Literacy and complexity

Main Article Content

Monica Banzato


This contribution discusses a theoretical framework pertaining to the concept of digital literacy. The expression literacy is difficult to translate, as it has many shades of meaning and reflects a long historical, philosophical and educational tradition. Analysis of the international scientific literature reveals that literacy is a complex phenomenon which has attracted attention in many different disciplines. What is meant by literacy, or to be literate in today’s society, remains a matter of heated debate. In the eighties, the main approaches to literacy (techno-psychological, socio-cultural, historical, anthropological) favored the conceptualization of plural literacies, something also referred to as the “literacy crisis”. In response to the disintegration of definitions, the multiplicity of expressions and the fragmentation of research, an effort is currently being made to position different epistemological literacy studies within a theoretical framework. The aim is to encompass the plurality of theoretical and practical approaches in a wider definition, or meta-definition, of literacy. This step is crucial for understanding the latest developments in the field. The problem is not one of formulating a definition or choosing one approach over another, e.g. techno-psychological vs. socio-cultural. Rather, it is a matter of redefining the foundations of research that is investigating literacy as a “complex” phenomenon, where it appears necessary to adopt approaches similar to those used to study “complex systems”.

Article Details

Articles - Special Issue


Aleo S. (1999). Diritto penale e complessità. Torino, IT: Giappichelli.

Atias C., La Moigne J.L. (1984). Exchanges avec Edgar Morin: science et conscience de la complexité. Aix-en-Provence, FR: Editions de l’Université.

Banzato M. (2011). Digital Literacy. Milano, IT: Mondadori.

Bawden D. (2001). Information and digital literacies: a review of concepts. Journal of Documentation, 57 (2), pp.218-259.

Bazalgette C. (2008). Literacy in time and space. Media Association, 1 (1), pp. 12-16.

Bélisle C. (2006). Literacy and the digital knowledge revolution. In A. Martin, D. Madigan (eds.). Digital Literacies for Learning. London, UK: Facet Publishing, pp. 51-67.

Bocchi G., Ceruti M. (eds.) (1991). La sfida della complessità. Milano (IT): Feltrinelli (6ª ed.).

Bruner J. (1990). Acts of meaning. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.

Buckingham D. (2007). Digital Media Literacies: rethinking media education in the age of the Internet. Research in Comparative and International Education, 2 (1), pp. 43-55.

Bütz M.R. (1997). Chaos and complexity. Implications for psychological theory and practice. Washington, DC, USA:: Taylor e Francis.

Cambi F., Cives G., Fornaca R. (1991). Complessità, pedagogia critica, educazione democratica. Firenze, IT: La Nuova Italia.

Ceruti M, Lo Verso G. (a cura di) (1998). Epistemologia e psicoterapia: complessità e frontiere contemporanee. Milano, IT: Cortina.

Coiro J., Knobel M., Lankshear C., Leu, D. (eds) (2008). The Handbook of Research on New Literacies. Mahwah, NJ, USA: Erlbaum.

Coppola D. (1999). Glottodidattica. Aspetti epistemologici. In atti di convegno I Convegno AItLA (Università di Pisa, Dipartimento di Linguistica, 22-23 Ottobre 1999). Bologna, IT: Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. (ultima consultazione 09/09/2012).

de Mennato P. (1999). Fonti di una pedagogia della complessità. Napoli, IT: Liguori.

Derrida J. (1967) De la grammatologie. Paris, FR: Les Éditions de Minuit.

Di Nuovo S., Coniglione F., (2002). Il caos e la regola: una sfida alla complessità.in M. Bellotto e A. Zatti, Psicologia a più dimensioni. Milano: F. Angeli, pp. 102-130.

Dreyfus H.L., Dreyfus S.E., Athanasiou T. (1986). Mind Over Machine: The power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of Computer. New York, NY, USA: The Free Press New York.

Eisenstein E. (1979). The printing press as an agent of change: Communication and cultural transformation in early modern Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Eve R.A., Horsfall S., Lee M.E. (Eds) (1997). Chaos, complexity and sociology. London, UK: Sage.

Finke R.A., Bettle J. (1996). Chaotic cognition. Principles and applications. Hillsdale, NJ, USA : Erlbaum.

Finnegan R. (1988). Literacy and Orality: Studies in the Technology of Communication. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Fodor J. (1975). The Language of Thought. New York, NY, USA: Crowell.

Fodor J. (1987). Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning in the Philosophy of Mind. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

Freeman W.J. (1992). Chaos in psychiatry. Biological Psychiatry, 31, pp. 1079-1081.

Gee J. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY, USA: Palgrave.

Gee, J. P. (1992). The social mind: Language, ideology, and social practice. New York, NY, USA: Bergin e Garvey.

Gelb I. J. (1963). A study of writing. (2en edition). Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press.

Gilster P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York, NY, USA: Wiley.

Goddy J., Watt I. (1963). The consequences of literacy. Comparative studies in society and history, 5 (3), pp. 304–345.

Goody J. (1968). Literacy in Traditional Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Guess D., Sailor W. (1993). Chaos theory and the study of the human behavior: implications for special education and developmental disabilities. Journal of Special Education, 27, pp. 16-34.

Havelock E.A. (1963). Preface to Plato. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.

Havelock E.A. (1982). The literate revolution in Greece and its cultural consequences. Princeton, NJ, USA: Princeton University Press.

