WRD 104: Composition & Rhetoric II Rotating Header Image

Literacy events and literacy practices

Literacy events and literacy practices are key to understanding literacy as a social phenomenon.

Literacy events serve as concrete evidence of literacy practices. Heath (1982) developed the notion of literacy events as a tool for examining the forms and functions of oral and written language. She describes a literacy event as “any occasion in which a piece of writing is integral to the nature of participants’ interactions and their interpretive processes” (p. 93). Any activity in which literacy has a role is a literacy event. As Barton and Hamilton (2000) describe, “Events are observable episodes which arise from practices and are shaped by them. The notion of events stresses the situated nature of literacy, that it always exists in a social context” (p. 8). 

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Barton and Hamilton (2000) describe literacy practices as “the general cultural ways of utilizing written language which people draw upon in their lives. In the simplest sense literacy practices are what people do with literacy” (p. 8). Literacy practices involve values, attitudes, feelings, and social relationships. They have to do with how people in a particular culture construct literacy, how they talk about literacy and make sense of it. These processes are at the same time individual and social. They are abstract values and rules about literacy that are shaped by and help shape the ways that people within cultures use literacy. Street (1993) described literacy practices, which are inclusive of literacy events, as “‘folk models’ of those events and the ideological preconceptions that underpin them” (pp. 12-13). 

Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (2000). Literacy practices. In D. Barton, M. Hamilton, & R. Ivanic (Eds.), Situated literacies: Reading and writing in context (pp. 7-15). New York: Routledge.

Heath, S.B. (1982). Protean shapes in literacy events: Ever-shifting oral and literate traditions. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Spoken and written language: Exploring orality and literacy (pp. 91-117). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Street, B. (1993). Introduction: The new literacy studies. In B. Street (Ed.), Cross-cultural approaches to literacy (pp. 1-21). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Woman reading a newspaper on the subway. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon. New York City, February 1952.