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Layered Becomings: Literacy Through Natural/Material/Human Intra-Action

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


This poster uses contemporary materialist theory to narrate and re-present three layers of natural/material/human intra-actions with a series of material objects and living non-human creatures that are central to certain literacy practices in the late 19th century and rendered visible through a set of 19th century nature readers intended in part to teach children to read.

This work is positioned within larger post-humanist theorizing that works to ‘rethink paths to literacy’ (Kress, 1997) beyond writing, in particular bringing such theorizing to bear on the ways time/space/environments become teachers in historical study. I draw from a variety of feminist and materialist theorizing, including Margaret Somerville’s (2013) work on/with water and place, Lather and St. Pierre’s (2013) engagements with post-coding, post-data, qualitative methodology, and Taylor and Hughes’ (2016) new collaborations in theorizing educational practice to consider the content, materiality, and entanglements of/with a set of 19th century nature readers that forge literate subjects.

The techniques for this project are both theoretical (analysis through concepts and texts mentioned above) and empirical (historical and qualitative) and the methods entirely entangled with the data sources (organic matter, historical texts, and inter-actions).

There are 3 layers to this empirical/theoretical project that will be represented through a series of photo-collages, textual excerpts, and empirical data. The first layer of this study/representation (material matter that teaches) focuses on the natural entities that matter in late-19th century children’s becoming as literate subjects. In this layer, I analyze the focus of the organic curriculum that is the focus of and communicated through the set of 19th century nature readers designed for children: the textures and detail of seashells, soil, insects, rocks and firewood as agents and teachers of literacy—both reading literacy and literacy of the natural world. I analyze the organic matter, the textures, sights and sounds of the natural world, envisioned in the readers with which the children must interact/intro-act to become literate subjects, muddying their skirt hems and altering their bodies. In the second layer, (the texts) I take a biographical approach to analyze the nature readers/texts as historical material entities in their own right that bear the traces of readers’ embodiment and become through such inter and intra-actions with their readers. Third and finally (contemporary becomings), I shift from a historical and biographical analysis to empirically study contemporary individuals’ entanglements with the organic curriculum (layer one) that are the focus of the lessons and the texts (layer two) through which the lessons are championed to consider how intra-actions with such material entities in a new space and time facilitate new becomings as literate subjects.

This work contributes to a broader body of important theorizing in the field of literacy that re-thinks and re-visions the products and the active and embodied entanglements through which beings become ‘literate,’ what constitutes such literacy, and troubles constructed divisions across past/present through exploring empirically how intra-actions with ‘historical’ entities facilitate becomings.