Heidegger M. (1968). Sentieri interrotti. Firenze, IT: La Nuova Italia.

Heidegger M. (1979). Che cosa significa pensare?. Milano, IT: SugarCo.

Illich I. (1993). In the vineyard of the text: a commentary to Hugh’s didascalicon. Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press; trad. it. (1996). Nella vigna del testo. Milano: Raffaello Cortina.

Jackson I.L. (1992). Science literacy in theory and practice: a sociocultural analysis of teacher cognition in a multicultural setting. Thesis (Ph. D.), MIT, Dept. of Architecture.

Kellner D. (2002). Technological Revolution: Multiple literacies and the restructuring of education. In I. Snyder (ed.). Silicon Literacies. London, UK: Routledge, pp. 15-30.

Kintgen E.R., Kroll B.M., Rose M. (1988). Perspectives on Literacy. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Kucer S.B., (2005). Dimensions of literacy: A conceptual base for teaching reading and writing in school settings. Second edition. Mahwah, NJ, USA.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Labbo L. D., Reinking D. (1999). Negotiating the multiple realities of technology in literacy research and instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 34 (4), pp. 478-492.

Lankshear C., Knobel M. (2003). New literacies: Changing knowledge and classroom learning. Maidenhead and New York, USA: Open University Press.

Larson J., Marsh J. (2005). Making literacy real: Theories and practices in learning and teaching. London, UK: Sage.

Lave J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, Mathematics and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Leu D. J., O’Byrne W. I., Zawilinski L., McVerry J. G., Everett-Cocapardo H. (2009). Expanding the new literacies conversation. Educational Researcher, 38, pp. 264-269.

Leu D.J., Kinzer C.K., Coiro J., Cammack D. (2004). Toward a theory ofnew literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R.B. Ruddell, N. Unrau (eds.). Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, Fifth Edition. Newark, DE: International Reading Association, pp. 1568-1611.

Lévi-Strauss C. (1962). La pensée souvage. Paris, FR: Plon.

Malinowski B. (1923). The problem of meaning in primitive languages. In C.K. Ogden, I.A. Richards (eds.). The meaning of meaning: A study of the influence of language upon thought and of the science of symbolism. New York, NY, USA: Harcourt Brace.

Maragliano R. (2010). Il perché della scuola nella società della comunicazione. Programma education. Torino: Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, 22 (2), pp. 1-12.

Maturana H.R., Varela F.J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding. Boston, MA, USA: Shambhala.

McLuhan M. (1962). The Guttenberg galaxy. Toronto, CA: University of Toronto.

Midoro V. (2007). Quale alfabetizzazione per la società della conoscenza? TD Tecnologie Didattiche, TD41, 15 (2), pp. 47-54. (ultima consultazione 30.05.2011).

Morin E. (1984) Scienza con coscienza. Milano, IT: F. Angeli.

New London Group, The (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66 (1). (utima consultazione 30.05.2011).

Cope B., Kalantzis M. (eds.). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. London, UK: Routledge,..

Olimpo G. (2008). Editoriale. TD Tecnologie Didattiche, TD43, 16 (1), p. 2. (ultima consultazione 13/02/2013).

Olson D.R., Torrance N. (1991). Literacy and Orality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ong W.J. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. 2nd ed. New York, NY, USA: Routledge. trad it. (1986). Oralità e scrittura. Le tecnologie della parola. Bologna, IT: Il Mulino.

Orsucci F. (1996). Caos e complessità in psicopatologia. Giornale Italiano di Psicopatologia, 3, pp. 267-271.

Pérez Tornero J. M. Paredes O., Simelio N. (2010). La media literacy in Europa. Dalla promozione della digital literacy alla Direttiva sui servizi dei media audiovisivi europei. Rivista Formare. Open Journal per la formazione in rete, 70 (5). (ultima consultazione 12/02/2013).

Prigogine I., Stengers I. (1984). Order out of chaos. Man’s new dialogue with nature. New York, NY, USA: Bantam Books.

Quattrocchi P. (1984) Etica, scienza, complessità. Milano: F. Angeli.

Ricoeur P. (1993). Sé come un altro. Milano: Jaka Book.

Robertson R., Combs A. (Eds.) (1995). Chaos theory in psychology and the life sciences. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.

Søby M. (2003). Digital Competence: from ICT skills to digital “bildung”. Oslo: ITU.

Stich S. (1983). From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Street B. (1984). Literacy in Theory and in Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Suchman L. (1987). Plans and situated actions. The problem of human-machine communication. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Van de Kerchove M., Ost F. (1988). Le système juridique entre ordre et désordre. Paris, FR: Presses Universitaires de France.

Van Geert P. (1994). Dynamic systems of development. Change between complexity and chaos. Hempstead, UK: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Varela J.F., Thompson E., Rosch E. (1991). The embodied mind: cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

von Bertalanffy, L. (1971). Teoria generale dei sistemi. Milano, IT: Isedi.

Waldrop M.M. (1992). Complexity. The emerging science at the edge of order and chaos. New York, NY, USA: Simon & Schuster.

Wolf M. (2007). Proust and the squid. The story and science of reading brain. New York, NY, USA: Harper Perennial; trad. it. (2009). Proust e il calamaro. Storia e scienza del cervello che legge. Milano, IT: Vita e Pensiero.

Zolo D. (1983). Funzione, senso, complessità. Introduzione. In N. Luhmann (ed.). I