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Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau

Kairos and community building: Implications for literacy researchers

Examining the material and historical ecologies surrounding one grassroots organization's attempt to put up a billboard, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau argues that the broadened perspectives CHAT affords (e.g., attending to the socialization of people and to the cultural-historical production of artifacts) better captures the remote forces and local conditions shaping all literate activities.

Abstract: In the past decade, work like Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community have promoted discussions about the decline of community in forums as diverse as Camp David and People magazine. As a literacy scholar, I too address this pressing social concern, combining my interests in how changing socio-economic conditions shape local community building with my interest in how rapid technological and social changes alter contemporary needs and possibilities for literacy. To investigate these intertwining inquiries, I examine the literate activities at one community organization called “Artists Now," which is devoted to bringing "culturally diverse programming” (e.g., Celtic Ceilidhs, West African drummers and dancers) to children and adults in the schools, homes, and community centers of Highland Park, NJ. Artists Now attempts to foster an appreciation for the arts and through this to build a local community invested in the arts.

In "Kairos and community building: Implications for literacy researchers," I examine the struggles Artists Now is undergoing to put up a billboard that coincides with multiple events surrounding Artists Now's growing institutionalization during the summer of 2006. In particular, I examine how the material and political conditions that surround this billboard call these organizers to rethink their public representation as it becomes visually locked in time and place, across a 45 x 9 space that is controlled by competing local politicians. To understand the complexity of placing public representations such as this billboard is to understand how literate activities function as a nexus of distributed resources and competing interests. Analyzing this nexus calls for an expanded mapping of rhetorical activity, one that can better address how multiple networks shift relations among production and distribution and call upon resources striated across time and space.

Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University where she teaches classes at the intersection of literacy, gender, and technology. She has published in Computers and Composition, Written Communication, and the Journal for Basic Writing, is co-editor of Feminism and composition: A critical sourcebook and is the author of the forthcoming book, Girls, feminism, and grassroots literacies: Activism in the GirlZone.