Framework course

The course Critical Literacy and Interaction is composed of 12 units. Each unit explores a specific theme in the light of Critical Literacy. All units are interconnected with each other.
The following themes will be explored:

The first part of the module (unit 1 – 6) is intended to serve as an introduction to various theoretical formulations and concepts which are central to an analysis and understanding of the human communication process in multi-social symbolic contexts. The course explores the nature of human interaction from different perspectives (from a communicational, a developmental and a critical perspective).Starting with the basic concepts of communication: sender and receiver interaction, message coding and decoding, channels of communication, different communication media and the importance of feedback and noise. Communication (unit 1) is approached here in its different properties: “as a process, which is dynamic, implying interactive and transactive characteristics, its symbolic nature, as an intentional action, contextual, omnipresent and cultural”. We then move the focus on to the symbolic nature of communication (unit 2); we make sense of the world we live in by negotiating meaning, interpretation and identity through its ‘codes’. This helps us in our quest in becoming ‘literate’.

Literacy (unit 3) is not merely approached as a basic cognitive skill implying reading, writing, speaking and listening (performance) but as a broader concept in which “literacy practices are situated in broader social relations; that literacy is a symbolic system used both for communicating with others and for representing the world to ourselves; that attitudes and awareness are important aspects of literacy; that issues of power are important; and that current literacy events and practices are created out of the past” (Barton, 2007). We will explore the different literacies (such as print, cultural, visual, media, information technology, numeracy and political literacy) and pay attention to their changing definitions over time. Our quest in becoming ‘literate’ involves entering the realm of critical literacy (unit 4). By this we mean taking an active challenging approach to reading, textual and media practices. “Critical literacy involves the analysis and critique of the relationships among texts, language, power, social groups and social practices”. It entails the ability to interpret the intentions (of the sender), contents and effects that messages and texts have on readers (receivers) and the way ‘subjects’ are represented in discourse. The concept of literacy will also be addressed in a developmental framework, focusing among others things on the relationship between being ‘literate’ and social equality, preservation of cultural diversities, empowerment, democracy and political participation.

When addressing the verbal code in this course, we start with language as a system of symbols used solely to communicate. We will focus on more closely on the process of meaning making, and how it is that we come to understand- or misunderstand- each other from a semiological perspective. In the process of using language effectively we need to be aware of contextual factors (social, psychological, historical, verbal/non-verbal, environmental, cultural, identity etc.) which can influence meaning both in sender and receiver.The focus will be on language as means for constructing and sustaining realities through persuasive strategies. This brings us to the unit of analysis of discourse (unit 5); discourse as actual instances of communication in the medium of language (text and talk), as “socially constructed knowledges of some aspect of reality”. Discourse is approached here as a form of social action. Being aware of this, we then take a critical stance by recognizing and analyzing the process in which this transformation (construction) of reality takes place. We will give special attention to how ideologies (unit 6), defined here as “shared systems of believes by a social group or movement” (Van Dijk, 2004) influence both the production of text and talk (discourse as social practice), the way we interpret this and the social identities we apply in our everyday life.

The second part of the module (unit 7 -12) will have a more ‘hands on’ approach. In this part we will give critical literacy a more practical application. We will start this by introducing two particular meaning-generating devices that construct realities and shape identities in everyday life. These are metaphors (unit 7) and storytelling (narratives) (unit 8). By expanding our understanding on the form, workings and effects metaphors and storytelling have on the construction and grasping of realities, students learn to identify their presence as persuasive strategies that constitute discourses. We will explore the relationship between these meaning-generating devices and the ongoing construction (shaping and re-shaping) of identities

It will become evident that new times call for new kind of literacies. The module will explore the theme ‘Critical Literacies for the 21st century’ in the form of a class lab. All above presented concepts, theories and ‘critical’ questioning abilities and analyzing techniques will be put to the test when approaching two particular literacy practices: media literacy (unit 9) and political literacy (unit 10). Taking a critical stance is important considering the high rate of media consumption and production, the saturation of society by media, the influence the media has on our democratic processes and on the legitimating of power, the increasingly important role information, communication strategies, persuasive techniques and visual communication play in our everyday lives and societies; Realities and identities are being constructed, represented and mediated. It will become evident that a sustainable way for one to stay ‘up to date’ and to truly understand the world through its continuous changing ‘codes’, is the realization that communication and literacy abilities go hand in hand with the ability to learn and re-learn.

To be critical is “to take up a notion of human agency that is both introspective and action-oriented and that social transformation requires critical self-reflection” (Luke, 2004). We will explore this reflexive and action-oriented agency of the individual by means of the concept of voicing. Voicing as “the process and capability of giving an account of one’s life and its conditions: to provide a narrative” (Couldry, 2010) and thus to make sense (meaning) of one’s experiences in a broader social context that can be best characterized as a social tapestry of multi-voices. Students will become aware that they have a voice that is unique and that the exploration and manifestation of this voice is at the essence of their own ongoing identity-forming process. This requires the acknowledgement of the existence of multi-voicedness. Entering into dialogue (dialogue of voices) with these multi-voices makes it possible to position the self in terms of ideas, experiences and values. In order “to read the word and the world” we must also be able to “read ourselves” in relation to others and their believes. By doing so, students not only become aware of their own identity and of the existence of diversity, but most important take an active role in the articulation of their own voices.