005 – fusion – Changing Patterns and Critical Dialogues: New Uses of Literacy

Author: Jane Mills, University of New South Wales


I sometimes feel that riding waves is all about reading waves.  Surfing requires ocean literacy, a knowledge and understanding of the swell, currents and wind that allows the surfer to navigate the sea and to create something beautiful with the waves.

Ava Parsemain, surfer and PhD candidate whose doctoral project investigates the pedagogy of television using case studies of Australian programmes to understand how television teaches.


Looking back to Richard Hoggart’s seminal book, The Uses of literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life (1957) without which, as Stuart Hall reminds us: “there would have been no Cultural Studies” (2007), the introduction to this issue of fusion takes the form of an essay that explores the connections between literacy and Cultural Studies.  Framing this enquiry within the context of the academic practice of conceiving, designing and creating an academic symposium, this article exemplifies the notion of  ‘literacy in action’ to explore some of the uses to which the trope ‘literacy’ is put, and the value both of and for Cultural Studies as a critical perspective.


Not long before the demise of the Journalism & Media Research Centre (JMRC) at the University of New South Wales at the end of 2013, a group of its academic members (the JMRC was unusual in that most of its members were both researchers and lecturers) were discussing an innovative funding initiative of the Cultural Studies Association of Australasia (CSAA). In lieu of a single large Australasian symposium, the CSAA invited proposals from individual universities for a series of small ‘Intermezzo Symposia’.

We were attracted to the idea of hosting such a symposium in large part because of a shared curiosity. We were a group of scholars teaching and researching across a range of interdisciplinary fields in journalism, media and visual communication studies – all disciplines hugely invested in new technologies, new media studies and in the cultural and creative industries. However, we noted with some surprise that although our teaching and research were deeply inflected by Cultural Studies – which we often nominated as one of our ‘Field of Research’ areas – the term ‘Cultural Studies’ was seldom, if at all, mentioned in our Departmental or Faculty mission statements, list of disciplines, or taught courses. Initial informal enquiry led us to think more deeply about the role Cultural Studies played in our academic lives as well as that of our students, both in our particular institution and in the academy as a whole. The recent interventions of Graeme Turner, long a much valued advisor of the JMRC, concerning the possibly deleterious impact of “the claims made upon a cultural studies genealogy by some iterations of subfields such as new media studies and creative industries” (2009, 2012, 2013) added another layer to our intellectual curiosity about the hybridised nature of our scholarly endeavours.

So, too, did consideration of our distinct but overlapping academic interests across a range of literacies which, we noted, had been accompanied recently by renewed interest in the materiality of language among scholars and which had been the central theme of the 2012 CSAA National Conference (see http:/www.csaa.asn.au/about/ conference/past-conferences.shtml). The literacies that informed our collective research and teaching activities and that drew upon a Cultural Studies approach to knowledge included: sexual literacy and mediated sexual subcultures (Albury, 2013); digital games literacies (Beavis & Apperley, 2012); screen literacies (Mills & Green, 2013); religious literacy (Bahfen, 2011). The literacies that some of our doctoral students were exploring included digital, animation, television, and emotional literacy.

The burgeoning list of literacies has been of concern to many working in the interrelated fields of literacy learning, pedagogy and Cultural Studies for some time. As David Buckingham notes:

This proliferation of literacies may be fashionable, but it raises some significant questions. Popular discussions of “economic literacy,” “emotional literacy,” and even “spiritual literacy” seem to extend the application of the term to the point where any analogy to its original meaning (that is, in relation to written language) has been lost. “Literacy” comes to be used merely as a vague synonym for “competence,” or even “skill.” (Buckingham, 2008)

As the title of Buckingham’s more recent paper on literacy at a media education symposium indicates: ‘New directions or losing our way?’ (2012), this concern has not disappeared. If Literacy Studies has ‘lost its way’, is this because of, or despite, Cultural Studies as an influential critical framework for the study and practice of literacy teaching and learning at secondary and tertiary education levels?

