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What are transnational literacies and why do they matter?


These are questions I wish to open for exploration. They suggest a task that needs to be explored through transcultural dialogue and experimental practice. Some provisional definitions as a starting point for discussion can be provided through reference to the work of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who has called for the development of transnational literacy in several publications (1999:377, 399). Spivak never clearly defines this term but leaves it for her readers to work to understand it through reading the various texts she has produced and thinking about their relevance to our own experience and localities. Michael Rothberg suggests that transnational literacy reverses the assumed power relations of the dominant order to locate the need for literacy “in the educated first world reader: at the very moment Spivak seeks to instruct ‘dominant’ readers in the pitfalls of turning subalternity into exploitable resources for ‘information retrieval,’ she also suggests the necessity for those same readers to develop ethical reading practices or ‘literacy’ with which to reapproach the spaces of subalternity” (123). As Spivak first conceives it, this is a form of literacy that dominant cultures need to learn. Under colonialism, dominant cultures assumed that their forms of literacy were the only forms, that their local ways of knowing were the only ways, and as a result, they imposed their forms of literacy on the rest of the world. With decolonization, these literacy myths are being questioned. We now know that literacy, as a form of social practice, is much more complex.

When Spivak writes of transcultural literacy, she is referring in the first instance to what the powerful need to learn—and to unlearn. This type of transcultural literacy is the other half of what Spivak describes when she writes about people in the United States and other developed countries needing to learn to “unlearn their privilege as their loss.” Because Spivak has spent most of her life teaching in privileged universities in the United States, she makes no apology for stressing what Americans need to learn and unlearn. At the same time, she also writes about the different emphases required when she teaches critical literacy in subaltern contexts.

Spivak revises what literacy means, beyond conventional notions of reading and writing, by insisting that it include an awareness of the power relations built into knowledge production in local and cross-cultural contexts. As such, this kind of critical literacy is a task for everyone. How it is to be achieved will depend on the local circumstances in which learners function and what it involves will vary with those circumstances. At a general level, it requires in learners an ability for self-critique, vigilance, and openness to challenge. In Spivak’s formulation, transcultural literacy also requires multilingualism, what she calls “deep language learning,” and a special attentiveness to what she terms the precapitalist cultures of the world, best developed, she suggests, through a process of mutual interruption between the multidisciplines of comparative literature and Area Studies as practiced within the United States  (Spivak 2003).

Transnational literacy as a concept, however, carries significant potential beyond the contexts in which Spivak first developed it. Colleagues in Brazil and Canada are working together in an ambitious program to think more deeply about what transcultural literacies could mean, both locally in our two countries, and transnationally, for the developing dialogue between us. Our project, “Brazil/Canada Knowledge Exchange: developing transnational literacies,” has been funded by the SSHRC partnership development program for the next three years.

Our goals are 1. To strengthen transnational literacy and cross-cultural understanding within and between Brazil and Canada;  2.To work with English teachers and teachers-in-training to integrate theory and practice, developing site-specific pedagogies appropriate to global challenges; 3.To advance understanding of how globalization is impacting education (at all levels)  in Canada and Brazil; 4. To advance the Brazil/Canada relationship; and 5. To contribute to understanding of how to make transnational, interdisciplinary partnerships work.

So what do we mean by “transnational literacies”?

This is an excerpt from the paper I discussed in the workshop Jornada Internacional: Novos Letramentos @LetrasDebate @ufmgbr 12 Agosto


This talk builds on arguments first made in Diana Brydon, “Critical Literacies for Globalizing Times,” _Critical Literacy_. 4.2. June 2010, pp. 16-28. The research was conducted, in part, with support from the Canada Research Chair’s program.

  Faculdade de Letras Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais




14:00 – 15:00


Plenária – Profa. Dra. Diana Brydon
(University of Manitoba)
“What Are Transnational Literacies and Why Do They Matter?”
15:00 – 16:00 Plenária – Prof. Dr. Lynn Mario Menezes de Souza
“Letramento Crítico: Genealogia e Transculturalidade”


16:30 às18:30


Mesa Redonda – Novos Letramentos e Ensino de Língua
Estrangeira / New Literacies and Foreign Language Teaching
Letramento e educação em língua estrangeira: o caso das
relações etnico-raciais Profa. Míriam Jorge (FAE/UFMG)
A Formação Inicial de Professores sob a Perspectiva do
Letramento Crítico: (re)conhecendo a profissão docente
Profa. Leina Jucá (UFOP)
Dilemas do formador de professores diante dos desafios do
Letramento Crítico Profa. Elzimar Costa (FALE/UFMG)
Novos Letramentos e Letramento Crítico: possibilidades para
o ensino e para a formação de professores de inglês como
língua estrangeira Profa. Andréa Mattos (FALE/UFMG)
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