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Review of  Literacy

Reviewer: Amy R. Frederick
Book Title: Literacy
Book Author: Brian V. Street Nancy H. Hornberger
Publisher: Springer
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Ling & Literature
Issue Number: 23.3079

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EDITORS: Street, Brian V.; Hornberger, Nancy H.
TITLE: Literacy
SERIES TITLE: Encyclopedia of Language and Education, Volume 2
YEAR: 2010

Amy R. Frederick, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Minnesota


“Literacy” is the second in the ten-volume series, ‘Encyclopedia of Language and
Education,’ edited by Nancy H. Hornberger. The second edition of this series
aims to chart the deepening and broadening of the field of language and
education since the first edition was published in 1997. In Volume 2,
Hornberger and Brian Street collect 26 articles representing an account of
current knowledge in the literacy field. It covers a wide range of subjects from
numerous geographical regions, provides considerations of the nature of the
field, and discusses how new ideas are being applied in varied contexts.
Contributors from a variety of fields (e.g. history, anthropology, linguistics,
and education) review what is known and unknown about the convergence of
literacy, language, and education. The disparate perspectives create an
expansive landscape on the topic that, according to Street, results not in
simple answers but in further complexity. Some of the key themes include reading
acquisition across contexts, attention to social categories, language varieties,
new technologies, and the policy and practice issues related to these issues in

The volume is divided into three main sections, moving from a more theoretical
focus to more contextualized accounts of literacy. In Section 1, “Literacies and
Social Theory,” the first ten chapters develop important theoretical frames and
organizational concepts in order to provide a foundation for the latter
sections. Section 2, “Literacies and Social Institutions,” takes up many of the
issues raised in the first section within the specific context of institutions
in which literacy practices are located, including, but not limited to,
educational contexts. In Section 3, “Living Literacies -- Social and Cultural
Experience,” the authors explore specific issues related to literacy within a
variety of social and cultural environments. Each chapter is brief and shares a
common structure: introduction, early developments, work in progress, problems
and difficulties, and future directions.

In Chapter 1, “New Literacies, New Times: Developments in Literacy Studies,”
Brian Street outlines current theoretical frameworks used in New Literacy
Studies, in multimodality, and in theories of technology, artifact, and “figured
worlds.” He brings to light some of the significant challenges facing educators
and considers educational responses by different countries, asking how teachers
deal with the clash between traditional pedagogies and new frames of reference
brought about by technological advances.

In Chapter 2, “Critical Race Theory,” (CRT), Arlette Ingram Willis defines and
provides the basic concepts and tenets of CRT and locates it within educational
and literacy research across time. She points to the privilege of whiteness in
teaching as well as in literacy research, calling for education scholars to
address race, racism and power to explain the experiences of people of color
living in racialized societies.

In Chapter 3, “Language, Literacy and Knowledge Production in Africa,” Kwesi
Kwaa Prah provides a historical account of the development of African languages
and scripts and describes some of the current issues related to their
classification. Prah poses questions about the role of English as a lingua
franca on the continent and expresses concern about the near absence of
literature written in African languages beyond religious texts. He is also
concerned about the 50% literacy rate in Africa. He declares, “African
development must mean the development of literacy in African languages” (p. 38).

In Chapter 4, “Literacy Myths,” Harvey Graff and John Duffy develop themes
introduced in the previous chapters while, examining the “literacy myth.” The
authors define the “literacy myth” as an expression of the ideology that the
acquisition of literacy is a necessary precursor to economic development,
democracy, cognitive enhancement and social status. Graff and Duffy remind us
that literacy and education are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions of a
functioning democracy.

In Chapter 5, “Literacy and Internet Technologies,” Kevin Leander and Cynthia
Lewis focus on how networked technologies fundamentally change the relationships
of literacy to social relations. Contributions in three categories are reviewed:
multimodality, sociality and the intersection of the global and the local (i.e.
“glocal”). Leander and Lewis describe important future directions on these
topics, including the development of interdisciplinary approaches and
theoretical /methodological frames that will enable an understanding of power
relations, identity constructs, and the changing uses of literacy.

In Chapter 6, “BICS and CALP: Empirical and Theoretical Status of the
Distinction,” Jim Cummins describes his foundational theories of Basic
Interpersonal Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Academic Language
Proficiency (CALP) and responds to recent critiques that the distinction is
oversimplified and reflective of an “autonomous” notion of literacy. Cummins
argues that there is no contradiction between his theories and those of New
Literacy Studies, saying that BICS/CALP is a useful construct within the
educational context. He concludes with an appeal for teachers, students, and
researchers to work together to push the boundaries of language and literacy

In Chapter 7, “Reading: Attitudes, Interests, Practices,” John Edwards argues
for thinking beyond the skills and strategies necessary for reading and focusing
more on social and psychological factors. ‘Aliteracy,’ according to Edwards, may
be a more descriptive construct for many in modern societies than ‘illiteracy.’

In Chapter 8, “Gender and Literacy,” Gemma Moss provides an overview of
literature addressing the relationship between gender and literacy. She
highlights the recent shift in concern for the achievement of girls to boys,
noting that this movement may be caused by the increased focus on outcomes-based
accountability measures, whereon which boys are weaker than girls. She offers
several explanations and approaches to the issue.