A theme emerges

What emerged from these preliminary discussions was a proposal for an Intermezzo Symposium to revisit Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of literacy: Aspects of Working Class Life without which, as Stuart Hall reminds us, “there would have been no Cultural Studies” (2007). To explore the connections between literacy and Cultural Studies that began with this founding text, we wanted to ask if the continuing relations between the two disciplines had resulted in literacy being used as an empty metaphor, one that is losing (or has lost) its effectiveness, its explanatory and evocative power (Green & Mills, 2012). We were also interested to ask if Hoggart’s insistence upon a linguistic framework for studying popular culture in the so-called ‘new media age’ was implicated in what Cultural Studies has become.

Our thematic frame, then, would be ‘cultural literacy’, the many uses to which the trope ‘literacy’ is put, and the value both of and for Cultural Studies as a critical perspective. We argued that the mass media objects of our research and teaching offered an intellectually intriguing inter-connected theme for debate that would bring together (though not necessarily in agreement) scholars working in the intersecting fields (and yes, disciplines) of Cultural Studies, literacy learning, Media Studies, Communication Studies and Screen Studies. Thus was the theme for our Symposium, ‘Changing Patterns and Critical Dialogues: New Uses of Literacy’, conceived.

Literacy: a new idea?

Initially, we were concerned that it might seem contradictory, even contrary, to discuss one of Cultural Studies’ ‘founding texts’ (Hall, 1980) as ‘a new idea’. In part, we chose to revisit The Uses of Literacy in acknowledgment of Turner’s concern that the research projects of many students (and, we add, of many academics)

like cultural studies teaching programs, are too often reduced to their topic rather than situated within the broadest possible relation to a body of ideas, concepts and approaches. As a result, graduate students can emerge from writing a successful dissertation without acquiring much in the way of an overview of the field, a grasp of its theoretical histories, and an informed understanding of the place of their work within these contexts (Turner, 2013).

Our discussions convinced us, however, that to critically assess our academic practice, The Uses of Literacy was the appropriate starting point from which to explore teaching and research that involved aspects of cultural literacy inflected by Cultural Studies. We therefore purposefully positioned our Symposium within the context of existing and ongoing debates and provocations such as those initiated by John Hartley, Graeme Turner and others that had emerged at previous conferences and symposia.

We were, of course, aware that Hoggart had been the subject of an international conference, ‘The Uses of Richard Hoggart’, in Sheffield in 2006 and of the important papers from this conference that were published a year later in a special issue of the International Journal of Cultural Studies (2007, 10: 1) edited by by Sue Owen and John Hartley. (For more details see John Hartley’s editorial “Richard Hoggart and the International Journal of Cultural Studies – ten years on”) In addition to Hall’s paper ‘Looking back at The Uses of Literacy: how the idea of cultural studies emerged’ cited above, three significant papers in this special issue directly discuss literacy: Mark Gibson’s ‘The Antipodean uses of literacy’; John Hartley’s ‘There are other ways of being in the truth: the uses of multimedia literacy’; and Graeme Turner’s ‘Cultural literacies, critical literacies and the English school curriculum in Australia.’ As Hartley correctly states in his Editorial, this is “a lively and readable issue of the journal that demonstrates how the ‘uses of Richard Hoggart’ are being rethought for a new century”. It proved an invaluable publication for our purposes as it offered a wealth of ideas that we aimed to consolidate.

Academic colleagues at other universities confirmed our intellectual curiosity and excitement about exploring cultural literacy in order to further knowledge and understanding of Cultural Studies. We also noted the recent article by Kris Rutten et al. ‘Cultural Studies and Critical Literacies’ (2013), which suggested we were not alone in pursuing the syncretic outcomes of mapping Cultural Studies and Literacy Studies on top of each other. There was enthusiastic support for the idea of a transdisciplinary Symposium to focus attention on conjoining ‘new literacy studies’ and Cultural Studies as a theme. As abstracts arrived, we recognised that the papers would add further insights and more literacy areas that crossed paths, or locked swords with, Cultural Studies, suggesting the potential for some innovative research publications.

