Globalization and Multiliteracies


                  How has the context of globalization influenced multiliteracies?

The sweeping and dramatic impact of globalization is difficult to dispute. From the Tibetan Plateau to the Argentinean pampas, social change has transformed individuals, communities, and nation-states. The starting point for the discussion of Multiliteracies, originating in 1994, was the shape of social change. The authors of the New London Group explored contemporary social change and its implications on individual’s capacity to participate in public, community, and economic life (New London Group, 1996). It is therefore valuable to understand the source of this fundamental shift which has taken place in society, one which has significant implications for the ways we communicate, educate, and participate in our daily lives. 

In the simplest terms, globalization can be characterized by the increasingly interconnected and interdependent networks of people, ideas, capital, goods, and services around the world. The dominant ideology behind the phenomenon of global integration is driven by a neo-liberal model of economics, promoting a near universal trend of market deregulation and privatization. Following neo-liberal ideology, the unregulated integration of international financial markets advanced a seemingly unified world economic system (Lo Bianco, 2000). Beginning in the 1980’s, rising into the 1990’s and early 2000’s, neoliberalism dominated national economic policy throughout the majority of the world, leading to unparalleled economic integration in the shape of networked global financial markets. The implications and character of such a system are evidenced by the sweeping global economic collapse which, in 2009, we now find ourselves in. 

Arguably, the most influential element of the global economic system is facilitated by the revolution in information and communication technologies. Instantaneous and ubiquitous communication technologies have been a dominant force of global integration and interconnectivity, the implications of which are seen across cultural, social, political, and economic spheres. It is in this context that we can begin to understand the shape of social change and the influence for which globalization is accountable for such change.

Technology as Globalized and Globalizing

One of the most salient features of globalization is the role of technology as inherently globalized and globalizing. That is to say, technology is both a cause and effect of globalization. The internationalization of communication was a significant force in shaping global integration in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Thompson (2003) explores the key developments of global communication networks by focusing on three instrumental developments: the global expansion of underwater cable networks, the growth of a network of international news organizations covering exclusive geographical areas of operation, and the expansion of global networks of organizations concerned with the allocation of the electro-magnetic spectrum (a precursor to today’s satellite and Internet driven mass-media landscape) (Thompson, 2003, p. 203). These processes originated in the 19th century and rose to supremacy in the 20th century, becoming a dominant feature of daily life and vital to the expansion and influence of globalization into the 21st century. These systems of communication laid the foundation for the emergence of revolutionary technological advances in the post-WW-II era.

Unprecedented Technological Change

Originating out of the Cold War military intelligence, the Internet has come to represent the vehicle for the proliferation of technology in our world today (Targowski, 2006). Its implications are far-reaching as well as unprecedented, relevant in terms of how individuals read, write, view, construct knowledge, and communicate information online. This is particularly significant to the expansion of new information and communications technology which has transformed the ways in which individuals make meaning across a variety of social and cultural contexts. Indeed this is the fundamental motivation behind a multiliteracies approach within education; the Internet has catalyzed unprecedented changes to how we read, write, view, and communicate that it is now essential to explore what it means to be literate in the 21st century.

As Coiro et al. noted about the influence of the Internet in the opening chapter of the Handbook of Research on New Literacies. “No previous technology for literacy has been adopted by so many, in so many different places, in such a short period, and with such profound consequences. No previous technology for literacy permits the immediate dissemination of even newer technologies of literacy to every person on the Internet by connecting to a single link on the screen. Finally, no previous technology for literacy has provided access to so much information that is so useful, to so many people, in the history of the world” (Coiro et al., 2008, p. 3). The static construct of print-based literacy, a dominant element of the last 500 years of civilization, is no longer. The expansion of new information and media ensures a continuous and rapid process of change in the way we read, write, view, listen, construct knowledge, and communicate information (Coiro et al., 2008, p. 5). In this way, it is vital to explore the implications of globalization and the new forms of literacies which it has shaped.

A Network Society

The one-billionth individual began interacting online in late 2005. This represents one sixth of the world’s population. In 2009, we can be sure that this number has grown at an exponential rate. Between 2000-2007, the total world usage growth for the Internet was 248.1%, while in some emerging regions, such as Africa, the rate was 879.8% (Coiro et al., 2008, p. 3). Accordingly, these statistics reflect how we are in the midst of a massive shift towards a networked society; a shift with significant impact on the ways in which literacy is changing, and the ways in which new literacies are emerging.

