Notes on Scribner, Clifford, Said, and Mignolo

“Literacy in Three Metaphors” –Slyvia Scribner

Scribner begins by stating that definitions of literacy shape the way we perceive and label individuals and the substance and style of our educational institutions (6). She reiterates the need to think of literacy as social achievement rather than individual attribute. Since literacy is socially constructed and transmitted culturally, defining literacy is very difficult; “we all have differing views about literacy’s purposes and values” (8). Nonetheless, Scribner claims these differing views warrant deeper examination. She centers her discussion around three metaphors—all of which are “rooted in certain assumptions about the social motivations for literacy in this country, the nature of existing literacy practices, and judgments about which practices are critical for individual and social enhancement” (8). Scribner argues none of three metaphors are insufficient in grasping multiplicity of literacy uses and complexity of social and psychological factors which influenced literary acquisition and achievement.

Literacy as Adaptation: pragmatic value, functional literacy needed to survive and perform well in everyday life, which includes multiple settings and activities and is specific to particular communities

“Today’s standards for functional competency need to be considered in the light of tomorrow’s requirements” (10).

Literacy as Power: emphasizes relationship between literacy and group or community development

Literacy fosters “critical consciousness through which community can analyze its conditions of social existence and engage in effective action for a just society” (12).

However, the notion that literacy mobilizes people to take action to change their social conditions has yet to be proved (12).

Literacy as State of Grace: emphasizes special virtues that come with literacy. Literacy enlarges one’s essential self

“In the literacy-as-a-state of grace concept, the power and functionality of literacy is not bounded by political or economic parameters but in a sense transcends them; literate individual’s life derives it meaning and significance from intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual participation I the accumulated creations and knowledge of humankind, made available through the written word” (13-14). This notion is deeply entrenched in educational circles of developed countries.

Ideal literacy according to Scribner is “simultaneously adaptive, socially empowering, and self-enhancing” (18).

My question: How has the deeply embedded notion of literacy as state of grace, as well as others I suppose, contributed to colonization and imperialism? We saw this in Wysocki’s piece.

“Incidents of Tourism in Chiapas and Yucatan” James Clifford

In this article, Clifford turns the ethnographic gaze on himself as tourist. Weaving together incidents, voices of various writers, personal travel narratives, and his own insights, Clifford demonstrates how tourism is a contemporary imperial endeavor. Clifford illustrates how anthropologists and tourists always have direct political effect upon reality. Clifford is aware of his own complicity in this imperial endeavor and through his ambivalence, illustrates how scholars cannot detach themselves from their involvment with cultural hegemony. At the same time, this ambivalence and self awareness interrogates the very configurations of power that he cannot escape from.

My thought: Scholars need to always be aware of how their scholarship is complicit in the imperial endeavors of our discipline/institutions/nations’ self interests.

Orientalism Edward Said

Orientalism—“manner of regularized writing, vision, and study, dominated by imperatives, perspectives, and ideological biases ostensibly suited toward the Orient” (202). –system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and Western empire (203).

Orientalism as cultural apparatus is all aggression, activity, judgment, will-to-truth, knowledge (204).

Essential ideas about Orient—its sensuality, its tendancy to despotism, its aberrant mentality, its habits of inaccuracy, its backwardness—which seemed coherent, objective, and morally neutral (205).

Knowledge is always political and productive (10).

Orientalism is “distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic, scholarly, economic, sociological, historical, and philological texts; elaboration on basic geographical distinction and a whole series of interests” (12).

Political imperialism governs whole fields of study, imagination, and scholarly institutions (14).

Orientalism is “formed, irradiated, disseminated; it is instrumental, it is persuasive; it has status, it establishes canons of taste and value; it is virtually indistinguishable from certain ideas it dignifies as true, and from traditions, perceptions, and judgments if forms, transmits, and reproduces” (19-20).

Said’s methodological devices for studying authority: strategic location—way of describing the author’s position in a text with regard to the Oriental material being written about; strategic formation—way of analyzing relationship between texts and the way in which groups of texts, types of texts, even textual genres, acquire mass desensity and referential power among themselves and thereafter in the culture at large” (20).

My Questions—how are literacy ethnographies, such as Scribner and Cole’s, imperial endeavors? how has literacy itself been used as tool of colonization and imperialism? How is our own scholarship and discipline complicit in imperial endeavors historically and today? How do notions such as Literacy as state of grace contribute to unequal cultural dynamics both historically and today?

Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization—“Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy” –Arjun Appadurai

Key quotes:

“The past is now not a land to return to in simple politics of memory. It has become a synchronic warehouse of cultural scenarios, a kind of temporal central casting, to which recourse can be taken as appropriate, depending on the movie to be made, the scene to be enacted, the hostages to be rescued” (30).

“The apparent increasing insubstitutability of whole periods and postures for one another, in the cultural styles of advanced capitalism, is teid to larger global forces, which have done much to show Americans that the past is usually another country. If your present is their future, and their future is your past, then your own past can be made to appear as simply a normalized modality of your present” (31).

“The image, the imagined, the imaginary—these are all terms that direct us to something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice” ….The imagination has become an organized field of social practices, a form of work, and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility”

“The central problem of today’s global interactions is the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization.” “The simplification of these many forces (and fears) of homogenization can also be exploited by nation-states in relation to their own minorities, by posing global commodization (or capitalism, some other external enemy) as more real than the threat of its own hegemonic strategies” (32).

“The complexity of the current global economy has to do with certain fundamental disjunctures between economy, culture, and politics that we have only begun to theorize” (33).

“Elementary framework for exploring such disjunctures is to look at the relationship among five dimensions of global cultural flows…, which are the building blocks of imagine worlds, the multiple worlds that are constituted by the historically situated imaginations of persons and groups spread around the globe:

Ethnoscape: landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guest workers, and other moving groups and individuals (33). –“as international capital shifts its needs, as production and technology generate different needs, as nation-states shift their policies on refugee populations, these moving groups can never afford to let their imaginations rest too long” (34)

Technoscape: “the global configuration, also ever fluid, of technology and the fact that technology, both high and low, both mechanical and informational, now moves at high speeds across various kinds of previously imperivious boundaries” (34).

Financescapes: the disposition of global capital, which is now more mysterious, rapid, and difficult to follow

“The global relationship among ethnoscapes, technoscapes, and financescapes is deeply disjunctive and profoundly unpredictable because each is subject to its own constraints and incentives a the same time as each acts as a constraint and a parameter for movements in the others” (35).

Mediascapes: the distribution of electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information and the images of world created by these media (35). Mediscapes provide large and complex repertoires of images, narratives, and ethnoscapes to viewers all over world. Imagine worlds are created through mediascapes (35).

The scripts developed through mediascapes “can and do get disaggregated into complex lists of metaphors by which people live as they help to constitute narratives of the Other and protonarratives of possible lives, fantasies that could become prolegomena t the desire for acquisition and movement” (36).

Ideoscapes: concatenations of images, which are often directly political and f
frequently have to do with ideologies of states and the counterideologies of movements explicitly oriented to capturing state power or a piece of it.

Because of these disjunctures, nation and state are often battleing each other. “These disjunctive relationship between nation and state has two levels: at the level of any given nation-state, it means that there is a battle of the imagination, with state and nation seeking to cannibalize one another (39).

Production fetishism: an illustion created by contemporary transnational production loci that masks translocal capital, transnational earning flows, global management, and often faraway workders in the idiom and spectacle of local control, national productivity, and terretorical sovereignty….The locality becomes a fetish that disguises the globally dispersed forces that actually drive the production process (42).

Fetishism of consumer: transformation of consumer into a sign/mask rather than real social agent

“both sides of the coin of global cultural process today are products of the infinitely varied mutual contest of sameness and difference on a stage characterized by radical disjunctures between different sorts of global flows and the uncertain landscapes created in and through these disjunctures” (43).

We must begin to think of the configuration of cultural forms in today’s world as fundamentally fractal, that is, as possessing no Eurclidean boundaries, structures, or regularities. These cultural forms are also overlapping (46). We must begin to investigate disjunctive global flows in terms of images of flow, uncertainty, chaos rather than older images of order, stability, and systemacticness.

My questions: How does literacy travel across borders? How does various –scapes affect literacy? How might chaos theory contribute to literacy studies? Can chaos approach help dismantle grand linear narrative that is embedded in notions of literacy?

