Black girls (353). These nondemocratic and colonial pedagogical practices leave students like Pam and Natonya more vulnerable than other students and more susceptible to failure:

“When educators do not take into consideration the multiple literacies that ultimately influence how students make meaning of the world around them and are part of their everyday lives and experiences, we run the risk of dismissing their academic potential and relegating them to a dismal future that labels them as struglling, low performing, and unmotivated… it is important that educators value alternative interpretations within the classroom context and include multiple perspectives and multiple voices in curriculum planning.” (357)

Power Carter’s study elucidates the ways in which the use of multiple literacies of students and a multiple literacies approach on the part of teachers is rhetorical.