Executive Summary: Brian Street’s The New Literacy Studies

Street, B. (1993). The new literacy studies. In B. Street (Ed.), Cross-cultural approaches to literacy (pp. 1-21). London: Cambridge  University Press.

Brian Street, in his introduction to his book, gives a brief look at the different views of literacy throughout the discipline’s history and argues that literacy is not truly autonomous nor neutral but instead is based on ideological principles. Street also urges that instead of using a narrow point of view from one discipline, this “new” literacy studies should borrow the multiple definitions and methodologies from various disciplines to study and analyze literacy.

On being ideological, he writes that literacy is not just a neutral tool that is taught to function in society but also creates a power structure, as well as a power struggle, among people, and literacy, or literacies as Street argues, is completely dependent on the culture of the society. Not only are literacies dependent on the society it comes from but the study and analysis of literacy is ideological as well and that researchers must acknowledge the ideological implications from their own definition of what literacy is. He argues that a views of what literacy is (as well as isn’t) has been mostly ethnocentric. Street starts with Ong and his contemporaries on the Great Divide theory and briefly gives account to present day on how literacy has been seen and what has been privileged.

Near the end of his introduction, he urges that literacy studies should borrow and take into account the theories from the various disciplines. From linguistics to sociology to anthropology, the specifics of literacy will always be defined, deconstructed, and redefined, but as long as researchers recognize the inherit bias of their disciplines and society, then this will only help the definition of literacy to progress instead of become stagnant.

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