Digital literacies, spreadable media and gifting

3703145222_428db0fdbc_mCultural and social understanding are important aspects of digital literacies, and while touching on digital literacies once again in my last blog post on web literacies and The Mozilla Web Literacy Map, I also came up with a model of forms of knowledge to recognize that literacy is a culturally defined social act, as defined by McVerry, Belshaw & O’Byrne (2015:633). The model is containing four forms of knowledge and knowledge building that are involved in developing digital literacies:


Digital literacies

– including critical thinking and reflexivity, imagination, creativity, innovation, social and cultural understanding –



Some of the inspiration to this model came from Steve Wheeler, who has made a model for digital literacies in the context of communities of practice, but I have adapted and enhanced his model and added ‘culture’ as the fourth knowledge form. I did that to stress the socio-cultural and anthropological perspective that is inherent in this understanding of digital literacies as knowledge building and knowledge forms that reflect context and culture as substantial aspects of defining digital literacies in your specific case. Thus, the model is not to be seen as just another taxonomy, but as an assemblage that contains of interdependent knowledge forms qualifying each other, overlapping each other and interacting with each other through combinations in order to develop digital literacies in a specific context and culture.

So which ever framework on digital literacies you start off with to work out your own definition of digital literacies – as suggested in my last blog post with the inspiration from Doug Belshaw – my model takes into account that cultural analysis and your concept of culture is relevant to catch the practices, the social and cultural understanding, and the context you need to apply to your definition of digital literacies. Institutional, local, national, regional or global contexts and cultures might influence the way you frame digital literacies.

Culture or cultures?

It might be worthwhile to consider if the concept at the top of my model of knowledge forms and knowledge building should be culture in singular or cultures in plural as a consequence of my broad understanding of culture. The context chosen for framing a specific understanding of digital literacies would be in singular, but the cultures and communities of practice that are meaningful to digital everyday practices and experiences would be in plural and make up a complex weaving of people’s sense of place, history, identity, community and relationship to learning as the backdrop to developing digital literacies. And it most certainly would be the case if we narrow down digitial literacies to concern web literacies. Then it is most likely that participatory culture would turn up as a practice and a space for reflexive articulation and sharing that links the social and cultural understandings of the context not only to web cultures but also to the broader concept of culture behind them.

Participatory culture is associated with a networked culture where dialogue, interactivity, collaboration, sharing and circulation are at the core of web practices and web literacies. And often participatory culture is equated with the architecture of participation and web 2.0, (I have also done that), although that is misleading according to Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green in their book “Spreadable Media. Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture” (2013). Here they state that:

Some people have confused participatory culture with Web 2.0, but Web 2.0 is a business model through which commercial platforms seek to court and capture the participatory energies of desired markets and harness them toward their own ends. While Web 2.0 platforms may offer new technical affordances that further the goals of participatory culture, friction almost always exists between the desires of producers and audiences, a gap which has resulted in ongoing struggles around the term of participation. (Jenkins, Ford & Green 2013:297).

Spreadable media and gifting

I have touched on Henry Jenkins’ work on participatory culture before on this blog, but in “Spreadable Media” the project is not just to understand new media, participatory culture and convergence culture. Instead Jenkins and his co-authors Ford and Green want to qualify the media and entertainment industries for “a moment of transition” where:

…audiences and producers make competing bids for the new moral economy that will displace the broadcast paradigm which has dominated cultural production and distribution throughout the twentieth century. (Spreadable Media 2013:295).

So the book is to be anticipated as:

…appeals to construct a system which pays more attention to the public interest – defined not through elite institutions but by public itself, through its acts of appraisal, curation, and circulation. (Spreadable Media 2013:295).