Class Notes:

Imagined: we have to imagine our community because we can’t possibly know everyone; this happens in regressive and progressive ways. Can lead to exclusion and discrimination or collective action
Imaginary: constructed landscape of collective imaginations frought with culture, history, identity, self and Other

In postmodern world, they all come together. Tied to literacy because discursive practices we engage in limit our imaginaries; own literacy and literacy practices our understanding of Self and Other.

Talking from cultural location in which we inhabit makes it difficult to understand literacy practices and Other identities in other cultures and especially in historical time periods.

The Darker side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization—Walter D. Mignolo

“Record Keeping without Letters and Writing Histories of People without History”

In this chapter, Mignolo demonstrates how “record keeping maintains a complicity with empire and imperial expansion gave it is universal value and allowed imperial agencies to inscribe the idea that people without writing were people without history and that people without history were inferior human beings” (127). Record keeping of cultural memories and histories are seen as an accurate preservation because of the unquestioned authority given to alphabetic writing. Thus, when it was discovered the Mexica writing was picot-ideographic, the Spanish did not deem it as a legitimate means of history keeping and thus decided they needed to write the history of this people “without history” for them. Mignolo explains “The complicity between history and alphabetic literacy comes from a culture whose learned members were able to write sophistated treatise about oral performances and writeen narratives” (134). Furthermore, he states “the discursive configuration that in the West, during the 16th century, is referrd to as history accepted as members of its class only written discourses (historical narrative, biography, chronicle) and create—as a consequence—a landscape I which only written genres were part of the historiographical discursive configuration” (142).

Mignolo describes the historiography practices of Bernardo Boturini Benaducci and illustrates how his practices were influenced by Giambattista Vico, who claimed that civil history was only possible because individual nations wrote their own histories in the characters corresponding to each period (144). More specifically, Vico thought language evolved in three stages from the age of gods to the age of man. In the age of man, the alphabet was the main form of communication. Botourni thought that each culture did not necessarily record history in same way; yet his Western beliefs still influenced the way he interpreted and reported the Mexica historiography methods. Therefore, even though he acknowledged and even praised Mexica’s own ways of writing history, he “replaced” them with a Western chronological model (151). Mignolo makes a good point in demonstrating how difficult it is to recognize others’ values and let them stand on their own. He credits Boturini for “his subversion of one single principle held by previous Castilian and European historians: that there is a natural and substantial complicity between history and alphabetic writing, and that record keeping without letters does not have the same authority as record keeping with letters” (163). Boturni’s ideas were not influential as he would have like however in a Western nature where alphabetic literacy was measure of civilization and sameness and othering. His work demonstrates, Mignolo notes, that a scholars work can be influential amongst academic history of ideas, yet “not necessarily in belief system attached to institutional power and the transmission of knowledge to future generations” (168).

Mignolo says we have three ways of avoiding/correcting the historical, hegemonic practice of writing history: we can reconstruct history; we can reread signs of past in context of present concerns; and “we can say there is no choice and that reconstructing the past is not a concern from the past but of the present” (168). He says Vico is an example of what trying to negotiate cultural tradition of which he was a part and acquired knowledge about cultural traditions of which he was an outsider. This chapter illustrates how the Renaissance discursive genres and their implicit epistemology contributed to the imperial endeavors Said describes in Orientalism.

My questions: How can we interpret non-Western ancient rhetorics without rewriting history in ways that contribute to contemporary imperialism? How can we decenter the still deeply embedded notion that alphabetic literacy is the dominant civilizing force in the world and/or should we take up this endeavor? How we continue to expand the canon to include nondiscursive rhetorics? How can we uncover non-discursive rhetorical practices and literacy practices and let them stand on their own?

Class Notes: Ong says illiterate don’t distinguish between myth and history; only literate have sense of their own history. Mignolo says historiography is Western construct; says historiography can be an act of interventio. Tricia’s point: we always place blame on writer; what about ethics of reader? See Said’s methodological self-consciousness.

SubAltern Studies: Guhar, Spivak, scholars from West Bengal and other part of India. They are rewriting history of India using Marxist theory of history. They argue history is product of elite and always is working for dominant hegemonic system. Historiography—history of history—interrogating the instituted histories. They deconstruct traditional history and try to reconstruct it. Problematic we aren’t trained in the past practices; ethical—how can we speak for people who can’t speak? No. To speak you need position. They were already subjected to places of subjugation. When we try to speak for them, we face problems. They sell we need to bring in different kinds of sources from popular culture, rhetorics of everyday practices. Look at these and try to reconsruct past that challenges homogenous, dominant histories of past. Put SubAlterns in center because we are serving their interests.