In Chapter 9, “Critical Literacy Education: On Living with ‘Innocent Language’,”
Peter Freebody offers a thorough foundation in Critical Literacy Education
(CLE), describing the theoretical and methodological contributions to it from
fields such as anthropology, sociology, linguistics, and pedagogy. According to
Freebody, a core concern is interrupting and naming socialization and finding
principled, teachable ways of affording an appreciation of social organization,
human conduct, and language. However, more work is needed which centers on how
this looks in practice, as well as on empirically examining the consequences of
such instruction.

In Chapter 10, “Biliteracy and Globalization,” Viniti Vaish synthesizes some
important ideas from globalization and biliteracy, looking in particular at two
of her own studies taking place in India and Singapore. She asks what a
biliterate text looks like in a globalizing world and how these changes may
impact bilingual classrooms.

In Section 2, the authors cover much of the same territory as that of the
previous section, however, there is specific emphasis on contextual factors.
Most of the chapters in this section address educational issues, both in formal
institutions as well as in the wider community. The remaining chapters take up
topics of Family and Community Literacies, highlighting international projects.

In Chapter 11, ''Informal Learning and Literacy,'' Alan Rogers explores informal
(natural) literacy learning processes undertaken by adults. Current work in this
area lies in three main fields: perceptions of literacy, the acquisition of
literacy skills, and the practice of literacy. Rogers calls for further
attention to the interaction between informal and formal learning.

In Chapter 12, ''Second Language Academic Literacies: Converging Understandings,''
Contant Leung focuses on the use of English as a second language in academic
discourse, particularly in written forms. She describes the influential
theoretical framework known as Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), which
emphasizes active communicative language use in order to develop academic
English. She goes on to problematize this approach and offer an analytical
framework, based on three inter-related authorial selves, as a useful device for
discovering how language is actually used in academic settings.

In Chapter 13, ''Family Literacy,'' Vivian Gadsden provides a substantive history
of the field from its inception in the 1960s and notes the shift over time from
deficit perspectives to those that incorporate variation and differences. She
challenges future researchers and practitioners to create new frameworks that
capture the particular ways that diverse families engage in literate acts across
a variety of social contexts.

In Chapter 14, ''Women, Literacy and Development: Overview,'' Anna Robinson-Pant
reviews programs aimed at increasing women’s literacy. She asserts that many
women's literacy programs adopt a functional literacy approach and emphasize
social results, rather than reading and writing outcomes. She advocates for
movement towards a ''rights perspective'' that connects women's literacy to

In Chapter 15, ''A Community Literacy Project: Nepal,'' Roshan Chitrakar and Bryan
Maddox describe a community literacy project in Nepal that incorporates local
meanings and uses of literacy. They discuss incongruities between the local
meanings of literacy and international discourses of development.

In Chapter 16, ''Community Literacy Practices and Education: Australia,'' Trevor
Ciarney reviews what is known about the relationship between community literacy
and education, particularly within Australia. He summarizes recent explorations
in community literacy that acknowledge complex definitions of literacy and

Chapter 17, ''Academic Literacies in Theory and Practice,'' Mary Lea uses academic
literacies as a way of framing our understanding of student writing in higher
education. Drawing from New Literacy Studies, the term 'academic literacies'
signals a concern with writing as a social practice and recognizes a
multiplicity of practices. Lea highlights the changing nature of texts and
practices in academic contexts.

In Chapter 18, ''Literacies In and Out of School in The United States,'' Katherine
Schultz and Glynda Hull explore research on the relationships and borders of
literacy in and out of school. They claim that, ''The persisting challenge in an
age of accountability and testing, narrowing conceptions of literacy, and
growing socioeconomic disparities, is how to bridge out-of-school and in-school
worlds in ways that make discernible, positive differences in youth's present
circumstances and social futures'' (p. 239).

In Chapter 19, ''Literacies in the Classroom,'' David Bloome summarizes research
on the nature of official literacy practices in schools, noting a recent focus
on cultural and power dimensions. Many of the topics from prior chapters are
taken up again within the context of formal classroom instruction. Bloome
predicts three major changes that are likely to influence classroom literacy
practice in the future: the increasing integration of digital literacies into
our lives; increasing racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity; and cultural
and economic globalization.

Finally, Section 3 provides an in-depth exploration of previously raised issues
associated with literacy for people in different social and cultural
environments. Issues such as identity construction, new literacies, urban and
rural literacies, multilingualism, and language policy and ideology are raised
again in these contexts.

