Digital Literacies, Critical Pedagogy and the Challenge of Community Media

I’ve recently been introduced to the ideas of Critical Pedagogy and how the concepts of progressive and radical social change as an objective of education and learning practice that goes beyond the role that individuals can play and, instead, offers a much more radical idea about social change. It seems to me that as media and social practice have changed, and as expectations of technological capabilities and their affordances have become more dispersed, we have witnessed a shift in thinking about the role that literacies play in a range of social process.

Academic debates and studies of the role and function of media literacy are widespread and challenging, and are well documented. But with the shift towards information and communication technology as an integrated part of our individual experience, there has been a surge in the discussion and the documentation of this new vista of human interaction. The lived experience of users and producers of media content is moving centre stage and is increasingly recognised for its capacity to inculcate a vibrant sense of participation in dispersed and decentred media cultures (McCarthy & Wright, 2004).

At the same time, expectations about the capabilities and skills that are thought to be needed by agents acting in this emerging economy of media practice are being revised and opened-up. Indeed, the simple fact that we can talk about an emerging form of agency at all in this way is significant. The role that digital literacies play, moreover, are clearly important, particularly as they are recognised as an essential, and therefore primary function and characteristic of this emerging world. This is a function that is shaping the economic and the social nature of the Twenty First Century, and as such is no insignificant issue to explain.

The introduction, then, of new media and communication technologies, has prompted a thorough re-evaluation of the nature of civic interaction, professional interaction, politics, economics and social and community experience, and many more forms of human collaboration and communication. Socially networked individuals and communities are therefore forcing the established and dominant interest groups to face-up to new patterns of mass media consumption that are different from the way that they where laid-down in the Twentieth Century. This wholesale revision, it could be argued, is being enacted on the basis that the formerly passive subjects of consumption-based mass media practices, are becoming intrinsically active as social agents, and are reflexive, participative and engaged in a widespread array of socially mediated communities of intertextual representation, self-identification and ironic role management. For example, when the Pope is taking and sending selfies, it is clear that something significant is going on.

It would be useful to remember, perhaps, that during a time when social change is recognised as so widespread, and potentially more far reaching, that we should not make the mistake of assuming that the experiences we are sharing are in any way unique. Yes, they have many novel traits, and they allow us to do many novel things, but overall the legacy of past historical changes will remain with us as an inscribed memory in the practice of the present. As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us, the danger is that “in a world such as ours, one is therefore compelled to take life bit by bit, as it comes, expecting each bit to be different from the proceeding one and to call for different knowledge and skills” (Bauman in Bauman & Donskis, 2013, p. 145).

In actual fact, many of the changes that we experience now, and respond to as if they are entirely new, have echo’s in the past from different times. For Bauman now “It’s all about convenience, stupid – about an effortless comfort and comfortable effortlessness; about making the world obedient and pliable; about exercising from the world all that might stand, obstinately and pugnaciously, between will and reality. Correction: as reality is what resists the will, it is all about getting rid of reality. Living in a world made of one’s wishes alone; of mine and your wishes, of our – purchases, consumers, users and beneficiaries of technology – wishes” (Bauman in Bauman & Donskis, 2013, p. 151).

It would be a mistake, therefore, to eulogise the role of culture in this process, but as Richard Hoggart argues

“Culture is a sign of disinterested goodness, of brains and imagination used to give liberty and poise. Behind the often strange form of striving is a wish for the assumed freedom, for the power and command over himself, of the ‘really cultured’ man. This may be a delusion, since it expects more from culture than culture can give; but it is a worthy delusion” (Hoggart, 1957, p. 257).

Bauman, Z., & Donskis, L. (2013). Moral Blindness – The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity. London: Polity Press.
Hoggart, R. (1957). The Uses of Literacy. London: Chatto & Windus.

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