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Jacob Bullard
Nancy Roche
Writing 1010-013
23 October 2014
A New Take on Literacy: Social Theory
When it comes to literacy, some people do not see the fullness contained within the
concept. In Barton and Hamiltons essay, Literacy Practices, they attempt to shine a light on this
vaguely defined term. The two scholars establish a theory regarding literacy which enables them
to institute a unique understanding of this term and extend it into the social realm. This new take
is meant to expose literacy and its social role as opposed to its role individually. With the use of
six propositions throughout their essay, Barton and Hamilton are able to further expand on this
idea of literacy being a social practice through simple facts and logic.
An example of Barton and Hamilton using logical reasoning is when they propose that
literacy is best understood as a set of social practices; these are observable in events which are
mediated by written texts (Barton and Hamilton 9). It makes sense logically that literacy, at an
individual level, can be compiled with other individual literacies to create a group or social level
of literacy. Barton and Hamilton explain that one can view literacy as not only an individual trait,
but also as a group of individual literacy traits combined to create a community literacy (13). As
Barton and Hamilton extend literacy into the social world, their next proposition clarifies why
this is important.
The social aspects of literacy in Barton and Hamiltons theory show how literacy
practices are of significant importance in a social medium. Barton and Hamilton propose that
literacy practices are purposeful and embedded in broader social goals and cultural practices

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(12). An example of this proposition would be someone making a self-repair on his or her
vehicle; they must read the owners or repair manual to gain the knowledge of how to make the
repair. An underlying social goal of the repair would be to ensure the safety of the vehicle on
public roads for the well-being of the community. The literacy practices which carry out these
social goals are explained by Barton and Hamilton in a way that is easily understandable.
Barton and Hamilton essentially state that because an individuals demands, available
resources, and interests are always changing, the literacy practices an individual engages in will
adapt and transform as well (14). Consistent with the entire essay, this proposition made by the
two scholars is not difficult to grasp; in fact, it is quite simple to comprehend. The simplicity
Barton and Hamilton use in their proposition helps to solidify their theory. To understand that
literacy practices vary and are in a constant state of flux is beneficial to understand the next
proposition Barton and Hamilton make.
Just as literacy is ever evolving throughout the human evolution, the two scholars also
suggest that there are different literacies associated with different domains of life (11). By
comparing and contrasting the different literacy practices within each of the domains, Barton and
Hamilton are able to distinguish the ways in which these domains are held together and how they
originate through the use of literacy. The many uses of literacy help support another key point
from Barton and Hamiltons theory, which is the claim that text can be portrayed as evidence,
display, threat, and/or ritual and for this reason, the potential or capability of literacy needs to be
known (13). What Barton and Hamilton are fundamentally saying is that literacy has persuasive
The power of literacy is revealed by Barton and Hamilton when they state, literacy
practices are patterned by social institutions and power relationships, and some literacies are

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more dominant, visible, and influential than other, (12). One way this claim can be understood
is to notice the varying patterns of literacy practiced throughout the different social institutions in
America. Barton and Hamilton claim that literacy is historically situated (13). What Barton and
Hamilton mean by this claim is that there exist contemporary literacy practices which have taken
influence of past culture practices.
Successfully, Barton and Hamilton reveal the social aspect of literacy. This social facet
was revealed through the keen use of simplistic facts and logic, which is portrayed in six
propositions in their theory. These two clearly expanded the notion of literacy and its presence
and function in the social world.

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Works Cited
Barton, David, and Mary Hamilton, ed. Situated Literacies: Reading and Writing in Context.
London: Routledge, 2000. Print.