In Chapter 2 of New Literacies, Lankshear and Knobel pose the question, “Do you think the view of ‘meaning’ as related to literacy that we are advancing in this chapter is too wide, not wide enough, or about right?” (45). I believe their use of “meaning” is right on track. Meaning provides motivation for people to adopt and participate in literacies and discourses. If literacies allow for humans to form discourses and “discourse can be seen as the underlying principle of meaning and meaningfulness” (Gee 2008a), then we need to treat “meaning” as a fundamental building block in developing a greater understanding of literacies.
It is human nature to find meaning through connection. Lankshear and Knobel write, “We think Gee’s (1997, 2004, 2008a) Discourse approach to literacies draws attention to the complexity and richness of the relationship between literacies and ‘ways of being together in the world’” (45). The best way I can elaborate on this viewpoint is by relating that connection to my own discourse adoption experience. Most of my life I have identified myself as an athlete, but not specifically a triathlete. Sure, I could make myself a triathlete without any outside help, but this route seemed slow-going and lonely. Once I found the right training team and started building upon the practices, coordinations, and literacy of the group, I started to see my place and find purpose as a triathlete. Please note, I don’t see myself as a capitalized “Triathlete” just yet.
As Gee puts it: “Within such coordinations we humans become recognizable to ourselves and to others and recognize ourselves, other people, and things as meaningful in distinctive ways” (1997: xiv). At triathlon practices I recognize my progress based on how my teammates are reflected back to me. For example, at swim practice I know Isabella is a much better swimmer than me. She swims in lane 8, while I just moved up to lane 4. However, when we’re biking, I get to lead the group, and Isabella is several riders back. This connection allows me to recognize my progress as well as my teammate’s progress. We use each other to monitor our growth and develop our discourse identity.
My triathlon team will call me if I miss a practice, which I interpret as, “I belong”. Belonging ties into the literacy of the group. I have had to become literate in equipment, paces, locations, and team language. The runners of the team will ask, “What is your pace?” At this point another runner will respond, “I have a 10 minute mile,” for example. Swimmers on the team will say, “Meet at our spot at Chatfield Reservoir.” In both these instances I have had to learn exactly what my responses need to be or figure out who can help clarify my questions so I can participate in the greater conversation.
Lankshear and Knobel’s introduction and explanation of meaning in Chapter 2 is painted with a broad stroke. They do not go too deep and they don’t dismiss any forms of meaning. I find this valuable because meaning is such a personal thing. This approach allows the reader to relate their meaningful experiences back to literacies and discourses formed throughout their lives. Their elaboration is learner-centric and provides just the right amount of “meaningful” education.