Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Multiliteracy Practice as Relationships not Representation

July 8th, 2014 · No Comments

In “Rereading ‘A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies’: Bodies, Texts, and Emergence” (2013), Kevin Leander and Gail Boldt refreshingly challenge an aspect of education that often receives little criticism. Rather ironically, this overlooked element is precisely the privileging of critical thinking in education and the admonition to educators of producing a generation of critical thinkers. Leander and Boldt argue that examples of “disciplined rationalization of youth engagement in literacies” like that contained in the New London Group’s seminal article “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” (1996) is a “vision of [literacy] practice involv[ing] a domestication that subtracts movement, indeterminacy, and emergent potential from the picture” (23, 24). According to them, the danger of such a model is its conformity to a one-dimensional linear educational project: guided practice supervised by the teacher fostering the attainment of prescribed criteria for intellectual development, which can then and only then lead to independent criticism and transformative production by the students in their own right. Leander and Boldt note that this pedagogical formula corresponds to the notion of history as teleological time – a steady and inexorable progress towards a predetermined ideal of political or social life – which implicitly represents the new society as one created after not during education (28). While not wanting to jettison the critical element of literacy education, they ask educators to consider the possibilities that might emerge if we stop exclusively asking our students and ourselves “what does a text mean” and instead explore questions like how do they work, what can they do, and how can they be used? (25).

To my mind, Leander and Boldt’s framework is an aesthetic intervention that reconfigures subject-object relations in a radical fashion. I see it to be useful for sketching a connection to commodities that is difficult to imagine in the virtual and consumerist economy of our contemporary neoliberal moment: if I have trouble theorizing a different relationship from that of owner, consumer, critic, or reader to objects like novels, films, or videogames, the affective and embodied perspective of Leander and Boldt’s “user”offers alternative values and insights that can be helpful in resituating my engagement with narrative. Instead of charting or locating the effect/affect, purpose, or meaning in a particular work, I can experiment how cultivating a relationship with a textual object can influence my perception of narrative as well as my link with others. It seems to me then that the fundamental notion that Leander and Boldt are proposing in their article is a shift in literacy practice from representation to relationships through a focus on embodied affect. But what is affect?

In Parables of the Virtual (2002), Brian Massumi posits affect as that which slips out of our grasp, as the remainder that lingers and disturbs representational forms instead of something that instills the represented image with emotion. For him, affect can only be registered as that which escapes cognition: emotion as a trace that preserves an echo of the affect that produced it. He writes, “Affect is synesthetic, implying a participation of the senses in each other: the measure of a living thing’s potential interactions is its ability to transform the effects of one sensory mode into those of another” (35). Can affect be represented then or only embodied through relationships? If the representational form of emotion is merely the shorn husk of affect or, conversely, affect is the always already inexpressible excess of represented emotion, it would seem that we are trying to represent rather than relate. As Massumi reminds us, we lose sight of the fact that affect is a social property, transmitted and produced by actual bodies through their relations with their senses and with each other. Why, then, isn’t the focus on exploring the social relationships produced through and by affect? As Leander and Boldt argue, perhaps it is far more productive to consider the practice of literacy as a unique performance that engenders a change in human relations rather than a subject that seeks to enlighten personal attitudes. Our relationship to objects is indicative of our relationship to other human beings. As such, a pedagogical methodology should be less concerned with locating and charting the effect and influence of meaning in literacy texts and more interested in exploring the types of affective relations with literacy texts that we hope to cultivate with each other in the present.







Works Cited


Leander, Kevin and Boldt, Gail. “Rereading ‘A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies’: Bodies, Texts, and

Emergence.” Journal of Literacy Research 45.1 (2013): 22-46. Print.


Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham: Duke UP,

2002. Print.




Tags: multiliteracies

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

You must log in to post a comment.