Literacy Theories for the Digital Age

This month we published Kathy Mills’ new book Literacy Theories for the Digital Age. Here’s a post about the book from the author.

Don’t Read

this Blog!


You little rebel. I like you.

Let me tell you a few stories from ‘behind the scenes” of my new book: Literacy Theories for the Digital Age: Social, Critical, Multimodal, Spatial, Material and Sensory Lenses. Printed just in time for Christmas 2015, this book will encourage education academics, PhD students, teachers and other curious readers to see literacy differently.

The distinguished Professor Allan Luke once said to me, “You know, Kathy, there is always one person in the world who will read your book”.

He continued, “…your mum”.

It’s true. My mum, Marie Seltenrych, who is also an author, has always been my biggest fan.

The book navigates a vital collection of theories that have transformed conventional notions of alphabetic literacy.

Drawing from fields that include social theory, cultural geography, cultural anthropology and philosophy, I demonstrate how literacy is much more than the human behaviours of reading and writing of words.

There are six essential theories, but I’ll jump here to my favourite, the sixth – sensory literacies.

The hierarchisation of the senses in Western cultures has privileged visual conceptions of literacy, when in fact, humans communicate through multiple sensorium of the body.

From the ancient cuneiform of Sumarians in Mesopotamia to the weaving of “talking knots” by quipu, from the Inca Empire literacy, literacy is a richly sensorial practice (See David Howes preface to the book).

From tablet touch screens, to motion-sensing video games, I argue that literacy involves the engagement of the whole body, breath, haptics, and even locomotion.

We have a plethora of digital technologies that accentuate this principle.

Literacy Theories for the Digital AgeIt was actually during the writing of the “Sensory Literacies” chapter of the new book– which is essentially about the entanglement of the body and the senses in literacy practices – that I started to notice how much I need to eat when I write. It helps my brain.

I eat to avoid writer’s block – yes, the block that morphs into a delicious block of chocolate on the desk. Some of my writer’s block fragments into dozens of stray chocolate particles that reappear across the surface of the keyboard for days afterwards (along with the ants).

I also consumed an awful lot of caffeine. No coffee = no workee.

People say that academics need to “brand themselves”. What is my brand? How does my book reflect my brand?

Apparently, your brand name should be the colour of your pants, plus what you last ate. In my case, my brand would have to be “Denim Blue Cookies and Cream Protein Bar – Australian made”.

Lucky it’s morning tea time, as a few hours ago, my brand would have been “Red scrambled eggs”. Meh.

The hardest thing about writing this book was the editing. Why? Well, let me tell you, when present, past and future walk into a book, boy, it gets tense.

You might wonder about why I chose such a long title of my book: Literacy Theories for the Digital Age: Social, Critical, Multimodal, Spatial, Material and Sensory Lenses.

It’s a long title, but it’s better than short book titles. For example, what about Stop Arguing by Xavier Breath, or I Hit the Wall by Isadore There. My book title is a whole lot better than Geology by Roxanne Minerals.

I chose the title because even though it’s so long that I have to “google it” to remember it:

  1. What you see is what you get – you don’t need to read the contents page, saving energy for the reader.
  2. Search engine strategy – all the key words are in the title – can’t miss it.
  3. Because everyone says “choose a short and memorable title”.

Like you, I’m a rebel.

Literacy Theories for the Digital AgeIf you would like more information please see our website. You might also be interested in Kathy’s previous book The Multiliteracies Classroom.

Talk, Text and Technology in Remote Indigenous Australia

Multilingual Matters author Inge Kral’s book Talk, Text and Technology is published this week and here she explains a little about how the book came about. 

I have worked in remote Aboriginal Australia for more than 20 years as an educator and researcher. I worked with the Ngaanyatjarra Lands communities in the isolated desert region of Western Australia on education, language and literacy projects before, during, and after, undertaking research for Talk, Text and Technology. Importantly, this foundation allowed me to develop the kind of collaborative relationships with people that made this ethnographic study possible.

By having a long-term perspective on Indigenous education and by developing deep relationships with Aboriginal people, I knew that the literacy story was more nuanced and complex than was typically depicted in media and public policy accounts of literacy in the remote Indigenous sector. I deliberately chose to use a lifespan perspective that addressed the social, cultural, ideological and economic contingencies that have enabled (or disabled) literate practices in everyday life, as well as fine-grained ethnography in order to give voice to Aboriginal people’s own perspectives and experiences.

Young people’s early engagement with digital technologies

The case study setting is unique. I was fortunate enough to encounter an extraordinary confluence of factors when embarking on this study of literacy as social practice. Not only was I able to gather stories from those who had made the transition from oral to literate modes of communication, I also witnessed the arrival of digital technologies and was able to document this profound change. During the time that I did fieldwork, intermittently from around 2003 to 2010, I was able to observe and interview Ngaanyatjarra people whose experiences spanned the entire spectrum of the encounter with alphabetic and now digital literacies. From the very old who were born into the traditional hunter-gatherer existence whose first experiences of the white man’s world was the mission school at Warburton Ranges, to the current youth generation who have grown up in a world where computers, the internet, and digital technology are the norm. A case study such as this throws the spotlight not only on literacy, but also on the infinite human capacity for learning and for adoption of, and adaption to, change no matter what social or cultural context.

For further information on Inge’s book Talk, Text and Technology please take a look at our website.