Kairos and Community Building: Implications for Literacy Researchers
Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau

Kairos and Community Building: Implications for Literacy Researchers

In the past decade, the development of community groups has received widespread attention. Popular press books such as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community promoted discussions about the decline of community in forums as diverse as Camp David and People magazine. Less visibly but just as pervasively, urban planners and sociologists as well as religious leaders and criminologists have drawn attention to the ways that recent social and economic changes (e.g., the professionalism in the social sector; the commodification of the social sphere; the changes in work practices) have made it difficult for people to shape their communities.

Artists Now FlyerAs literacy scholars, we too can address pressing social concerns such as this one. Analyzing literate activities provides a way. For example, when local groups build organizations that foster a sense community, their work includes creating logos and bylaws, mission statements and billboards. By studying literate activities, we can learn both about the everyday ways people use and are used by literacy as they seek to build connections with their neighbors, and about the local conditions that must be made, met and navigated if community building is to endure. This examination of the social, cultural, and material ecologies of literate activities exceeds the affordances of the traditional Canons of Rhetoric.

Artists Now Camp

The need for literacy researchers to remediate traditional understandings of the canons is evident in my investigation into one community organization, called Artists Now. Since 2003, Artists Now has sought to build a local community invested in the arts. From a summer arts camp for 3-6 year olds (in my back yard) to intimate dinner/ performances where up to 60 people gather in community members' home to hear NYC Jazz performers, the principal second violinist from the Philadelphia Orchestra, or Celtic musicians from Scotland, Artists Now has had an amazing run. 

To understand the local conditions that Artists Now organizers seized upon and/or made, I examine their literate activities, particularly those surrounding their attempt to put up a billboard. These literate activities illustrate the range of issues complicating community members’ ability to create enduring structures. In addition, these literate activities demand, as the core text argues, that we literacy researchers retune our attentions. This retuning calls for an expanded cultural-historical mapping of rhetorical activity, a mapping that can better address how multiple networks shift relations among production and distribution and call upon resources striated across time and space.

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