Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times is a cultural ecology that takes the form of a quasi-ethnography. I say “quasi” because Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe have included their participants as active shapers of not only their own narratives but the trajectory of the project as a whole. In the introduction, the authors put forth a compelling argument that our research suffers because of the limited perspectives typically considered in academic studies. Their eight observations, which guide most of the work, supports this point as well as other less prominent strains of argument that can be found in the stories of the participants.
All the direct quotes come from the conclusion of the text.
Observation 1: Digital Landscapes
“Individuals who identify as transnational use digital networks to navigate and communicate across geographically discontinuous communities. With these literate practices, they create digital communicative landscapes, connected spaces of globalized human flows that resist a simple mapping onto conventional, physically contiguous geopolitical spaces.”
While the selected participants all share an education that is not typical, as the authors discuss in the conclusion, they still represent a variety of backgrounds that is difficult to find in much academic work. The participants, primarily graduate students, all tell markedly different stories of their literacy journeys despite ending up in similar sets of circumstances. The authors discuss how it is impossible to map a one-to-one correspondence (as suggested in observation one) between the stories we can tell through research and the lives of those we study. Because transnational participants are used, readers are able to learn about an often entirely different conception of how digital media influence, shape, facilitate, and hinder communicative practices across the globe than we experience in the university.
Observation 2: Situated Understanding
“Participants shared a complex, nuanced, and culturally situated understanding of technology's affordances and limitations, which they employed to make decisions about the rhetorical and material appropriateness of various technologies both within the digital landscape and outside of it.”
While several research participants seemed to have a difficult time articulating exactly how they make significant rhetorical decisions based on the media being used, the “literacy videos” featured toward the end of the project show—rather than tell—how those decisions are made. Using modes such as video and sound to articulate the sense of frustration and displacement that happens when writing in English across the globe is an insightful commentary on how our composing practices are changing along with the technological realm.
Observation 3: Linguistic Diversity
“Participants tend to possess a rich set of linguistic resources, including varieties of languages that help define and situate their multiple identifications both locally and globally. They deploy these linguistic resources within digital communicative landscapes that both supported and were shaped by their practices.”
The local/global discussion that happens throughout this book is one of the most interesting components. Authors implicitly make the argument that the best way to understand global composing practices is through the local, and perhaps vice versa. These authors work to allow their participants to explore their own linguistic diversity. That said, the authors are upfront that this project is an experiment in what it would look like to completely honor the narratives of your participants. This can be frustrating at times as a reader, as we expect a certain amount of reflection and for connections to be explicit. Instead, we are presented with a narrative through the words and videos of the participants themselves, which, in the end, makes it a much more interesting project.
Observation 4: Digital Experiences
“Individuals' attitudes toward digital technologies and their use are highly dependent on the cultural ecologies that the participants inhabit, whose variations include generational, geographic, and gender differences, as well as on the individuals' particular experiences.”
This observation shows up in the book primarily through the video interviews conducted with the participants. In many of the videos viewers hear exactly how socioeconomic and global/local circumstances really can change one’s relationship with technology. The interviewees continually juggle stories of personal influences as well as political influences when narrating the evolution of their literacies.