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More Than Off-Task Indulgences: Assemblage Theory and One Boy's Literacy Practices Across Online and Off-Line Spaces

Mon, April 11, 11:45am to 1:15pm, Marriott Marquis, Floor: Level Four, Liberty Salon N


Purpose: In this paper, I examine the online and offline literacy practices of Nigel, a fifth grade student, whose performance, according to the product-oriented assessment practices of his classroom, had been categorized as perpetually off-task and occasionally subversive. I ask the question: how does an affect-oriented methodology provide a lens that enables us to reframe our understanding of those practices?

Perspectives: The paper is grounded in a socio-material perspective, in particular, assemblage theory (Deleuze & Guattari, 2004). Assemblage theory views learning as enacted within “assemblages” or networks of people, objects, events, and practices and departs from the language-centered approach of social constructivism (Clough & Halley, 2007). Applied to literacy studies, it views objects and practices associated with literacy as central participants in an individual’s literacy learning (Brandt & Clinton, 2002; Fenwick & Edwards, 2012) and views affect and its place in the body as an integral consideration (Leander & Boldt, 2013; Masny & Cole, 2012). Assemblages are temporal in nature – they form for a particular purpose (territorialize) and continually re-form (deterritorialize) as circumstances, purposes and interests change. Territorialized assemblages tend to produce territorial motifs – for example, the sets of rules and procedures they generate – as a means of consolidating themselves and providing predictability (De Landa. 2006).

Method: As a critical instance case (Davey, 1991), this paper draws on data collected during a six month long case study on home and school literacy practices of fifth-grade students. The rhizomatic mapping first follows Nigel’s associations with people, objects, practices and events, as he moved between digital play spaces at home, physical play spaces in his community, and the writing spaces of his classroom, and then considers questions of meanings produced in those interactions (Latour, 2005).

Data sources: The data set includes: field notes; informal interviews and conversations; photographs; school worksheets and planner, illustrated by Nigel; his writer’s notebook; online gaming websites and user-created video; objects that figured in Nigel’s play, such as his skateboard; and physical sites in which he played.

Findings: Nigel’s textual and embodied play with two figures he met in virtual spaces, the stick man and the line rider, demonstrate ways a young adolescent, fully immersed in and engaged with his digital and material world, de/reterritorialized his school writing assemblage. The unfolding took place in unpredictable ways, and was often in opposition to the kinds of territorialized relationships with writing texts and practices Nigel’s teachers felt would foster his becoming as a writer. Strained relations between participants often ensued; however, literacy practices that brought intellectual and visceral engagement, pleasure and pride, and agentive recourse to Nigel in his practice of literacy also came into focus.

Significance: The unfolding of Nigel’s play provides insight into ways in which assemblage theory, with its focus on the ever-changing interactions between human-beings, objects, events and practices, and the affect that is produced in the process (physical, emotional and cognitive intensities), may assist educators concerned with the literacy development of youth, who like Nigel, appear to be off-task in our classrooms.