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Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc. Scalar Analysis in Literacy Studies. RTE, Feb. 2016. Posted 03/20/2016.

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Stornaiuolo, Amy, and Robert Jean LeBlanc. “Scaling as a Literacy Activity: Mobility and Educational Inequality in an Age of Global Connectivity.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.3 (2016): 263-87. Print.

Amy Stornaiuolo and Robert Jean LeBlanc introduce the concepts of “scales” and “scalar analysis” as tools for examining how people locate themselves in a stratified global context. Scalar analysis moves beyond the dichotomy between “local” and “global,” shedding light on the ways in which locations are constantly in flux and in interaction with each other, often shifting as a result of strategic moves to respond to asymmetries and inequalities.

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc applied their analysis to five teachers in four countries—India, Norway, South Africa, and the United States—who worked with adolescent students on “a Space2Cre8 (S2C8) project,” which was “oriented to helping young people in challenging circumstances engage in cross-cultural communication” (270).

The five teachers worked with the S2C8 groups once or twice a week during the two-year duration of the project; students engaged in various forms of media to communicate with each other about their lives and cultures. During the project, the teachers met ten times via Skype, communicated in emails, and produced memos and notes; additional data came from interviews and classroom observations (271-72, 284-85). The teachers came from varied disciplines, such as technology, art, history, and design (271). Much of the work took place in English, which was the “only shared language” across the sites (270).

According to Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc, scalar research is useful for literacy studies because of its power to examine how meaning gets created and how it shifts as it moves into and through different contexts (267). Understanding literacy through scales “compels several shifts in literacy research” (268). These shifts revolve around moving from a sense of literacy actions and artifacts as fixed in time and space to understanding them as products of “ongoing and often contentious labor” that evolve through “the active and strategic working/reworking of texts in unequal globalized contexts” (268; emphasis original). Scalar analysis asks scholars to examine “how people are positioned and position themselves and their literate identities in and through literary practice” (269).

Such a focus on the “mobilities” of meaning, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc contend, is necessary to understand how inequalities are created and sustained, how meaning becomes more or less “understandable” (269) as it enters different scalar levels, and how people negotiate the hierarchical contexts that characterize globalization and in which they inevitably locate themselves. The authors were specifically interested in the ways that educators functioned in an environment understood through the lens of scales; the use of scales as a heuristic can both “explain how difference is turned into inequality” as well as how movement within and across scales can enhance agency for individuals and groups addressing their own marginalization (266).

Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc delineate six scalar “jumps” or “moves.” “Jumps” include “upscaling,” which involves “invok[ing] a higher scale rationale to prevail over lower-scale orders of discourse” (272); for example, institutional factors might be named as a reason for a particular choice. Kgotso, working in South Africa, refers to exam schedules and a teachers’ strike “to justify how he had been using his time” (280). Via “downscaling,” an actor asserts his or her local circumstances to validate a choice (272). Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc recount how Amit, writing from India, focused attention on how local technology limitations affected his group’s participation in the project (275). “Anchoring” privileges the actor’s location in the “here-and-now” without necessarily invoking higher or lower scales. The authors cite teacher emails in the project, in which the teachers claimed authority in reference to “an issue at hand” (273).

Other moves do not necessarily involve jumps. “Aligning” occurs when actors compare scalar locations to strengthen positions. As an example of aligning, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc present the efforts of Kgotso in South Africa to compare his concerns about the dominance of English with similar issues he saw as affecting Amit’s work in India (278). Kgotso further engaged in “contesting,” a scalar move in which he challenged the “US-centric imprint” of the project, suggesting that the curriculum be reconsidered to address the needs of the two “linguistically disadvantaged” sets of participants (qtd. in Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc 278). Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc provide an example of “embedding” in the way that Maja, in Norway, saw the project as “nested within a number of other entities” such as school and university commitments that affected her own use of time (281).

Such examples, for Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc, indicate the usefulness of scalar analysis to illuminate “gaps” that reinforce inequality. Differences in resources, such as adequate bandwidth, affected the ease with which the teachers were able to integrate the social-media exchanges the project hoped to foster (275). Another important research gap uncovered was the varied access to English as the primary language in communications among students. For example, Maja in Norway saw the need to translate S2C8 contributions into English, and Kgotso contrasted his students’ use of Afrikaans with the need to “cross over” to an outside language when working in the project. Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc consider moves like Kgotso’s and similar ones by Amit to be examples of downscaling, asserting the validity of students’ local practices and needs (277, 281).

Gaps in availability of time also figured prominently in the findings. Materials presented by Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc suggest that the teachers regularly made scalar jumps and moves to position themselves in relation to the amount of time required by the project in comparison to the demands of their local situations and of the higher-order scales in which they found themselves embedded. The teachers, Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc suggest, saw S2C8 as such a higher-order scale, one in some sense “imposed” on their immediate missions and requiring strategic negotiation of the scalar landscape (281).

Although Stornaiuolo and LeBlanc acknowledge that their account of the S2C8 project echoes “familiar narratives” about the issues that arise when the promise of digital communication across space and time is actually put into practice, they argue that these narratives “mask” what scalar analysis can illuminate: “the ongoing labor of producing texts and contexts over multiple affiliations in time and space” (283). Especially visible, they indicate, are the ways that literacy productions are valued differently as they move through different scales. The authors contend that attention to scales provides a “concrete set of tools to highlight the constructed and contingent nature of all literacy practices” (283).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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