Education Three Conceptions of Literacy: Media, Narrative, and Gaming Literacies
Christina Romero-Ivanova, Tara Kingsley, Lance Mason
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0224


In the latter half of the 20th century, scholars began to contest traditional conceptions of literacy. According to these challenges, meaning is an interactive process achieved by a reader who applies their own knowledge and background experiences. Over the same period, new media technologies have emerged, leading scholars to expand their conceptions of literacy to consider how citizens make meaning in these new contexts. Literacy practices—reading, writing, and creating—are now understood as multiple and diverse practices that individuals enact beyond educational settings into other spaces of home and community. Literacy is sociocultural and diverse, involving individuals’ use of values, relationships, and things from their lives, discourses, or culturally imbedded practices. Literacy also involves multiliteracies or the use of different kinds of literacies for different purposes in various life circumstances. Literacy then is not isolated to a mere skill but involves a dynamic process that moves across various communities, discourses, and cultures, and it includes more than just language. Three genres of literacy included in this article are Media Literacy, narrative literacy, and Gaming Literacy. Media literacy is the ability to access, interpret, and produce public communication in various forms. Media literacy can be broadly understood as an approach to education that teaches students to analyze, evaluate, and create media messages using a variety of media platforms and tools. A direct offshoot of media literacy is Critical Media Literacy. Critical media literacy looks more closely at the power dimensions behind media messages and tends to emphasize structural features of media, such as considering the corporate interests supporting news organizations that construct most political news, advertising, and other forms of entertainment. Next is narrative literacy, which involves the storying of experiences, through different modes of expression or literacy practices. Narrative literacies as diverse behaviors and practices involve individuals understanding, speaking, and/or writing their world. In storying lives, sometimes individuals’ bodies (embodiment) are used in different ways to narrate. Embodiment can involve using tattoos or remembered bodily practices. Artifactual Literacies, also as practices that involve individuals’ narration of their lives, involve the use of artifacts or objects to mediate experiences. Last, gaming literacy involves the use of gamification and game-based learning as a new form of literacy and is situated in the context of game design. Game-based learning, including video games, uses games to meet learning outcomes and provides opportunities for self-directed learning where emotion and imagination situate literacy within a multimodal context. In this article, we consider how individuals make meaning through their interactions with media, gaming, and artifacts. As genres, each of the literacies we present contain particular descriptions and characteristics and are utilized by individuals for different purposes and practices.

Media Literacy

Masterman 1985 is considered the first fully developed contemporary account of media education. The work sets a benchmark for the field and anticipates the discourses that would crystallize in the years to come. Buckingham 2003 provides an important update to the field in this comprehensive account that considers media literacy for the digital age. Both theory and practice are further advanced in Macedo and Steinberg 2007, which contains over fifty chapters on topics that range from conceptual concerns about media to focused considerations of various elements of popular culture and current events. Hobbs and Moore 2013 applies media literacy ideas and techniques to elementary education, adding an important dimension to a field that is often centered on teenagers and adults. Several articles also consider the state of the field, and some of these pieces highlight the tension between the aforementioned discourses. Potter 2010 considers the growth of the field over time. Providing a protectionist perspective, the author concludes that even though the field is expanding and diversifying, it is still primarily focused on protecting students from the harmful influences of media. Hobbs 2011 takes issue with this conclusion and argues that Potter fails to give adequate credence to the empowerment approach; the multitude of research aimed at the ways that teachers and other groups use media to engage students in ways that they enjoy. Hobbs 1999 further illuminates the debates in the field by considering these questions and others, such as the role of popular culture and different views on the preferred ideological orientation of the field. Bulger and Davison 2018 considers the role of media literacy given the more recent concerns regarding fake news and political polarization.

  • Buckingham, David. 2003. Media education: Literacy, learning, and contemporary culture. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

    Comprehensive account of the field, including its history and changing dimensions due to new media technologies. Although the account is balanced between considering media through content analyses, production, and recreational use by students, this text has been particularly influential with the empowerment perspective.

  • Bulger, Monica, and Patrick Davison. 2018. The promises, challenges and futures of media literacy education. Journal of Media Literacy Education 10.1: 1–21.

    Reconsiders the field in light of increased attention due to concerns about fake news and media manipulation. Offers suggestions for future action that include leveraging the current environment to promote more media literacy programs, emphasizing engagement in addition to analysis, and creating a national body to oversee media literacy efforts in the United States.

  • Hobbs, Renee. 1999. The seven great debates in the media literacy movement. Journal of Communication 48.1: 16–32.

    Offers an outline of many prevalent debates in the field, including whether media literacy proponents should emphasize protection and empowerment, whether popular culture should be a focus of curriculum, and whether media literacy should be used as an overt tool for political and social change.

  • Hobbs, Renee. 2011. The state of media literacy: A response to Potter. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 55.3: 419–430.

    Offers an empowerment narrative response to Potter 2010. Lays out in stark terms what are often implicit discourses in the field by explaining the connections and distinctions between protectionist and empowerment positions.

  • Hobbs, Renee, and David C. Moore. 2013. Discovering media literacy: Teaching digital media and popular culture in elementary school. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

    Provides both the rationale and a range of useful strategies for teaching elementary students. Each chapter covers a different dimension, from critically analyzing media to creating it, and there is an example lesson included for each chapter.

  • Macedo, Donaldo, and Shirley Steinberg. 2007. Media literacy: A reader. New York: Peter Lang.

    This edited volume contains fifty-seven chapters divided into three sections: Reading media critically, doing media literacy, and media literacy and pedagogy. The first sections contains conceptual work on the role of media education in a democratic society. The second part tackles various aspects of popular culture through the lens of media literacy. The final section more explicitly lays out pedagogical examples.

  • Masterman, Len. 1985. Teaching the media. London: Routledge.

    Provides the foundation for contemporary media literacy education by pulling insights from media studies and connecting them to pedagogy. Offers the understanding that media are representations of reality and thus must be studied in terms of their unique properties and an inspection of the people and interests that create them.

  • Potter, James W. 2010. The state of media literacy. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 54.4: 675–696.

    Provides an account of the field from the protectionist perspective. Includes various definitions of media literacy, along with a distillation of key themes and curricula objectives.

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