Literacy and Hip-Hop


My work on literacy takes the "Multiliteracies" perspective, which defines literacy in terms of systems of communication, with no limitation to written text. However, in my own view, literacy is not so much a thing as a perspective, an examination of the systematicities, how we organize communication. This view owes much to Wittgenstein's understanding of "language games" as being dynamically constituted by sets of rules assumed by participants, but which are flexible enough to shift in course of play. It also owes a debt to the information theories of Jon Barwise, John Perry, and Keith Devlin, called Situation Theory.

My literacy research is constituted by eight articles and a book, involving both the academic literacy of undergraduates and the vernacular literacy involved in the production of rap music.

“Correctness and its Conceptions” Journal of Basic Writing , 5 #1 (Summer 1996)

“Sexist language and instruction in writing” in Effie Cochran & Marie Yepez (Eds) Issues in Gender: language learning and classroom pedagogy. Bastos Publishers (2001)

“Playing the Academic Literacy Game: the Designs of Achievement” Written Communication, 18 (4) (2001) pp. 471-506.

Designs of Academic Literacy: A Multiliteracies Approach to Post-Secondary Achievement Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey (div. of Greenwood Publishing).

“Academic literacy across cultures: a tripartite multicase study” English for Specific Purposes, 22 (1), 45-71 (with Mireia Trenchs and Mercè Pujol)

“Definitions of literacy and their consequences,” in Trudy Smoke, Harriet Luria, Deborah Seymore (Eds.) (2006) Language and Linguistics In Context: Readings and Applications for Teachers. Erlbaum

“’Not Dogmatically/ It’s about me’: contested values in a high school rap crew” Taboo: a journal of culture and education, 5 (2):(2001) 51-68

“’I represent me’: identity construction in a teenage rap crew” SALSA-9 Proceedings. Kathryn Henning, Nicole Netherton, Leighton C. Peterson (eds.) (2001) Texas Linguistic Forum V. 44 (2): 388-400 available for downloading at:

" Rap as literacy: a genre analysis of hip-hop ciphers'" Text, 25(3) (2005), pp. 399–436

“I don't want my ends to just meet; I want my ends overlappin'”: personal aspiration and the rejection of Progressive Rap” Language Identity and Education, 6 (2) (2007) 131-145.

“'That's all concept; it's nothing real': Reality and lyrical meaning in rap.” in H. Samy Alim and Awad Ibrahim (eds) Global Linguistic Flows, Erlbaum (in press).


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