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Review, Exploring the Roots

Teachers College Record

Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative

Reviewed by Trace Lahey

coverTitle: Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative
Author(s): Renee Hobbs
Publisher: Temple University Press, Philadelphia
ISBN: 1439911584, Pages: 226, Year: 2016
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In Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy Through Personal Narrative, editor Renee Hobbs asks 16 educators working in the fields of digital and media literacy to address the central question: Who is your intellectual grandparent? The chosen grandparents are influential thinkers who, though affiliated with a variety of historical contexts and disciplines, discussed topics such as mass media, technology, culture, power dynamics, and education prior to the establishment of the field of media literacy.

Each narrative response to the question/chapter depicts an author’s encounter(s) with the ideas of their intellectual grandparent, and describes how his or her conceptions of and engagement in the field of media literacy was shaped as a result. In Chapter Thirteen for example, Jeremiah Dyehouse describes how John Dewey’s speculations about how innovations in communication might inspire “democratic social transformations” (p. 173) inspired Dyehouse to direct his work in the disciplines of literacy and rhetoric toward social cooperation. In Chapter Fourteen, Renee Hobbes describes how Jerome Bruner’s theories encouraged her commitment to the creative, messy, unpredictable, and potentially disruptive processes of working with digital and media literacy. Srividya Ramasubramanian describes in Chapter Six how Gordon Allport’s interdisciplinary approach to intergroup relations and the study of prejudice stirred the author to establish an organization and educate others to use media literacy practitioners to accelerate social change (p. 91).

Each narrative affords the reader opportunity to gain a better understanding of the concerns within this expansive, complex field. Dana Polan (Chapter Four) and Susan Moeller (Chapter Seventeen) both write about Roland Barthes, and in so doing, highlight some of the most important matters of media literacy. In her chapter, Polan describes how film studies might educate us to read the phenomena of everyday life as ideological, to interpret the ideas, symbols, and objects that we take for granted as neutral or objective (p. 72), and consider what they reveal about how, as Barthes tells it, a society “speaks to itself and speaks of its values (p. 69). In her account of this same grandparent, Moeller describes how Barthes encouraged her to be “consciously, photographically, and visually literate” (p. 223) by guiding her to consider why a particular image strikes a viewer. Media literacy, she tells us, invites one to bring herself into our exchanges with media, so that we might consider the deeper issues related to our own lived experiences.

The authors who contribute to this book work with a variety of mediums, but together, their narratives provide a rich, multi-faceted understanding of how in digital and media literacy, the medium is the message. In Chapter Two, David Weinberger applies Heidegger’s assertion that language is not just an expression of meaning, but the shape of meaning (p. 43), and media literacy is a discipline that encourages us to consider how ideas are presented, filtered, and shaped. Lance Strate, writing about Marshall McLuhan in Chapter Two, explains that media literacy allows us to carefully consider the medium rather than taking it for granted, as each form of media has its own biases toward form and understanding (p. 62).

Collectively, these accounts will help readers understand the diverse theoretical foundations on which digital and media literacy is being built, and how looking back and interacting with one’s intellectual grandparent not only provides a rationale for digital and media literacy, but also advances the field. Henry Jenkins (Chapter Ten) describes how John Fiske’s legacy in cultural studies highlights the important role of cultural competence in fostering powerful interactions with new media technologies, which result in the production and circulation of diverse voices and perspectives as well as “participatory politics” (p. 147). In Chapter Nine, Douglas Kellner invokes Herbert Marcuse (p. 132), and reminds us that the older forms of literacy, such as reading and writing, remain crucial if we are to resist the darker forces of popular media (p. 128). In Chapter Twelve, Donna E. Alvermann illustrates how Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist philosophy “advances the interpretive power of contemporary research on adolescents’ digital-media literacies and their application to both theory and practice” (p. 168).

A uniting feature of the book is the optimism for the transformational potential of digital and media literacy, and several chapters provide strong rationales for incorporating digital and media literacy in schools. Amy Petersen Jensen (Chapter Eleven) applies Berthold Brecht’s theory of disrupting the familiar to her work with arts and English education students. Together they consider how the “revolutionary theories of an artist (Brecht) and a pedagogue (Freire) might work together to help them form their own practical understandings of critical theory, media literacy, and ways of knowing, communicating, and inhabiting spaces that are more equitable, free, and reciprocal (p. 159). In Chapter Seven, Michael RobbGrieco directs Michel Foucault’s observations about how “power is exercised in a multidirectional living system” to encourage his students to push beyond noticing biases toward considering how “power circulates through networks of discourses and constructed knowledge” (p. 99). In Chapter Eight, Gianna Cappello references Theodor Adorno to help explain that media literacy educators can teach students to employ interdisciplinary approaches, “decoding” pop culture and enabling them to “resist commonsensical and knowledge and practices.” This would guide them to engage in critical analysis, engaging in reflection and critique (p. 123).

The book’s narrative structure encourages a rich, multi-voiced layering of insights about the value and challenges of this expansive field, and serves as a reminder that there is no single story about digital and media literacy. In this way, each chapter illuminates and embodies Bakhtin’s theory, as depicted by Cynthia Lewis in Chapter Five: that language is dialogic, heteroglossic, and contextualized. The conversations between the authors and their grandparents add nuance and contemporary perspective to our understanding of the field (p. 79). Throughout Chapter Fifteen, Vanessa Domine describes Neil Postman to illustrate the unifying potential of such conversations, and digital technologies that she claims can facilitate conversations by integrating diverse processes, products, and perspectives into a shared vision or common goal (p. 205). One such goal might be to push back against stories that promote standardization, high-stakes testing, segregation, and the “school-to-prison pipeline” (p. 234), with which so many educators are familiar.

This is not a book that offers prescriptive advice on how to design digital and media literacy curricula for the classroom. Instead, this book will provide inspiration, and justification for educators seeking to explore what digital and media literacy work affords them and their students. This work will surely inspire the reader to seek out new mediums, messages, and opportunities, and to tell and re-tell stories with students, which as Peter Gutierrez says in Chapter Sixteen, promotes “the grand love of the media and an understanding of it ... heart and mind, working together, and inspiring more of the same (p. 221).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2017, p. - ID Number: 22051, Date Accessed: 10/6/2018 9:40:36 AM