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Visual literacy was originally defined as a set of visual competencies or cognitive skills and strategies one needs to make sense of visual images. These visual competencies were seen as universal cognitive abilities that were used for understanding visual images regardless of the contexts of production, reception, and dissemination. More contemporary definitions suggest visual literacy is a contextualized, social practice as much as an individualized, cognitively based set of competencies. Visual literacy is more aptly defined as a process of generating meanings in transaction with multimodal ensembles that include written text, visual images, and design elements from a variety of perspectives to meet the requirements of particular social contexts.
Theories of visual literacy and associated research and pedagogy draw from a wide range of disciplines including art history, semiotics, media and cultural studies, communication studies, visual ethnography and anthropology, social semiotics, new literacies studies, cognitive psychology, and critical theory. Understanding the various theories, research methodologies, and pedagogical approaches to visual literacy requires an investigation into how the various paradigm shifts that have occurred in the social sciences have affected this field of study. Cognitive, linguistic, sociocultural, multimodal, and postmodern “turns” in the social sciences each bring different theories, perspectives, and approaches to the field of visual literacy. Visual literacy now incorporates sociocultural, semiotic, critical, and multimodal perspectives to understand the meaning potential of the visual and verbal ensembles encountered in social environments.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Please check back later for the full article.
World-systems theorizing has its roots in dependency theorizing and the critique of modernization theory, rejecting its claimed linear process of economic development for all nation-states. A founding premise of this work, established well before the advent of globalization studies, has been the need to take the world-system as the primary unit of analysis for understanding social reality and social change. As an approach for understanding systems of mass education, world-systems theorizing has taken on two broad trajectories. One of these, world-culture theory or neo-institutional analysis, has centered on identifying examples of global convergence at the level of education policy, explaining these in terms of a world culture of education that has spread across nation-states through their participation in international agencies and organizations. An alternative approach, world-systems analysis, takes the historical development and operation of the capitalist world-economy, across core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral zones of the world-economy, as the starting point for understanding the nature and function of mass education systems. This work includes the particular construction of knowledge structures and subject disciplines, and their function within the operation of the capitalist world-system. Where world-culture theory downplays the causal power of economic structures, world-systems analysis highlights the interaction between economics and an accompanying world cultural framework under historical capitalism, whose core features can account for the nature and purpose of education. Educational applications of contemporary world-systems analysis extend to work within the broader field of critical education to transform society. Specifically, these applications examine the potential for systems of mass education to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to understand existing social reality, to imagine more equal, just, democratic, and peaceful, alternative world-systems, and to take action toward their realization.