• Pursuing Literacy Research in Precarious Times

      Abas, Suriati (2021)
      In times of crisis, literacy plays an important role in providing regular updates, alleviating problems and mitigating chaotic situations. Generally understood as an unanticipated negative event or series of events, a crisis may occur at the personal and/or global scale. Regardless of the scale, multiple works of literacy in the form of signs, banners, posters and/or social media posts are inherently visible within a planned or unplanned event. Covid-19 additionally leaves some of the most vulnerable communities with crisis within a crisis. The death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, for instance, not only yielded a large turnout of protesters who used literacy artefacts as tools for demanding justice and changes in law enforcement practices, but also motivated city officials to take actions. Supporting weeks of anti-racism protests, a new street sign – ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’ – was christened. A massive ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural was unveiled on the 16th street of Washington, DC, predating replicas in major cities across the U.S. (Asmelash, 2020). Each of these actions was instantaneously reproduced and circulated across multiple social media platforms through either user-generated or re-sharing of videos, photographs and texts that amplify police brutality. The overwhelming responses, rooted in the historical trajectory of Black protest literacies in America, comprise ‘visual and musical aesthetics and conversations with other people of color; reading and writing outside of class based on racial, class inflected politics not offered in classrooms’ (Kynard, 2013, p. 66). Literacy, at this particular moment, is viewed as a social practice or something people do to bring justice to the forefront. Taking a similar perspective to literacy, this presentation proposes a methodology for pursuing research in open public spaces based on a study conducted in Buenos Aires, Argentina from 2016 to 2019. Argentina is a compelling case not only for how the continuously changing socio-political climate influences literacy within schools and in out-of-school settings, but also for engaging in methodological innovations during times of precarity. While there is no one fix method, this study illustrates how works of literacy in open public spaces can be systematically documented using photographic data.