The Insurrections in the UK and Chile, Networked Social Praxis, and Multiliteracies

Posted by nicholaspelafas on August 11, 2011

There is a certain tension hanging precipitously in the air this month, as young people and teenagers, mobilize via facebook, twitter, and their blackberry messengers.  In London and other cities around England, rioters are engaged in seemingly random acts of vandalism, that interestingly coincide with serious downwards slippages in the global economy.  While in many cases there is only pretense of political motivations behind the law-breaking there, at the very least we can understand that there is a dynamic playing here between polarizing socio-economic inequality, perceptions of the irrelevance of the state, collective youth action, and the drives of a capitalist society.  Throw digital technology into the mix, and we have a situation where youth are using the multiliteracies that they didn’t learn how to use in schools, to translate socio-economic-material perceptions, collected via various media outlets, into extended networks of social praxis.

Networked Social Praxis, as I am calling it here, is the way that electronic networks aggregate and distribute information that is in turn combined with individual users’ complex personal experience in such a way that they are inspired to use that information to create new, externalized, and tangible experiences.  The real life events that occur as a result of this decision to mobilize one’s self or group, is then almost immediately fed back into the electronic network via multiliteracies.  As people increasingly access more networked experiences and share their own experiences with others, the more they can realize the scope of that reality which in turn prompts them to get involved.  While perhaps most ramifications of this are still unclear, we can note that the use of multiliteracies by young people in this case encourages expression (what kind?), participatory action (by what means?), and democratic cooperation (to what ends?).

In Chile, thousands of students have been protesting for education reforms since this spring.  Recently it has culminated, as the government’s lack of appropriate response has left protestors continuing to mobilize, leading to the seemingly inevitable escalation of tension into cycles of violence/repression.  While the students in Chile have a much clearer and socially mindful political agenda, it is interesting that we can distinguish nearly the same present dynamics for the uprisings in Chile as for the riots in London.  Perhaps, as in the words of writer Darcus Howe, this is nature of the historical moment, and how this historical moment manifests will be as diverse as the societies in which they are taking place.

In Chile, slightly different from North Africa, the Middle East, and London, it has been the demands for equality in education that has brought this South-American nation into this historical moment of insurrection.  Students are demanding that the right to quality education be protected by the government, and that social progress via equality in education must accompany economic progress.  I am certainly proud of the students there for making this the focus, and  for bringing education into networked consideration with the relationship between inequality, government policy, economic practices, and social progress.

Multiliteracies and networked social praxis have been utilized in the Chilean uprisings, in ways that are interesting as they are politically hilarious. As with the London riots, technologies and multiliteracies are not the central focus – yet since the Arab Spring we should at least recognize their presence as nearly ubiquitous.  As educators, we can clearly see the tools that people at turning to to understand, organize for, and confront the realities they are facing.  Furthermore, our belief in education should cause us to think about education not simply as a place where equality takes place, but as a praxis, similar to political mobilization, we can use to deal with inequality in the socio-politico-ecomonic landscape.  Multiliteracies will play a huge role in enabling education to become such a  tool, simultaneously increasing the forms of transformation possible within education, while increasing the complexity of how education interacts with the forces that form our shared social reality.  If we are to be politically mobilized and motivated via multiliteracies as well, we should consider the ways in which multiliteracies can be used to turn praxis events into educational content and democratic discussions so that we may improve our tactics and deepen our understanding of interacting forces during the times in which we live.


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