Fusing the urban-regional divide

Location and issues of space and place mattered intensely for our Symposium. As academics located on Australia’s densely populated eastern seaboard at one of the leading “Group of Eight” (Go8) universities, our plans were framed by a determination to encourage interactive discussion between scholars located in regional universities and those on the eastern coast. We therefore created a supportive space that was actual and virtual, one that actively encouraged scholars in rural and regional Australia as well as those in eastern urban locations to participate.

In alignment with an important founding tenet of Cultural Studies, we also included an international element by offering colleagues overseas ‘virtual’ participation, courtesy of some of the media technologies that we would be discussing. Delegates, actual and virtual, were invited to share knowledge and understandings from overseas, specifically at the regional University of Lincoln (UK), at Japan’s regional University of Niigata, and at Keio University in Tokyo. Rather than privilege our own campus, we designed a Symposium that enabled us to offer hospitality in the spirit of rooted cosmopolitanism involving respect for the local and the particular and which also valued universal obligations (Appiah, 2006). We decided to privilege regionally located scholarship in the form of our keynote speakers, both of who came from universities located beyond the eastern seaboard. We also chose to offer a special edition of papers presented at (and provoked by) the Intermezzo Symposium to fusion precisely because of its aims to value emerging academics and early career researchers equally. (We hereby declare an interest: one of us is an Associate Editor of fusion. She did not, however, participate in the journal’s decision to publish this special edition.)

Speakers and topics

Thus keynote and other speakers included: Bill Green, Emeritus Professor of Education at Charles Sturt University in regional New South Wales; Lelia Green, Professor of Communications at Edith Cowan University, in the western seaboard city of Perth, Western Australia; Associate Professor Yoshikazu Shiobara at Keio University, Japan, whose interdisciplinary research is in media literacy and citizenship in multicultural society; Professor Hirotoshi Yaginuma at Niigata University, Japan, whose current research project involves a Cultural Studies approach to visual literacy.

In this issue we publish Lelia Green’s keynote as a peer-reviewed article and Yoshikazu Shiobara’s contribution as a digital video text. We look forward to reading Bill Green’s keynote at a later date. Entitled ‘Rethinking Literacy for the New Media Age? His provocative contribution spoke to the following:

Notwithstanding Richard Hoggart’s significance in the formation and history of cultural studies, and recurring references to his early book “The Uses of Literacy”, I want to argue that literacy as such doesn’t figure all that much in the field of cultural studies, at least in its dominant constructions. When it is not being deployed more or less metaphorically, there is overwhelmingly a sense of what has been described as “the assumption of literacy” – the view that literacy is something that can and should be simply ‘assumed’ in cultural studies work, or perhaps ‘presumed’, especially when that field is conceived as, first and foremost, a university discipline. I argue this is symptomatic of its restricted engagement with education, as both a practice and a field of study. Literacy, it seems, is all too often invested with the same kind of taken-for-grantedness as education. Seeking to open up a more productive dialogue between these two fields, this presentation will firstly explore the notion of a paradigmatic shift from ‘print’ to ‘digital electronics’, before going on to provide a reconceptualised, historically informed account of literacy, with due regard for changing formations of technology and culture, communication and power. What is at issue in rethinking literacy for the new media age?

The Symposium was further framed by an insistence to fully share ideas with post-graduates and early career academics from regional and rural universities who were invited to apply competitively for six awards. We also invited post-graduates and ECR scholars to further contribute as the co-authors and joint peer-reviewers of this special issue of Fusion.

Full details of the Intermezzo Symposium, including speakers, abstracts and program, can be seen at https://sam.arts.unsw.edu.au/events/csaa-symposium/

Future directions

The research interests and concerns of the organising group of academics within the JMRC as well as those of the speakers and contributors reflect a diverse range of modes of communication intersecting at a time time when many politicians in many nations show little or no concern for what we might broadly call cultural literacy. Often armed with a stick rather than a carrot, the increasingly dominant approach to education is to introduce tools that focus on a single mode of communication and that define ‘literacy’ narrowly in terms of writing, spelling and grammar.

