Sian's talk at the Edinburgh seminar 'Uncanny' Literacies - Assessing the new texts made me with my 'literacies perspective' feel a bit like an old-fashioned headless ghost roaming a deserted lecture room clanking its chains and going 'whoooo' at the data projector.
I've heard Sian talk quite convincingly about this notion of the 'uncanny' before, in the context of Second Life, which is a bit spooky and dreamlike (at least at first), here she seemed to be using the expression to refer in a more general way to feelings of unfamiliarity and uneasiness around certain digital communication practices, which I found a bit less convincing as a trope. In fact it was noticeable how readily people in the seminar subsequently took up and recycled the term in jokes and asides, whenever they wanted to allude to some general quality of unexpectedness in a situation or role, whether it was associated with real uneasiness or not. In the end I wasn't sure that the words 'uncanny' and 'literacies' added much to each other - in some ways they almost seemed to be in a kind of conceptual opposition, the one waving excitedly at an unknown space which is thrilling just because it is unknown, the other gravely summoning up the illusion of understanding and control.
On the other hand, I thought that where she took up the question of the 'spatial' metaphor for the internet, implied by our (Mary Lea and my) use of the term 'technologies as sites of practice', contrasting it with the notion of a 'lifestream' made up of flows of 'volatile texts', she opened up an important issue which I'm still trying to get my head round. The 'lifestream' idea was illustrated with examples from the course on digital culture that Sian and Jen Ross have been running as part of Edinburgh's MA in e-learning. I as understand it, a lifestream is an aggregation of digital sources relating to interests and activities that participants in the course have engaged in. Some of these sources may be 'fixed' (eg: blog posts) but others may be dynamic (eg: feeds from other sites that the participant regards as pertinent in some way). A lifestream is therefore subject to constant change, which Sian interprets as a constant re-making of the identity(ies) of the owner.
Aside from the questions Sian herself raised about how these volatile texts can be assessed (in the more mundane though crucial academic context of the course), issues are raised here about the kinds of social action that a lifestream and its re-making of identities might take part in. I guess this was probably the main point of Sian's talk as far as literacy is concerned, but I'm not sure at the moment where this takes my own thinking. She also raised taxing issues about the role of temporality in literacy practices, and about the 'image-like' nature of textual archives like twitterstreams, and implications for reading from them. At one point she said that the students didn't view twitter as 'scholarly', and there was no reason why they should, but I wonder whether that is always going to be the case? At another point in the course, students are engaged in what they call 'virtual ethnographies' of internet communities, which they can represent using an application of their choice. The scholarly and the informal surely are blended together here?
The other seminar participants were certainly engaged by Sian's talk, and the questions and discussion went on almost as long as the presentation itself. I was interested in questions raised about who is represented in a course population which is able and happy to take on the uncertainty and chaos of digital culture as a topic of study - and how lessons from this kind of brave and exciting experiment in pedagogy might be applicable to the more personally threatened learners often found in widening participation contexts.