vernacular literacy

I don’t want ‘vernacular’ to become another ubiquitous adjective that I just stick in front of every ‘traditional’ cultural category, just like ‘e’ went in front of every Foucauldian discourse/institution 10 years ago (e-education, e-medicine, e-government). Especially considering that I’ve only recently added Nava’s ‘vernacular cosmopolitanism‘ to the pile of readings for my thesis on ‘vernacular creativity’, AND Henry Jenkins already uses ‘vernacular media’, PLUS what I gain from working with participants is some illumination of what a ‘vernacular theory‘ of creativity and cultural participation would look like. But in preparing my AoIR paper I’ve begun sketching out something that includes the phrase ‘vernacular literacy’. Very rough thoughts as of 5 minutes ago:

Just as it is possible to speak of ‘vernacular creativity’ as a field of cultural production that is structurally outside of, but nevertheless references and is referenced by the artworlds and commercial media, it is also possible to talk about ‘vernacular literacy’. There are two levels to this concept which follow from the duality of literacy as both a field of contestation and a site of (or means to?) practice, and which I outlined above in the more general discussion of the cultural politics of new media literacy.

First, it is possible to talk about ‘vernacular literacies’ as part of the practice of everyday content creation. That is, the range of everyday competencies that constitute what people can already ‘do’ creatively, and the local, social contexts in which those practices are embedded. Secondly, these sites of vernacular creativity are also the location for vernacular theories (cf. McLaughlin) of literacy – where transpositions of ‘official’ debates around literacy are worked through at a local level, especially at moments of perceived technological ‘newness’, such as with digital culture.

I will go away and ruminate on all that, I think. But it could be a good way into the ‘stuff’ of my case studies.

And here is what a Google search turns up for the phrase in question.

3 thoughts to “vernacular literacy”

  1. coming from india, where vernacular is not equated with pockets of carefully-conserved lifestyles mainly for tourist consumption, but is instead a still-vibrant and thriving form of existence, i would like to submit that vernacular/folk is a highly sophisticated form of coded knowledge that is designed for easy memorization, and unambiguous comprehension. (excuse the very long sentence!) i would like to have your comments on this, and perhaps we can commence a dialogue if we find ourselves on the same side of the metaphorical table!

  2. arvind, I think we are indeed on the same page. In this very small study, I am dealing with my own immediate local and temporal contexts, but trying to keep diachronic and synchronic contexts in the frame. There are, as you suggest, important dynamics of difference across cultures especially in relation to the place that a globalised mass-popular has in each context – and, I would suggest, those dynamics of difference are even more important within each context than is commonly acknowledged. Totally agree as to ‘a highly sophisticated form of coded knowledge’ (as opposed to ‘pre-knowledge’ or ‘pre-literacy’ as some people would have it) but not so sure about ‘unambiguous comprehension’. I think it’s really productive to see the vernacular as a rich site of negotiation and contestation – but it’s often implicit in ways that the ‘rational’ public sphere isn’t. Anyway, would love to hear more of your thoughts/examples.

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