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Using Bifocals to See Better: A Diffractive Reading of a Soweto Classroom

Sat, April 29, 2:45 to 4:15pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 221 C


Objectives or purposes: The purpose of the poster would be to provide an overview of i) the case study - a two-year poetry and literacy project in a Soweto high school in South Africa and ii) to illustrate a diffractive reading of this case study. The bifocal, diffractive reading would read multimodality and critical posthumanism through each other and the case study through them both. The poster would indicate how this open and fluid reading enables a new, more complex view of what took place in the literacy project. The poster would thus show the value of diffractive reading as a methodology, as well as in what ways the view changed.

Perspective or theoretical framework: The reading would be underpinned by scholarship in the field of critical posthumanism (Braidotti, 2015), new feminist materialisms (Barad, 2007), as well as by rhizomatic concepts from Deleuze & Guattari, and nomadism from Braidotti. Multiliteracies (New London Group, 2000) and multimodality (Kress, 2000, 2010; Jewitt, 2014), two related frameworks which have examined multiplicity and mobility in literacy, would be read through posthumanism with a view to specifying the implications for literacy education.

Methods, techniques or modes of inquiry: The poster will report on the diffractive methology which was used to engage with the case study in a generative and productive way (Barad, 2007; 2014). The poster shows how the superposition of key posthumanist concepts (such as intra-active entanglements, performativity, rhizomatic movement, matter) on multimodal principles (such as modal choice, materiality, semiotic practice, the semiotic chain) can shed further light on and provide richer understandings of this inspiring case study, which could be useful for researchers, educators and teachers.

Data sources, evidence, objects, or materials: Data sources pertain to those of the case study: photographs of the artefacts in different modes produced by the students e.g. the Thebuwa cloth and its different components; texts of their poems; the Thebuwa anthology; students’ written and oral responses to the project; the teacher’s response.

Substantiated conclusions: These would be of a conceptual nature. They would be the outcome of the diffractive methodology which highlights aspects of the case study which have previously been neglected or backgrounded, eg the question of ‘energies’; the notion of pedagogy as an ‘assemblage’ and an entanglement of multiple ‘intra-actions’, balancing the previously foregrounded semiotic approach.

Significance of the work:
i) Valuable as an example of diffractive reading, an approach advocated by Karen Barad (2007, 2014).
ii) Valuable in providing new perspectives on the case study, helping to make it replicable in some form.
iii) Valuable in reimagining what literacy is and how it can take place in literature teaching and learning, especially in additional language classrooms.
iv) Contributes to a definition of key qualities inherent in what might be called ‘posthuman literacies’ and ‘what they make possible in theory and practice’.
v) Contributes to critical scholarship across disciplinary fields or oeuvres (Geertz & van der Tuin, 2016)
vi) Should be useful for and relevant to teachers, educators, and researchers.