Rachel Sanders: A [new] literacies dissertation: The paradox surrounding the literacy practices in academic research

While the existence of new literacies –the modern understanding of the ways in which individuals communicate with each other– is recognized and discussed, their production has not yet gained acceptance as being a valid means of intellectual discourse in an academic world still narrowly focused on print-based text. Academic research, for example, continues to take the form of traditional literacy practices and seldomly acknowledges practices of research that cannot be captured by the historical definition of the term. Institutes of higher education hold on to an outdated understanding of the term “literate”, and seldom acknowledge research practices falling outside its traditional definition, jeopardizing their relevancy and obstructing the formation of a connection between art and knowledge. To be literate, however, individuals must engage in the consumption and production of diverse language forms, not just one. An important step will be widening the literacy practices doctoral students interact with. As the culmination of a PhD research program, the dissertation should push scholars to move outside familiar well-beaten paths in order to gain new perspectives that enable new questions, and the possibility of change. As a language and literacy education scholar, this researcher (a doctoral student at the time) examined the paradox surrounding the literacy practices in higher education –specifically the products of academic research– by producing a dissertation written solely outside privileged linguistic forms. Her dissertation and the defense opened to the public as a popup event at a local art museum. This presentation focuses on the art of its making, taking a close look at diverse writing processes that support research in new literacy forms. The researcher provides snapshots of her original work, unpacking the ‘text’ from the lens of an author throughout the writing process.


Rachel Kaminski Sanders received her doctoral degree in language and literacy education after producing a dissertation written outside privileged linguistic forms. She seeks to broaden the types of scholarly research compositions accepted within higher education, imperative to advancing academic research in the ever-broadening practices of literacy. With the need for increased attention on writing instruction in mind, her research in new literacies focuses specifically on its production.