Global Literacy: Arts, Media and the Humanities

Second semester 2016-17, February 6-March 31
Course info
Registration starting December 6

This course explores the relationship between literacy and space. It examines the ways that different types of literacy produce different forms of space and how negotiating different kinds of space demand different strategies of literacy. As well as considering what literacies connect the novel and the nation and the network with the globe it asks how do these spaces intersect and how do we read across and between them?

We begin our exploration of this topic by reconsidering classic accounts of communication technology that relate new forms of literacy to the production of new communities and new forms of (political) association: the public sphere, the republic of letters, the world wide web. But we will also be concerned with how new literacies create new illiteracies and new spaces of illiteracy. How, for example, in modern Europe, and North America the printing press transformed political space through the production of ‘the illiterate’ as a cause for concern and moral improvement. If the literacies associated with globalisation involve induction into a variety of different kinds of spaces: the transnational, the virtual, the networked, the posthuman, what are their corresponding illiteracies?

One obvious answer is that the humanities themselves now belong to the space of the left behind. How can a discipline organised around the discredited figure of the human respond adequately to the challenges posed by the decentred spaces of globalization? Throughout the course, consequently, we will also be engaged in a self-reflexive examination of the literacy of the humanities themselves. Are the humanities an example of a new illiteracy or is there a role for the humanities precisely in the relation of the global and the local, the new and the superseded?

To explore these questions the course is divided into two broad sections. In the first section we examine the relationship between literacy and various forms of political space through discussion of topics such as queer literacy, illiterate testimony and the relationship between literacy, mimicry and passing. How do ideas of literacy render some bodies illegible and turn certain voices into noise? What forms of expression are available to those whose legibility and speech are prohibited by the structures of literacy itself? What can we learn, for example, from the idea of a rudimentary literacy?

In the second section we look in detail at the ways in which new forms of literacy transform our understanding of space. How do the spaces of network literacy differ from those of the print economy? What are the associations between networks and the spaces of sovereignty and terror? How does digital literacy and the operation of the virtual impact upon our ideas of affective relationships and models of the psyche? We then consider the ways in which thinking the global in postcolonial and ecological terms can be seen to produce different and possibly incommensurate locations of literacy. Finally we consider the ways in which reflecting on the situation of literacy enables the reconstruction of fundamental boundaries between the animate and the inanimate enabling us to ask questions about possible forms of trans-species literacy.

This course could be of interest to students in cultural studies, literary studies, media studies, history, art history, political science and philosophy.


This is not a NICA core activity but an elective announced on this site solely for  your information. You should register for this course through the university that offers it, and the credits you will earn will also be given out by that university. If your program includes a requirement to earn credits from a national research school, the credits for this elective do not count towards that requirement. You may need to acquire the permission of your program coordinator and/or board of examinations in order to participate and earn credits for this elective.