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David Barton (United Kingdom)

 

A third contribution in the anthropological-ethnological-ethnographic thread is by David Barton[i]. David is Professor of Language  and Literacy at the Department of Linguistics and Modern English Language (LAMEL) at the University of Lancaster in Northern England. Together with Mary Hamilton and Roz Ivanic he coordinates the Literacy Research Group (LRG), which since 1983 has been developing the field of literacy, and particularly adult literacy, as a general research area. Other LRG group members come from the fields of linguistics, sociology, psychology, educational research, continuing education, and English language education. The group carries out and encourages interdisciplinary research in literacy; and promotes research in adult literacy, the development of innovative research methods and the improvement of communication and collaboration between researchers and practitioners. David has worked on child language development at Stanford University, USA, and he is especially interested in social aspects of literacy. He has published extensively in Britain and the United States. His publications include: Writing in the community (1992), Literacy: an introduction to the ecology of written language (1994), Worlds of literacy (1994), Sustaining local literacies (1994), Local Literacies: Reading and writing in one community (1998), with Mary Hamilton, Letter writing as a social practice (2000), edited with Nigel Hall, and Situated Literacies, (2000), edited with Mary Hamilton and Roz Ivanic,

 

His contribution to this volume, the title echoing that of one his recent publications, is Everyday Letter Writing: Letter Writing As A Social Practice. In it he explores, with reference to a series of fascinating examples, how the practice of letter-writing in everyday life serves a wide range of social and interpersonal functions for those who pursue it, and how this form of literacy contributes to maintaining and modifying existing social practices. He underlines constantly the importance of studying everyday forms of letter writing, writing by ordinary people, since this is one of the most pervasive literate activities in human societies, but points to a continuum running from everyday literacy-based activities of this kind to more specialised forms of the same activities. People write, after all, not only to one another in everyday life, they write to schools, companies and to politicians, and they sometimes tend to divide the task of writing such letters among different family or community members, depending on their specific competencies and social roles. Writing (and reading) personal letters is considered, also in practical terms, a rather different kind of sub-activity, with different kinds of connotations, to that of writing and reading more ‘official’ letters. David touches too, on a series of interesting cross-cultural and historical aspects of letter-writing, noting for instance that families in some Amish communities write letters together, with members adding a few lines at the bottom of the letter as it is circulated among them. In other Pacific islander communities, letters can be seen to contain more affect that people are traditionally allowed to display in their oral conversations. The study of everyday letter writing as social practice, he concludes, must take account of and describe in detail not only the texts themselves, but also the people who write them, the activities they associate with their letter writing, and the various material artefacts they have appropriated for use before, during and after the writing process.

 



[i] David Barton’s homepage is at http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/staff/david/david.htm, and he may be contacted by e-mail at: <D.Barton@lancaster.ac.uk>

 


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