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Humanities 2015, 4(1), 17-34;

The Language Desert: The Condition of Literacy and Reading in Contemporary America

Department of Media Studies, College of Media, Communication and Information, University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado, 1511 University Avenue, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
Academic Editor: Albrecht Classen
Received: 14 August 2014 / Accepted: 11 December 2014 / Published: 14 January 2015
Full-Text   |   PDF [296 KB, uploaded 28 January 2015]


This essay is an engagement with a series of propositions about literacy and reading in the United States: that large numbers of people struggle with what one might call narrative complexity; that they resolve such struggles by falling back onto narrative simplicities which, through a series of cultural preferences, congeal to produce much of the stuff of popular culture; that this condition and process is essentially what the varied critics—from left and right—of the culture of modernity were actually identifying, though from a largely normative, not empirical, standpoint; that what was being critiqued was essentially a condition formed by cognitive underdevelopment; and that we can actually explain this empirically by mining decades’ worth of research in reading and literacy studies, particularly in the context of childhood and social class. In short, this paper is an admittedly tentative step in an effort to build a bridge between two knowledge silos that have in part remained determinably apart—reading/literacy studies and cultural/critical theory. The essay also suggests that, in order to understand reading and literacy, it is important to begin to engage research in neuroscience, particularly that which suggests that the brain is actually not designed—in evolutionary terms—to read. View Full-Text
Keywords: literacy; reading; cognitive; democracy; Founders; culture literacy; reading; cognitive; democracy; Founders; culture
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Tracey, M. The Language Desert: The Condition of Literacy and Reading in Contemporary America. Humanities 2015, 4, 17-34.

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