As one time conservative advocate of choice and testing, in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, US scholar and educational activist Diane Ravitch convincingly argues that accountability based solely on test scores has been a disaster (Ravitch, 2010). By measuring success only in relation to a narrow definition of literacy, she demonstrates that the testing system of evaluating educational skills in the US, leads teachers to “teach to the test” and thus minimise, or ignore, the value of science, social studies, history, geography, foreign languages, art and music. This supports Kwame Appiah’s argument for a responsible, inclusive approach to ‘education for global citizenship’ outlined in an essay of that name (Appiah 2008). It also supports Martha Nussbaum’s passionate argument for ‘cultural literacy’ in her monograph Not for profit: why democracy needs the humanities (Nussbaum, 2010). This testing approach to and focus upon literacy was introduced to Australia under the Labor Government in 2008 in the form of the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN – see http://www.nap.edu.au/naplan/ naplan.html). By its narrow focus on testing and narrow definition of literacy, NAPLAN reproduces the problems of which Ravitch and Nussbaum warn: in other words, to many of our politicians and educational masters, the concept of literacy does not include the forms of culture that were discussed at he Symposium and that underpin the papers in this special issue of fusion. This is a field that several speakers at the Symposium suggested would benefit from more research and thinking.

We had hoped discussions would range over an even wider range of literacies than it did. Indigenous literacy, for example, is possibly the next step after indigenous cultural awareness and competency programs that some Australian universities have introduced (see Hill and Mills, 2013). This, however, still waits to be addressed. Aware of the significant research and publications of Gerard Goggin, a former Deputy Director of the JMRC, in the field where Disability Studies intersect Communication and Mobility Studies in the research and publications we also anticipated, incorrectly, as it turned out, that what might be called ‘disability literacy’ would be addressed. In screen studies, films produced in this century such as A Very Long Engagement  (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007), The Intouchables (Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano, 2011), and Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard, 2012), all offer a potential springboard for new directions and dialogues in this interdisciplinary area. Jane Stadler’s suggestion of ‘reading’ empathy in ‘Cinema’s Compassionate Gaze: Empathy, Affect and Aesthetics in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ offers a new way in to this area of cultural literacy that could deliver new understanding in this field. All these – and more – offer future directions that we hope will be explored by consolidating the research and thinking offered by the Symposium speakers and authors in this special issue.

We confess we hope that a word (or concept) other than ‘literacy’ will be found some day. ‘Literacy’ so strongly evokes the letter rather than the image and is, after all, only a metaphor for the sort of cultural knowledge and understandings that we are discussing. Nevertheless, the speakers and authors all significantly push the boundaries of the concept of literacy. This special issue of fusion is part of our plan to widen debate beyond the papers presented at the symposium. We trust that you, our fusion readers, will not let the matter rest.


It is, perhaps, for each reader to form their own conclusions about the relationship between literacy and Cultural Studies. Or, as we hope, to conclude that there is no conclusion and that academic research and teaching must continue to probe the connections. Ien Ang asks rhetorically, “Does Cultural Studies matter (and what matters for Cultural Studies)?” (2103). Our response is this: Yes, Cultural Studies does matter “as a vehicle of social change, even a radical political force” (Ang, 2013). As for whether literacy matters for cultural studies, this is what we discussed at the Intermezzo Symposium in April 2014 and what the articles in this special issue of fusion also explore. We leave it to our readers to continue the dialogue.

In memory

With much sadness, just 8 weeks before the Symposium, we learned of the death of Stuart Hall. Stuart McPhail Hall (1932-2014), with Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, was one of the founding figures of the school of thought now known as British Cultural Studies or The Birmingham School of Cultural Studies. It was therefore with great pleasure, albeit also huge sadness, that we screened John Akomfrah’s documentary, The Stuart Hall Project (2013), at the Symposium. The film was introduced by Professor James Donald, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences at UNSW. Appropriately, Stuart Hall was Professor Donald’s doctoral supervisor at the Open University. (For more on this documentary, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4-ktD5I_Sc )

