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Perry, Kristen. “What is Literacy? –A critical overview of sociocultural perspectives.” Journal of Language and Literacy Education. Spring 2012 8.1 50-71. Web. Link to article.


Many see literacy as a purely cognitive activity where one either knows how to read or not, and any challenges one has to becoming literate are a result of intellectual issues or laziness. Further, those thinking of literacy in this way emphasize the literacy of school over the literacy that takes place in the home, or at work, or during leisure time. Finally, those thinking of literacy from a cognitive perspective only consider an individual’s experiences with print when examining literacy. In her introduction, Kristen Perry points out that there is another way to look at literacy using a social perspective. She notes, along with other ideas, that sociocultural literacy perspectives are

“concerned with understanding the ways in which people use literacy in their everyday lives,” and “incorporating students’ out-of-school ways of practicing literacy” (51). The reasoning for looking at literacy practices in this way Perry suggests is to understand the contexts in which literacy takes place and at the same time to explore the link between literacy and cultural and power structures (53).

While most researchers lump sociocultural literacy perspectives together, Perry separates the perspective into three distinct categories: literacy as a social practice, multiliteracies, and critical literacies.

Literacy as a social practice focuses on “what people do with reading, writing, and texts in real world contexts and why they do it”

(54). Perry argues the reason for looking at literacy practices in this way is to see how “practices connect to, and are shaped by, values, attitudes, feelings, and social relationships” (54). Literacy as a social practice looks at more than the text on the page and attempts to place the text, any text, within the individual’s life and experience. This literacy perspective is primarily concerned with print. The next two perspectives build off of the cornerstone idea of literacy as a social practice.

Multiliteracies are best thoughts of as literacies that go beyond print. Those who study multiliteracies “view literacy as involving multiple modes of visual, gestural, spatial, and other forms of representation” (53 – 4). While they do not oppose the studying of print, they think studying only print literacy cuts out the numerous and varied texts that are available to today’s readers. Developments such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, audio and video platforms, as well as older media, such as television, movies, and music have greatly expanded notions of what a text is or can be. The ability to effectively read these texts is increasingly important to being literate in our age.

Critical literacies, Perry points out, addresses issues such as power and empowerment, agency, and identity (60). At the heart of critical literacies is the individual’s ability to reflect upon not only physical texts, but also, the world the texts are created within. Literate individuals take what they learn from texts and use it to change themselves and their world into a more equitable place. While power structures are important to all sociocultural perspectives, they dominate in critical literacies. Texts are seen as documents that contain racial, class, and gender struggles.

Writing Task

After you have reflected on Perry’s discussion of sociocultural perspectives of literacy, create a literacy gallery which illustrates and explains some of the literacy events that helped you become the reader and writer you are now. Perry’s three categories – literacy as a social practice, multiliteracies, and critical literacies – should guide you in your choice of literacy events to include. Further, Perry’s discussion must be used in your captions to explain/categorize the entries in your gallery. Your document should have the following sections: an introduction, a literacy gallery consisting of a minimum of six images and captions, a reflection, and a works cited.


  • Platform: Drafts must be submitted in CIDocs in the Project 1 Drafts folder by the due date to receive credit.
  • Your literacy gallery must have 6 to 9 entries with captions accompanying each.
  • Images: These should be original creations.
  • Captions: These include a title, followed by the date of your encounter with the literacy event, and a dense paragraph explaining its meaning, including how it connects to Perry’s discussion.
  • Sources: In addition to Perry, you must have a minimum of five (5) additional sources that you cite (quotes or paraphrases) within your project. You must offer a Works Cited at the end of your document.

Deadlines and Important Dates

  • Week 6: Draft of Literacy Gallery due
  • Week 7: Draft of Introduction due
  • Week 8: Draft of Reflection due; Midterm - Project 1 draft and log graded
  • Weeks 9 - 14: Revise project
  • Week 15: Portfolio submission

Due dates for drafts are 24 hours before class meetings.

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