As the Internet’s influence on globalization spreads, the Web 2.0 platform has emerged to transform information and media consumers into producers. Web 2.0 is perceived as the second generation of web design and web development, characterized by a user-generated transformation of the Internet which has facilitated unprecedented communication, information sharing, and collaboration between World Wide Web’s 1.2 billion users. The scale and nature of the Web 2.0 platform has previously never been seen. As Castell (1996) observes, “What has changed is not the kind of activities humankind is engaged in, but its technological ability to use as a direct productive force that distinguishes our species as a biological oddity; its superior capacity to process symbols” (p.2 ). In the new information and communications era, an individual’s capacity to process these symbols is increasingly dependent on their ability to interpret multi-modal meaning. That is to say, with the ascendency of Information and Communications Technology, meaning is represented not just in a written-linguistic mode, but increasingly modes of meaning interact with oral, visual, audio, gestural, tactile, and spatial patterns of meaning. In Castells’ observation, he presupposes our species’ ability to process multi-modal meaning. However, in the decade since his claim, there has been an enormous shift in the context in which we view symbols in our daily lives. Our capacity to process symbols is therefore becoming inadequate as we continue the dominance of print literacy while marginalizing the variability of making meaning in different social contexts. Within the new information revolution, catalyzed by globalization, discontinuity is now a constant.

Citizenship in the 21st Century

An increasingly relevant element of globalization in the 21st century is the mobility of humans around the world.  The sheer scale of human mobility has created a global phenomenon of multi-culturalism on an unprecedented level. This phenomenon has brought about large implications for literacy as individuals require interacting and working across different cultural contexts. The pattern of global movement generates a need for understanding of different linguistic contexts, while at the same time, the consequences of globalization bring about the dominance of English as the lingua mundi (Lo Binaco, 2000). As Joseph Lo Bianco explains in Multiliteracies and Multilingualism, the consequences of a global English indicate that established but radically different Englishes are now meeting global communication needs. The tension that emerges from the development of many norms of correctness within global Englishes, where “‘English’ becomes a network of inter-related models; ‘a single interdependent communication matrix’” (Lo Bianco, 2000 p.93), deserves significant attention by policy makers and education leaders. As Lo Bianco explains, “the effect, then, for these forces of change is to make every nation need to come to grips, in public policy and in educational practice, with polyglot populations" (2000 p.95).

Citizenship in the 21st is intrinsically global. The unparalleled human population transfers in all areas of the world fundamentally alters the relationships of nations, communities, and individuals. As many observers passionately advocate, the technological revolution demands a new approach to literacy, in this same way, the emergence of global mobility demands a new approach to both literacy and lingualism. In this sense, Multiliteracy must integrate Multiligualism.

New Capitalism - Post Fordism and Beyond

“Modernity is inherently globalizing” - Anthony Giddens

As one of the high priests of globalization, Anthony Giddens expresses the characteristics of our modern era as “inherently globalizing.” This hyper-connected period is often referred to as ‘fast-capitalism’, ‘late-capitalism’, or as Zygmunt Bauman describes, ‘liquid modernity’.” But what characteristics define new capitalism? And how do these relate to a call for Multiliteracies?

One of the most relevant features of modernity and ‘new’ capitalism is the diffusion of technologies and its implications towards numerous aspects of the daily lives of individuals around the world. Arguably the most influential feature of technology diffusion has been the revolution of communications technologies which advances modernity in a discontinuous process away from the traditional, altering the business structures and practices of the 20th century industrial period (Giddens, 2000).

There is an exploding literature on the new capitalism which witnesses a shift from hierarchical, authoritarian, and multi-layered corporate business structures to flattened, decentralized, distributed systems of business which require a multitude of knowledge bases and skill-sets distinctive from the 20th century industrial period. This transformation of the changing nature of work is often referred to as ‘Post-Fordism’. Evidently, the shift to new models of business organization, labor trends, and markets has massive implications for education and the transfer of knowledge and skills to “ensure that students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, and economic life" (New London Group, 1996). The New London Group, in their seminal essay A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies, asserts a call to action in the face of the transformation of working lives. They advocate for the development and implementation of Multiliteracies as a vital response to unprecedented global change.

Concluding Thoughts

In 1994, the authors of the New London Group set out to explore the shape of social change which was unfolding at unprecedented rates in the face of global integration. Social change has been most fundamentally influenced by what many refer to as processes of globalization; the increasing interdependence and interconnectivity of our world. The shape of change has dramatically affected the ways in which we communicate, participate, and educate in our daily lives. A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies is a call to action for educators in the face of global change as a way to accommodate learning so as students may benefit from the new public, private, work, and educational lives they will encounter in their future.  In a global era, we will need the multiple skills required to negotiate through the changing landscapes of our social and economic lives.

Castells, M. (1996). The information age: Economy, society and culture, vol. 1: The
rise of the network society. Oxford: Blackwell. 

Coiro, J. et al. (2008). Central issues in new literacies and new literacies research.  In Handbook of Research on New Literacies. Routledge

Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures. Routledge. 

Giddens, A. (2000). The globalizing of modernity.  In The Global Transformations Reader.  Polity Press. 

Lo Bianco, J. (2000).  Multiliteracies and multilingualism. In Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. Routledge. 

New London Group. (1996).  A pedagogy of multiliteracies.  Harvard Education Review.

Targowski, A. (2006). The genesis, political, and economic sides of the internet.  Dialogue and Universalism. 3-4.

Thompson, J. (2000).  The globalization of communication. In The Global Transformations Reader.  Polity Press.