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Boler, Megan. Affect and Media Literacy. RTE, Nov. 2019. Posted 01/09/2019.

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Boler, Megan. “Digital Disinformation and the Targeting of Affect: New Frontiers for Critical Media Education.” Research in the Teaching of English 54.2 (2019): 187-91. Print.

Megan Boler contributes a “provocation” to an “In Dialogue” section of Research in the Teaching of English focusing on “Media.” She calls for attention to the influence of emotion in rhetorical communication, particularly in social media (187).

Boler argues that media literacy scholars and educators “lag behind advertisers and tech companies” in understanding the power of emotion to elicit responses (188). Social media, she writes, have enabled propagandists with this kind of understanding to target and manipulate public opinion in new and more powerful ways. In her view, such agents deliberately stoke emotional responses in order to create anger and division as well as distrust of public fora (187). In today’s media, Boler argues, “emotion and affect have become central currencies” in today’s “(digital) attention economy” (188).

To examine how media literacy education addresses the sophisticated use of emotion she describes, Boler’s team did a “preliminary review” of nine media literacy handbooks from 2017 and 2018 (188). She finds that these handbooks exhibit a consistent “cognitive bias,” focusing on fact-based critique including the recognition of “questionable URLs, . . . biased language, or missing sources” (189). Only four mention emotion at all.

She reports on one of the latter that provides guidance on recognizing “intentional” emotional appeals in fake sources but, in her view, absolves consumers of responsibility for their own emotional engagement. Another provides classroom activities that encourage students to “identify how the source affected their emotions” (189). While a first step, this approach, Boler feels, isolates emotion as an individual response (189).

Boler suggests a “pedagogy of discomfort” that asks students to examine the effects of identity, peer pressure, and other “unconscious emotional habits, patterns, and assumptions” that influence responses to media (190).

Emotion, in this view, is “not merely an ‘add-on’ that can be understood through a checklist.” Instead, emotion and affect are “fundamental,” Boler contends, and should be central to media literacy scholarship and education (190).

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.

4 thoughts on “Boler, Megan. Affect and Media Literacy. RTE, Nov. 2019. Posted 01/09/2019.

  1. Boler points to a lack in the teaching of students. Parallel is the reluctance to include emotion in the serious study of texts, both the authoring and reading of them. Much more of that has been done in communication and linguistic studies than in composition studies, and the big names (e.g., Kenneth Burke, Dwight Bolinger, Teun A. Van Dyke) were not teachers of writing. But I would like to mention one exception, and that is Julie Jung. About a decade ago she published a piece, under-cited, in the journal Enculturation, called “Rhetoric and Composition’s Emotional Economy of Identification.” By “economy of emotion” she means an argument, usually tacit, that uses emotion to put a premature end to disciplinary debates. So literary studies shames composition studies (who would want to be a lowly comp teacher?) and composition teachers shame literary studies (what’s the practical value of that?). So a stand off, and since no one wants to bring to light the issue of emotion, an end of what could be a profitable discussion. Jung, who teaches at Illinois State, is working on a book she currently calls The Reflective Subject: Tropes, Emotions, Economies. Her Enculturation piece, well worth reading, is available on line: http://enculturation.net/rhetoric-and-compositions-emotional-economy. Rich Haswell

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  2. Boler points to a lack in the teaching of students. Parallel is the reluctance to include emotion in the serious study of texts, both the authoring and reading of them. Much more of that has been done in communication and linguistic studies than in composition studies, and the big names (e.g., Kenneth Burke, Dwight Bolinger, Teun A. Van Dyke) were not teachers of writing. But I would like to mention one exception, and that is Julie Jung. About a decade ago she published a piece, under-cited, in the journal Enculturation, called “Rhetoric and Composition’s Emotional Economy of Identification.” By “economy of emotion” she means an argument, usually tacit, that uses emotion to put a premature end to disciplinary debates. So literary studies shames composition studies (who would want to be a lowly comp teacher?) and composition teachers shame literary studies (what’s the practical value of that?). So a stand off, and since no one wants to bring to light the issue of emotion, an end of what could be a profitable discussion. Jung, who teaches at Illinois State, is working on a book she currently calls The Reflective Subject: Tropes, Emotions, Economies. Her Enculturation piece, well worth reading, is available on line: http://enculturation.net/rhetoric-and-compositions-emotional-economy

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    • Hi, Rich,

      I need to apologize for not posting this comment sooner. I’ve just discovered on both my blogs that there’s a separate setting that actually shows me the comments awaiting moderation–unlike the notifications I thought were taking care of this. You’d think after nearly five years of doing this, I’d have found that setting. The blog doesn’t attract many comments, which has always been a disappointment, but failing to see them and post them doesn’t help. Thanks for a thoughtful response from way back in January!

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