Since Paulo Freire's emancipatory pedagogy gained exposure in composition studies, the field has shifted greatly both in terms of cultural demographics and technological development. In response to the challenges presented by this shift, critical media pedagogies seek to encourage a broad-based investigation of communication practices in the media age and foster critical, democratic faculties.
In a 2008 policy brief, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) called for practices that prepare students in the 21st century literacies required by a changing world, which demonstrates that the need has not gone unrecognized and, to a certain extent, might enjoy a relatively high level of visibility among both scholars and practitioners. However, the question remains of how to foster these literacies. The mediascape itself shifts frenetically, while technology steadily advances. What does a pedagogy based in 21st century literacies look like in the changing digital/multimodal classroom? Indeed, what should it look like? How can any pedagogy retain currency as culture and technology change so rapidly?
To partially answer these questions, I advance the concept of culture jamming, a kind of social activism that appropriates, subverts, and then reintroduces rhetorical artifacts into the media stream. The kind of culture jamming I describe and advocate here is more than just a class assignment or student project; it is a kind of pedagogical stance that empowers both students and teachers and catapults politics and pedagogy into dialogic interaction with one another.
In much the same way that critical media pedagogy unites Freire's pedagogy of liberation with the New London Group's multiliteracies, culture jamming unites 21st century literacies with a democratic agenda that seeks for each voice to heard fairly. To this same end, Henry Giroux (1996) has argued for the necessity to find "ways in which the pedagogical can be made more political and the political more pedagogical" (p. 63). The practice of culture jamming (both by teachers and by students) responds to this exigency by offering a model to develop critical media literacy within the shifting context of a digital/multimodal composition classroom.
Figures 1 and 2 on this page are examples of what I mean by culture jamming. Although the philosophical roots of this kind of activism go back decades, even centuries, the term culture jamming itself is more recent, and has evolved rapidly in a short time. As I will show, a singular definition of jamming is problematic; nevertheless, I take culture jamming in the context of a composition classroom to mean a practice of social activism that, through appropriation, improvisation, and playful critique, makes visible the ways in which social, cultural, and individual realities are constructed in order that they be subverted to more democratic ends. In both figures here, the jammers have subverted a commonplace image in order to make a critical, political statement. "Stop War" comments on the relative potency of signs, while "Corporate America" questions where our allegiance lies. The former tends to be seen as misdemeanor, the latter as comedy.
This web text examines the pedagogical theories at the intersection of critical media literacy and culture jamming and posits a nuanced definition of the latter, both as pedagogy and as practice, appropriate for a multimodal classroom. These theories underlie the subsequent description of how culture jamming could be enacted in three phases in a first-year composition course, and inform the closing discussion of challenges faced by culture jamming in the curriculum. The images, links, and references contained here may hopefully provide some resources for teachers and students engaged in culture jamming projects.