“On Modernity, Colonization, and the Rise of Occidentalism”

Mignolo explains that modernity is the period in which contact and domination between human cultures reached their apex; consequently, reflecting on colonial experiences is a worthy endeavor not only because of its corrective exercises but also its ability to inform the present in meaningful ways (317). He claims that four concepts—speech, writing, time, and space—together can provide a framework to analyze the dissemination of Western literacy and the Occidentalization of the globe (317). Mignolo offers a coevolutionary model, which acknowledge both alphabetic and nonalphabetic forms of writing. He stresses a “discontinuity of the classical tradition (in all its forms)” in order to understand colonial situations and says we must realize and admit that “Western logocentricism shows its limits when confronted with forms of knowledge and understanding built upon alternative philosophies of language, and alternative speaking practices and writing systems” (319). Work that needs to be done is to study “alternative forms of knowledge and the structure of power that allowed the practice of alphabetic writing and its ideology to create a hierarchy across cultures” (320). That is why he chose to understand the role that writing played in dissemination of Western literacy and the colonization of non-Western languages and memories (320).

Mignolo claims literacy as a state of grace, which Scribner describes, is “one of the most lasting legacies of the European Renaissance and one of the most powerful ideologies in the process of colonization” (322). He draws on Ruth Finnegan who claims that the myth of literacy as state of grace played “an important role in the organization and control of society as well as in the distribution of power, first during the imperial expanision, later in the era of nation building, and currently at the time of homogenizing the globe by spreading a literacy that suppresses diversity” (323). To combat this process, Mignolo suggests we need to learn from comparatives studies and from cultural coevolution (323).
He also claims we must understand “the desires, the interests, the alliances, and, briefly, the politics of intellectual inquiry implied in a scholarly work as well as in a political discourse” (324). We must, furthermore, admit incommesurability between two or more conceptual frameworks in our comparative studies (327). He asks us to understand also the role to time in the conceptual frameworks and be weary of the tendency to set conceptual frameworks in a temporal scale (328). We must reestablish “the lost equilibrium between what, at one level, were alternative conceptual frameworks and , at the other, became organized in a hierarchy of values established by those who were at the same time particants and observers” (328). Mignolo suggests practicing a “pluritopic of hermeneutics” (constant movement between the scholar as observer and participant as well as between the moments of discontinuity of past and present conceptual frameworks) which he feels might detach “our descriptions as observers from our descriptions as participants by underlining and maintaining the discontinuity between “our” ( as scholars educated in the Western traditions and practioners of academic disciplines) conceptual framework and that of “our” ancestors” (329). That along with writing coevolutionary histories will help deconstruct a master narrative.

Mignolo wants us to work from the hybrid conceptual frameworks and from spaces in between (331). Mignolo also wants us to think of representation as enactment and begin investigating how the colonized depicted and conceived of themselves as well as how they speak for themselves (332). Mignolo asks us to go beyond cultural relatavism—“to first question the locus of enunciation from which the notion of cultural relativism has been produced; second, to question the model or culture used a reference point to illustrate cultural relativism and to constantly change the topos of comparison; and finally, to explore cultural relativism in colonial situations where cultures are not only different by struggle for imposition, resistance, adaptation, and transformation” (333).
Thus through representation as enactment, we look at activitie,s which illustrate how and where representations are produced rather than the configuration of what is being produced (333). We can also look at cognition as enactment to see how the world is constructed in ourselves; when we construct reality, our perception interacts with the outside reality. We need to realize that this interaction takes place and influences are interpretations of literacy acts or acts deemed illiterate.

My questions: What does he mean exactly by cognition as enactment? How can we put into practice all of Mignolo’s suggestions if we are unaware of the language and conceptual frameworks of the particular communities we are investigating?

Class Notes:

Ethics of reader: Derrida says we need to forgive but not enough. We need to forgive and then realize power of forgiveness. Must go beyond semiotic apology. / Derrida—center cannot be disconnected from the whole. Plays./// Zosha–cognitive colonization. Signifying Monkey—Henry Louis Gates


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