New Literacies and the barriers of Poverty

“The distinctive contribution of the approach to literacy as social practice lies in the ways in which it involves careful and sensitive attention to what people do with texts, how they make sense of them and use them to further their own purposes in their own learning lives” (Gillen and Barton, 2010, p. 9).

Literacy and the barriers to literacy caused by poverty  have long been a topic of discussion. With new literacies that topic needs to be expanded upon.  The above quote refers to literacy as a social practice. New literacies are impacted by poverty and social class even more so than standard literacies.

One concern that comes to mind when discussing how new literacies impact our current society is how poverty may become a barrier to opportunities and to learning as new tools and technologies are developed. Those with access to these new technologies have an advantage in learning over those who are limited by the lack or resources due to the cost of technology. This lack of accessibility impact how these individuals can react to the world around them and adapt in their current and future life roles. Because new literacies are deictic and change moment to moment, using borrowed technology on a weekly or even daily basis may not be enough to ensure the successful integration of technological knowledge and application of ideas comparable to individuals that have personal daily access to technological platforms.

In discussing new literacies the article “Special Themed Issue: Beyond ‘New’ Literacies” explains how studies on new literacies and the application of new literacies include traditional literacies such as spatial theory, visual and critical literacy, and semiotics. Online and offline spaces are also considered. In all of this poverty has a deciding factor in the application and accessibility of these new literacies. Individuals not affected by poverty can afford the technological advancements and platforms that are required in order to consume knowledge that is presented through new literacies. Consistent access to these technological platforms is required in order for the individual to develop the skills necessary to efficiently digest the presented knowledge. Texting is used as an example in the above article. Texting comes with its own language that has been developed along with the implementation of this new literacy. It also is in the state of constant flux based upon cultural changes and develops rapidly with time. Therefor even with a texting dictionary, unless said resource is a real time dictionary and up kept resource, an individual that is not regularly familiar with the process and culture of texting is limited and at a disadvantage when that new technology is required in a learning or work environment.

With access to the technological platforms however and when given time to learn the literacies required to interact, the participatory culture of the online environment offers many opportunities that can in fact remove barriers of distance and accessibility that those affected by poverty face. This is one reason why I am interested in learning more about the culture and opensource community.

Returning to the original quote, in regard to “what people do with texts, how they make sense of them and use them to further their own purposes in their own learning lives” (Gillen and Barton, 2010, p. 9), the barriers to poverty and overcoming those bariers goes beyond simply providing technology to these individuals. It means ensuring they have the literacy to be able to work with these technologies in productive rather than counter productive ways. One example of this is the marketing of technology as a mindless entertainment source rather than a functional tool. New literacy involves teaching those who are new or learning new technologies, how these new literacies can serve educational and functional purposes in their personal and work lives.


Gillen, Julia and Barton, David, (2010 Jan). Digital literacies, London Knowledge Lab Institute of Education ISBN: 978-0-85473-902-8 Retrieved on Sept 15, 2016 from

Wilber, J., Dana, (2010 March). Special Themed Issue: Beyond ‘New’ Literacies, Digital Culture & Education (DCE) 2(1) SSN 18368301 Retrieved on Sept 15, 2016 from


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