Just five days after the Symposium ended, we learned of Richard Hoggart’s death. While this was not unexpected, it was nonetheless a huge sadness. At the Symposium we talked long and hard about Hoggart’s’ idea of literacy. Refusing to privilege either the word over the image or the image over sound, we even heard (were subjected to?) a snatch from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s rendition of ‘Death Cab for a Cutie’, the title of a spicy sex-novel that Richard Hoggart invented in The Uses of Literacy (Ch. 8, p. 231 in the 2009 Penguin edition). The curious will find Richard Hoggart’s son, Simon Hoggart’s explanation of the connection to the band (also to The Beatles) in his preface to this edition (p. v). For those whose curiosity is not sated, I recommend you read Simon Hoggart’s moving reminiscence in the Guardian:  http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jan/10/simon-hoggart-dad-working-socialising-laughing

Amid this loss and sadness, we are proud and profoundly touched to publish John Hartley’s ‘Building Cultural Studies – New Brutalism, Hoggartsborough and All That Jazz.’ John Hartley remembers “three globally significant figures in cultural studies – all of them pivotal for any reasonable understanding of ‘new uses of literacy’” – who died in 2014: Stuart Hall (3 February 1932 – 10 February 2014); Richard Hoggart (24 September 1918 – 10 April 2014); and Terence (Terry) Hawkes (13 May 1932 – 16 January 2014).

Stuart Hall 1932 -2014

Stuart Hall
1932 -2014

Richard Hoggart 1918 - 2014

Richard Hoggart
1918 – 2014

Terence Hawkes 1932 - 2014

Terence Hawkes
1932 – 2014

Thank you

The Intermezzo organising group, Associate Professors Jane Mills and Kath Albury, Dr Tom Apperley, Dr Nasya Bahfen and Professor Ramaswami Harindranath, wish to thank all those who helped make the Symposium and this special issue of fusion such high quality scholarship. We were extremely fortunate to be assisted by doctoral candidate Paul Byron whose persistence, diligence and attention to detail was magnificent. President of the CSAA, Dr Andrew Hickey. At UNSW: FASS Dean, Professor James Donald; Head of School of the Arts and Media, Professor Andrew Schultz. To all the contributors and speakers at the Intermezzo Symposium including guest introducers Dr Michelle Langford and Professor James Donald. To fusion Managing Editor Professor Craig Bremner and advisor, Professor Norman Cherry. Very special thanks to fusion Production Editor, Michelle O’Connor. To the above, our anonymous peer reviewers and others who contributed in many ways, we thank you most sincerely.

Thank you to the following people, who assisted with this special issue of fusion:

Bujuanes Livermore, University  of Sydney
Stefan Popescu, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney
Emily Booker, University of New South Wales
Catharine Lumby, Macquarie University
Wilson Koh, University of Queensland
Ava Parsemain, University of New South Wales
Chloe Angyal, University of New South Wales
Kathleen Williams, University of Tasmania
Kristina Gottschall, Charles Sturt University
Justy Phillips, RMIT
Josh Dubrau, University of New South Wales
Cath Ellis, University of New South Wales


Albury, Kath (2013) ‘Young people, media and sexual learning: rethinking representation’, Sex Education 13: 1. http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/csed20/ current#/doi/full/10.1080/14681811.2013.767194

Ang, Ien (2013) ‘Cultural studies matters (does it?): engaging inter/disciplinarity,’ Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. 14:3.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2006) Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York: W.W. Norton.

Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2008) ‘Education for Global Citizenship’, in Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. 107: 1, pp. 83–99.

Bahfen, Nasya, (2011) ‘Borderless Islam and the Modern Nation-State’. Intellectual Discourse. 19: 1.

Beavis, Catherine & Tom Apperley (2012), ‘A model for games and literacy’ in C. Beavis, J. O’Mara & L. McNeice (eds), Digital Games. Kent Town, SA: Wakefield Press.

Buckingham, David (2008) ‘Defining Digital Literacy. What Do Young People Need to Know About Digital Media?’ in C. Lankshear & M. Knobel, (eds), Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. New York: Peter Lang. 2008, p 75.

