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Literacies Under Neoliberalism

Sat, April 18, 4:05 to 5:35pm, Virtual Room


Under a neoliberal interpretation of liberty and autonomy, educational institutions have increasingly taken a homogenized approach to literacy that ignores the vast complexities of youth and local literacies (Riddle, 2014). This raises concerns for literacies and language education, and also for the long-term impact of neoliberalism on literacies marginalized by dominant ways of being, knowing, and doing (Cazden, 2002). This calls for transnational investigation and critique of current policies and practices in literacies and language education that can be used to counter neo-colonization of local literacies (Tuck & Yang, 2012). In this paper, we share our concerns for literacies under neoliberalism, with a specific focus on the role of technology, and discuss possible attempts to counter its effects on literacies education.
Theoretical Framework
The paper orients to critical scholarship on the impact of neoliberalism on education. Under a neoliberal logic, education is driven by instrumental and competitive goals aligned with values of capitalist markets rather than social justice (Olsen & Peters, 2005). Neoliberalism has reorganized basic social relations within education (such as between government and schools, between the private sector and schools, between schools and parents), and in that process has redefined the very roles of institutions and individuals involved in education (Ong, 2007). These macro-level neoliberal trends have played out rather differently in different contexts.
There is a continued need to investigate different manifestations of ‘actually existing neoliberalism’ (Brenner & Theodore, 2002) and their impact on literacy practices, pedagogies, teacher and learner identities, and languages themselves. As transnational immigrant critical literacies practitioner-researchers, we utilize autoethnographic accounts, discourse analysis of policy documents, and survey data to reflect on the intersections of technology and literacies in the neoliberal contexts of the United States and Singapore.
Data Sources
Data for the US case study come from autoethnographic accounts of the first author’s experience as an immigrant scholar of color in transdisciplinary multiliteracies. Data for the Singapore case study come from policy documents relating to digital literacies as well as survey results from 200 English teachers. We use personal narratives and reflexive inquiry to underscore manifestations of neoliberalism in the two focal contexts.
New technologies and digital spaces have afforded revitalization of Indigenous literacies and preservation of local literacies. At the same time, these digital spaces have pushed English and other colonizer languages deeper into local practices, continuing a form of colonization, through which western literacies have spread globally, often at the cost of marginalized and non-dominant literacies.
Neoliberalism manifests itself differently and often unpredictably, in different contexts, as global political-economic processes engage with local ecologies of literacies and language education. The meaning of literacy is reduced to phonics and numeracy to algorithmic procedures that feed neoliberal agendas (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). Digital technologies have facilitated education’s neoliberal refashioning, offering unprecedented tools to conduct surveillance of students, teachers, and schools to monitor and regulate ‘performance’ according to standards set by/for the market instead of social good.