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Enchanted Literacies: Evoking Generosity in Literacy Research

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


Purpose: This paper aligns with Law’s call for a ‘generosity’ in research (Law, 2004) that challenges fixed linear accounts of reality, embraces different understandings, and recognises complexity and the hard-to-articulate. It proposes that one way to work towards generosity in literacy research is through enabling, acknowledging and even cultivating ‘enchantment’ (Bennett, 2001). It proposes tools that might constitute methodologies of enchantment, methodologies that seek to evoke wonder and surprise in relation to literacy practices as they enable us to think with ‘the vague diffuse or unspecific, slippery, emotional, ephemeral, elusive or indistinct’ (Law, 2004:2).

Perspective: Bennet describes enchantment as a ‘mixed bodily state of joy and disturbance, a transitory sensuous condition dense and intense enough to stop you in your tracks and toss you onto new terrain and to move you from the actual world to its virtual possibilities’ (Bennet, 2002 p.111). She argues that enchantment can foster ‘an ethical generosity of spirit’ (p.11) that can drive social justice; it evokes an uncertainty or unknowing that is an important counterpoint to the certainties that underpin the rigid autonomous accounts of literacy policy and ‘reform’. Importantly for research in new media it allows recognition of the excessive, the ebullient, the vivid and the felt.

Methods & Data: Data from recent classroom studies will exemplify how enchantment has manifested in our own research as we navigate the complex relationships and disjunctures between researchers and researched. Specifically we draw on a 9-month study of 10-11 year-old children’s use of digital technologies in a classroom in an elementary school in England and a focused study of under 2s using interactive story apps on iPads. Data include field notes, video-recordings and artifacts. The methodology captured the entwined nature of on/off screen activity (Hine, 2000) and focused on the complexities of interaction and relationship in 21st Century classrooms. We explore how we use innovative approaches to story our data as we attempt to acknowledge and evoke enchantment with children’s meaning-making practices.

Conclusions: Multiple tellings, performed accounts and comic-book transmediation enabled us to evoke the ‘affective intensities’ (Ehret & Hollet, 2014) that seemed significant to children’s meaning-making, and also that drove our own enquiries. These experiments in playfully re-working our data highlighted ways of foregrounding multiplicity and complexity in meaning-making, and of provoking the generous, ebullient and vivid accounts of literacy that are silenced by the dominant policy discourse.

Significance: The presentation contributes to recent debates in postmodern literacy research related to those ‘aspects of experience and reality that do not present themselves in propositional or even in verbal form’ (Sedgwick, 2003: 6). The notion of enchantment offers ways of thinking about the here-and-now, the ephemeral and the incoherent, and invites us to acknowledge how we do not just observe but are with literacy practices in our research. This process unsettles and disrupts over-simplistic and bounded notions of what counts in literacy and shifts attention from meanings made or to be made to a focus on the process of meaning making that transcends purpose or design.