In Chapter 20, ''Literacies and Ethnolinguistic Diversity: Chicago,'' Marcia Farr
presents a historical linguistic survey of Chicago and hypothesizes about the
implications of language variation on literacy learning. Literacy practices
construct important aspects of identity and are linked to events, people, and
institutions, and thus, research on the ethnolinguistic diversity in Chicago has
only begun to describe the myriad of ways in which people there use various

In Chapter 21, ''Language Diversity and Indigenous Literacy in the Andes,'' Inge
Sichra reviews indigenous literacy in the Andes, focusing on languages that have
survived Spanish language rule. Sichra asserts that Andean governments lack the
political will to promote writing and literacy in indigenous languages as
instruments of power. There exists a strong belief that Spanish decoding skills
have intrinsic value and are required for citizenship. She argues that education
must take an integrated perspective of literacy that would develop local
teaching practices and honor existing social practices that exist within the

In Chapter 22, ''Literacies in the Lives of Urban Youth,'' Jabari Mahiri shows the
benefits of incorporating glocal literacies with more traditional views with
urban youth. From a new literacies perspective, Mahiri describes recent research
exploring the influences of hip-hop culture on the literacy practices and
learning of youth worldwide.

In Chapter 23, ''Literacies In and Out of School in South Africa,'' Pippa Stein
writes about literacy learning in a country engaged in the process of recovery
and reconstruction after centuries of racism, violence and oppression. She
claims that the damaging effects of apartheid and poverty continue in people's
lives in many ways, including unequal access to quality education and literacy
learning. She points out that the majority of South African children are
struggling to become successful readers and writers in any language, though
instruction is usually in English. She calls for professional development for
teachers and wider access to literacy materials.

In Chapter 24, ''Literacies in Latin America,'' Judy Kalman provides a broad
historical perspective on this heterogeneous region, beginning with the
inception of school as a social institution in the 1950s. She looks in to the
interconnectedness of socioeconomics, the history of literacy, the role of
schooling, and educational policies in the region. Research in this area aims to
further understand ''the factors and processes that contribute to the
dissemination of written culture, explain why literacy is not always rapidly
embraced, and recognize the complexity of literacy practices'' (p. 326).

In Chapter 25, ''African American Literacies,'' Elaine Richardson traces the
historical roots of African American literacies since school desegregation. She
defines the topic as the ''concept that African American cultural identities,
social locations, and social practices influence ways that members of this
discourse group make meaning and assert themselves sociopolitically in
subordinate as well as official contexts'' (p. 335). There is a focus on African
American Vernacular English and its role in education in this chapter.

In Chapter 26, ''City Literacies,'' Eve Gregory reviews literature documenting the
history and development of city literacies, highlights recent contributions, and
concentrates on individuals becoming literate in the twentieth century in
London. Historical studies, she writes, provide a contrasting view of cities as
both lively and educated hubs as well as centers of poverty and illiteracy.
Gregory also foregrounds her own project, 'City Literacies,' in which she makes
the argument that home literacies should not be seen as a factor of school
failure, but rather as a strength that equips children with advantages rather
than problems.


The objective of this volume, as stated by the editors, Hornberger and Street,
is to provide an encyclopedic account of current knowledge in the field, and
“something more” (p. xiii). In addition to laying a historical foundation of the
literature, the authors aspire to set forth new and cutting edge directions for
research as well as its application in a variety of contexts. The chapters are
written by standout thinkers representing a variety of fields from around the
globe. The expertise collected here is invaluable. Key themes are defined and
explained, but beyond that, they are exemplified through the projects and cases
described by the authors. After reading the collection, one is not only left
with a clear understanding of important issues but also the complexities within
and around them. Questions of methodology, theoretical perspective, and
contextual diversity are not over-simplified but rather presented in all their
ambiguity. “Literacy” represents a significant contribution to our understanding
of the nexus of language and literacy in current educational contexts.

This volume, along with the others in this series, is certain to become a
practical and valued resource at academic institutions. The book can be read in
its entirety, or chapter-by-chapter, as interest dictates. The
‘before-during-after’ structure of each chapter provides cohesion and
predictability for a reader making his/her way through the entire volume.
Graduate students and those who are new to the literature base or those looking
for a “jump start” in a particular area will find the chapters useful, though it
may prove superfluous for more expert readers. In this vein, one constructive
addition to the volume, especially for novice scholars, would be a list of
seminal readings and/or researchers for each of the major topics addressed. In
addition, the volume would benefit from a synthesizing final chapter to pull
together the breadth of issues and pose some final directions for this body of

One question that arises is the timeliness and access of the publication. Meant
to be “state-of-the-art (p. xi)” and provide and up-to-date summary of the
research, some of the chapters suffer from references to obsolete technological
innovations. This schism is particularly poignant because of the importance
given to adapting to new literacies within the book. One recommendation is that
the editors consider a more adaptive, interactive, Web 2.0 format for the series
that can be easily distributed, rather than a hard copy revision every ten years
that goes out of date before it even makes it to the bookshelves of institutions.

In conclusion, “Literacy” provides a comprehensive description of key themes and
issues related to literacy and language as well as an accessible yet
thought-provoking reading experience. It will surely prove useful to scholars
and educators who seek to understand the theoretical foundations, complexities,
and future directions of language and literacy in diverse educational contexts.

Amy Frederick is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Minnesota, and a research fellow at the Minnesota Center for Reading Research. She is an ESL teacher, teacher educator, and a researcher. Her research interests include literacy and ESL/bilingual education in elementary schools. Her PhD research explores how a team of elementary ESL and general educators use data to collaboratively design reading instruction for linguistic minority students.

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