And so, sharing in accordance with the spirit and values of participatory culture will be spreading and “…transforming commodities into gifts, turning texts into resources, and asserting  [people’s] own expanding communication capacities.” (Spreadable Media 2013:292). This way a ‘spreadable media’ environment could hold the potential for social and cultural change in a wider perspective. And then, I would add, the audiences and visitors of Web 2.0 would become active users and participants that are not only shaped by culture but are also co-creating and shaping culture and forming possible futures.

As a joint project between scholars and industries, “Spreadable Media” is a cultural analysis of the current influence of global cultural flows on new media and entertain- ment, and  spreadability includes:

  • The flow of ideas
  • Dispersed materials
  • Diversified experiences
  • Open-ended participation
  • Motivating and facilitating sharing
  • Temporary and localized communication
  • Grassroot intermediaries who advocate and evangelize
  • Collaborating among roles – which causes blurring relations between producers, marketers and audiences.

This way spreadability and practices of participatory culture become relevant to web literacies as part of understanding and critically reflecting on what is going on on the web and likewise relevant as the basis for visions of a more informed and engaged society:

The spreading of media texts help us articulate who we are, bolster our personal and professional relationships, strengthen our relationships with one another, and build community and awareness around the subjects we care about. And the sharing of media across cultural boundaries increases the opportunity to listen to other perspectives and to develop empathy for perspectives outside our own. We believe that building a more informed and more engaged society will require an environment in which  governments, companies, educational institutions, journalists, artists, and activists all work to support rather than restrict this environment of spreadability and the ability of everyone to have access – not just technically but also culturally – to participate in it. (Spreadable Media 2013:307-308).

As a consequence of this plea for accessibility for everybody in the future, the joint project in “Spreadable Media” is put forward as a reconceptualisation of ‘participation’ and ‘participatory culture’ through a cultural analysis of what participatory culture has been in the past and is in the present. And through a dialogue with governments, companies, educational institutions, journalists, artists and activists the book also sketches out what ‘participation’ and ‘participatory culture’ could be in the future. Participatory culture meets cultural analysis and civics, and it is interesting to notice that the plea for gifting, appraisal, curation and circulation as cultural practices goes well with the open movement and build on top of open licencing like Creative Commons (CC).

This dialogue about how to create an environment of spreadability continues in the essays by scholars and industries which are accessible in what Jenkins, Ford and Green call ‘the enhanced book’. But the strong advocacy for a more informed and more engaged society  based on a new moral economy and gifting is also on the agenda for philosopher Tim Rayner who recently made a contribution on his blog: “Sharing, Gifting and the Moral Evolution of the Social Web”. From a web perspective he argues that a new way of understanding sharing  is needed and highlights that:

These days, when we think about life online, it’s all about ‘sharing’. This has created the perception that sharing is all the social web is good for. I think this is a grand mistake. The concept of sharing blinds us to the moral potential of the social web, gifting.

Sharing is cool, but it’s not the potential of the web. The potential of the web as a connective tissue for human beings is gifting — that is, sharing for impact.

What we need is cultural innovation. We need a philosophical evolution in the way that we think about sharing online in order to focus ourselves on creating valuable content and flourishing environments.

One thing is clear: we cannot capture this activity using the language of sharing. We need the discourse of gifting and gift economics to appreciate the moral potential of the social web and create online communities based in trust, reputation, collaboration, and creativity.

Further reading:

Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford and Joshua Green (2013): Spreadable Media. Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, New York University Press

Jenkins, Henry, Sam Ford and Joshua Green: Spreadable Media. Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture – the enhanced book,

McVerry, J. Gregory, Doug Belshaw and W. Ian O’Byrne (2015): Guiding Students as They Explore, Build, and Connect Online, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(8) May 2015

Photo: Attribution Some rights reserved by stevendepolo on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

Digital literacies, spreadable media and gifting

2 thoughts on “Digital literacies, spreadable media and gifting

  1. Hi there! This artіcle could not be written much bеtteг!
    Going througһ this post reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He constantly kеpt talking about this. I will sennd this information to
    him. Pretty sude he’ll have a good read.
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