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Critical digital literacies: Following feminist composition theories into twenty-first century contact zones

, University of Arkansas, United States

University of Arkansas . Awarded


This dissertation examines how the interests of feminist composition theory, digital media, and new literacies studies intersect within the research context of the first-year writing classroom. Specifically, this project examines what happens to the "contact zone” (Pratt 1991; Bizzell 1994) of first-year composition when we introduce digital literacies into the curricula. Based on research in multiple sections of first-year composition and conducted in large university and small liberal arts college settings, this two-and-a-half-year study analyzes the potentials of digital literacy pedagogies to enable and/or limit social, economic, and academic opportunities of students in the twenty-first century. This project argues that, more than a sub-literacy of traditional alphabetic writing, digital literacy requires a pedagogy that intentionally challenges and validates the multimodal skills that our students bring with them into the classroom; moreover, the specific pedagogical concerns of feminist composition theory are well-suited to critically examine as well as reflexively support the complexities of teaching digital literacies in the first-year composition classroom.

This project argues that feminist composition theory not only authorizes but also calls for the inclusion of digital media studies in twenty-first century writing classrooms, particularly as the Web itself operates as a discursive space, fraught with its own contradictions and underlying enthymemes. A qualitative methodology (i.e., taped interviews, pre and post-semester questionnaires, technology surveys, etc.) is thus utilized to understand the socio-cultural "contact zone" of the twenty-first century writing classroom and its resulting pedagogical demands.

One important research finding is that digitally inclusive composition pedagogy requires addressing institutional hierarchies that potentially marginalize and disenfranchise the multimodal reading, writing, and authoring practices of today's students, despite evidence of the value of these literacies for citizenship and career success. In response to this pedagogy of exclusion, this dissertation examines YouTube as a critical text and as a potential pedagogical solution to the challenges of teaching rhetoric in the composition classroom. Moreover, strategies of Website authoring and design are treated as a potential pedagogical companions for collaborative and diplomatic classroom writing/instruction. Finally, techniques for encouraging socio-political participation and/or resistance through multimodal writing are explored through the lens of feminist composition theory. Acknowledging the potential to essentialize or prescribe what constitutes the "liberation" or "feminization" of the contact zone, this dissertation also explores the potential for hyper-mediated fractures to occur in the contact zone, for sonic students to become constrained rather than liberated, and for the literacy hierarchy to be merely reproduced rather than equalized. Analyzing the feminist pedagogical inclusion of digital media studies in this context brings this dissertation into much needed dialogue with composition research concerned with understanding how our students' digital literacies are being carried out extracurricularly and in empowering ways that are often contradictory to the traditional goals of the academy.


Blackburn, J.B. Critical digital literacies: Following feminist composition theories into twenty-first century contact zones. Ph.D. thesis, University of Arkansas. Retrieved March 24, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 22, 2013. [Original Record]

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