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.
Ana Luiza Bustamante Smolka, Ana Lucia Horta Nogueira, Débora Dainez, and Adriana Lia Friszman de Laplane
Vygotsky’s approach to human development is profoundly intertwined with his methodological inquiry. This inquiry is related to his persistent quest for framing and understanding the problem of consciousness. His untiring search for a plausible explanation of the material basis of specifically human psychological functions pervades his theoretical, practical, and empirical work in the fields of psychology and education. Throughout this search, sociogenesis and semiotic mediation, at first investigative hypotheses, become explanatory principles. Excerpts from his seminal texts allow us to follow the elaboration of epistemological assumptions that anchor his process of theorization and evidence the interrelationships between object of study, explanatory principle, and unit of analysis in studies of cultural development. One of his major concerns had to do with the ways of teaching and the ways of studying teaching relations, as well as the results or effects of such relations. To talk about Vygotsky’s theoretical elaborations is, hence, to talk about method—of inquiring, of studying, of teaching. From the beginning through to the end of his theoretical endeavor, we find a deep concern about what it means to be human, what are the means to be human. Repercussions and contributions of Vygotsky’s approach to research in education, as well as their ethical and political implications, must be highlighted. His way of conceiving method escapes from rigidity, not from rigor, pointing to an instigating flexibility which approximates his efforts to the efforts of many contemporary authors in different fields.
Linnea Bodén, Hillevi Lenz Taguchi, Emilie Moberg, and Carol A. Taylor
Relational materialism was first articulated and framed within Actor Network Theory. In educational research, the concept has emerged with the growing influence of Agential Realism and New Material Feminism, and in the engagements in the “turn to materiality” and/or “turn to ontology.” A relational materialist approach to educational studies can be narrowed down to three key principles: the principle of general symmetry; the principle of material semiotics; and the principle of method. The enactment of relational materialism depends on how these principles come to work in the engagement with central educational problems, such as subjectivity, performativity and practice. Relational materialism takes the starting-point in the problems and concerns of human and material actors or agents, for whom the research can make a difference. While doing so, it acknowledges the methodological difficulties and possibilities when carefully attending simultaneously to discourse, materialities and their relations. Striving towards a methodological sensibility, the enactment of relational materialism in education research entails the emergence and creation of more and multiple methods to know the multiple realities of education. This also makes it possible for relational materialist research to become productive of new and additional educational realities that can, perhaps, make an affirmative difference to the actors or agents concerned.
Piaget’s constructivism theory influenced deeply the study of cognitive development in the last century. Despite the progressive loss of influence of this theory, some contemporary perspectives have recently extended some of his ideas, enriching the way cognitive development is understood. These contributions face two important questions that remained problematic in Piaget’s theory: how to integrate dynamic aspects and variability of development and how to understand the role of the body and the signs in cognition. Thanks to information processing theory, functional and executive components of cognition have been progressively integrated into Piaget’s theory. Two main perspectives have contributed to doing so. The first one, defended by Pascual-Leone and Case, among other authors, has been called “neo-Piagetian theory.” It offers a more dynamic way to understand cognitive development and present particular solutions to explain the Piagetian stages. The second one, the theory of dynamic systems, has contributed to explaining variability in cognitive development, a central aspect underestimated by Piaget, who was more interested in universal aspects of cognition. Thanks to the perspective of embodied cognition, the main role of action and body has been taken into account to understand the characteristics of cognition. From this perspective, a nuclear idea of Piaget’s constructivism, the importance of action in cognition, has been investigated in a more accurate way. Finally, considering the poor contribution of signs in Piaget’s theory, some authors inspired in Vygotskyan theory have emphasized the role of semiotic systems and social aspects in cognitive development. The research generated by all these theoretical perspectives has had important consequences in education.