Buckingham, David (2012) http://www.manifestoformediaeducation. co.uk/mp3/Part2-Creativity.mp3.

Hall, Stuart (1980) ‘Cultural Studies and the Centre: Some Problems and Problematics’, in S. Hall, D. Hobson, A. Lowe and P. Willis (eds) Culture, Media, Language. London: Hutchinson & the Centre For Cultural Studies.

Hall, Stuart (2007) ‘Looking back at The Uses of Literacy: how the idea of cultural studies emerged’. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 10: 1.

Hill, Barbara & Jane Mills (2013) ‘Situating the ‘Beyond’: Adventure-learning and Indigenous Cultural Competence’, Discourse. 34:1.

Mills, Jane & Bill Green (2013) ‘‘Popular Screen Culture and Digital Communication Technology in Literacy Learning: Towards a New Pedagogy of Cosmopolitanism’, Journal of Popular Film & Television. 41: 2, p. 109-116

Nussbaum, Martha (2010). Not for profit: why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Ravitch, Diane (2010) The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Mew York: Basic Books.

Rutten, Kris, G. Rodman, H.K. Wright, R. Soetaert (2013) ‘Cultural Studies and Critical Literacies’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 16:1, pp 443-456.

Stadler, Jane (2013), ‘Cinema’s Compassionate Gaze: Embodiment, Affect, and Aesthetics in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ in Jinhee Choi and Mattias Frey, (eds.). Cine-Ethics. London: Routledge.

Turner, Graeme, (2009) ‘Cultural Studies 101: Canonical, mystificatory and elitist?’ Cultural Studies Review, 15:1, pp 175-187

Turner, Graeme (2012) ‘What’s become of cultural studies?’ London: Sage Publications.

Turner, Graeme (2013) ‘Practising cultural studies today”. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. 14:3.


Associate Professor Jane Mills, PhD teaches film in the School of the Arts and Media, UNSW, Australia. Jane has a production background in journalism, television and documentary film, and has written and broadcast widely on cinema, media, screen literacy, censorship, feminism, sociolinguistics and human rights. Her current research projects concern screen literacy learning, cosmopolitanism, geocriticism, sojourner cinema. She is the Series Editor of Australian Screen Classics (co-published by Currency Press and the National Film & Sound Archive), a founding editor of fusion and the author of eight books including Jedda (2012), Loving and Hating Hollywood: Reframing Global and Local Cinemas (2009) and Cinema Sin and Censorship (2001).

Dr Nasya Bahfen is a senior lecturer is the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Monash University, and a community ambassador with the 2015 Asian Cup and AFL Multicultural Programs,  She has taught at the Journalism and Media Centre at UNSW, the School of Media and Communication at RMIT University and the School of Management and Marketing at Deakin University, and was previously a radio and online journalist and producer for ABC Radio Australia, ABC Radio National, and SBS.  Nasya has a doctorate in the sociology of the media, and extensive media and communications teaching and research experience.



Table of Contents


Children’s digital literacies: a contested space – Lelia Green
Transliteracy and the New Wave of Gender Diverse Cinema – Akkadia Ford
Nature is a language, can’t you read?”.  A mashup of contemporary sexual literacies in popular culture – Don Sillence
The Interactive Picturebook: Mapping ‘literacy’ on a narrative/technology continuum – Anthony Eaton
Olicity is my OTP: An exploration of literacy within the highly context specific domain of fan fiction – Gemma Bothe
Fleshy Academic Literacy – Rob Garbutt and Meredith Kayess
Mayhem, Magic, Movement, and Methods: Teaching and Learning about Hearing and Listening – Tara Brabazon

Video Presentation

Places for dialogue with others: A short reflection on the emergence of racism and the possibility of educational practices of everyday multiculturalism in contemporary Japan. – Yoshikazu Shiobara

In Memoriam

Building Cultural Studies – New Brutalism, Hoggartsborough and All That Jazz – John Hartley
Documenting Legacies: The Stuart Hall Project: Revolution, Politics, Culture and the New Left (John Akomfrah, 2013) – Marcel Swiboda

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