Critical Literacy in a Digital Era: Technology, Rhetoric, and the Public Interest
Author: Barbara Warnick
Publisher: Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
Review Published: June 2002
I appreciated Mia Consalvo's thorough, fair-minded review of Critical Literacy in a Digital Era. My aim was to write a book that was accessible to students and the general public, but at the same time scholarly in nature. Consalvo's review was supportive of my effort to reach diverse audiences, but it also pointed up some of its hazards.
Consalvo notes that her intent is not to "engage closely with [my] methods of discovery," and she seems less interested in a rhetorical approach to studying pro-technology discourse than she is in critical context-oriented analysis. But if one sets out to analyze the discourses of Wired, persuasive messages addressed to women, and Net-based political activity from a rhetorical perspective, one will be comparatively more interested in the rhetorical features of the texts and their underlying ideologies and comparatively less concerned with their contexts.
The central argument of Critical Literacy in a Digital Era concerns how messages are adapted to their audiences, how those messages shape their perceptions and ideas about technology, and how message codes elide issues related to gender and race. In a book such as this, the claims are about how the texts operate rhetorically, and the evidence arises from readings of the texts. Context is very important, of course, since it illuminates and supports the textual readings, but context is not the focus of the study. Therefore, in doing the work for the book, I relied on a large number of excellent secondary source materials that informed my readings of the texts.
One of these was Melanie Stewart Millar's 1998 Cracking the Gender Code which I discovered in a Canadian bookstore in 2001 just as my book was about to go to press. Millar's excellent book, which I did cite and include in my reference list, examined the sexist and racist aspects of Wired during the early 1990s, and I strongly recommend it to readers interested in Wired's history. I did not make greater use of Millar because her book emphasized a period of time prior to the period of my study and because it duplicated some of the sources I had already been using, such as books and articles by Paulina Borsook, Susan Herring, David Hudson, Jennifer Light, and Tim Jordan.
The connection that Consalvo describes between cyberfeminism, cybergrrl discourse, and women's use of the Internet is an important one. Many commentators have been far too ready to argue that women are inherently disadvantaged and marginalized by the mere presence of new technologies. The works of such authors as Braidotti, Plant, and (one would hope) Consalvo herself are a valuable corrective to earlier commentaries concerning women's use of the Internet. The history of women's use of new technologies is one that continues to evolve, and one to which we should continue to be attentive.
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