5.1.1. Digital literacies as dominant literacies

Brian Street is probably the thinker most responsible for our current conception of ‘literacy’ as not just one unified skill or attribute that people either have or do not have, but rather as something better thought of in the plural: literacies (Street: 2016). Street borrowed the concept of ‘social practices’ (how people behave in expected or culturally embedded ways in particular contexts) from his  initial specialism in anthropology. He used this to identify ‘literacy practices’ – human activities or contexts that involve reading or writing. Literacy practices are hugely diverse and change fast over time – so writing a birthday card is a very different activity from writing a shopping list, and both activities now can be completed – digitally, or online – in ways that were not possible, or at least common, a few years ago. When people acquire particular literacies, they learn ‘ways of doing things’ with reading and writing that may be very different from what they have experienced before – either through reasons of culture, schooling or life experience. Given the multiplicity of literacies and literacy practices in society, Street also talks about what he calls dominant literacies– literacies that in some way confer power or prestige on the user. These also change over time so in the UK, where ten years ago it might have been the case that writing a cheque was a prestigious literacy (showing you had a bank account and perhaps could be trusted to pay bills), today writing a cheque looks extremely old-fashioned, and indicates that perhaps you do not have easy digital access to money. Today, without a doubt, and especially in the wake of Covid-19, most dominant literacies are digital –  and that surely means that it is specifically digital literacies that should be the focus of our work with less-educated learners if we are to enable their empowerment and advancement in society through reading and writing.