Letter Writing as a Social Practice

Overview

This book explores the social significance of letter writing. Letter writing is one of the most pervasive literate activities in human societies, crossing formal and informal contexts. Letters are a common text type, appearing in a wide variety of forms in most domains of life. More broadly, the importance of letter writing can be seen in that the phenomenon has been widespread historically, being one of earliest forms of writing, and a wide range of contemporary genres have their roots in letters. The writing of...
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Overview

This book explores the social significance of letter writing. Letter writing is one of the most pervasive literate activities in human societies, crossing formal and informal contexts. Letters are a common text type, appearing in a wide variety of forms in most domains of life. More broadly, the importance of letter writing can be seen in that the phenomenon has been widespread historically, being one of earliest forms of writing, and a wide range of contemporary genres have their roots in letters. The writing of a letter is embedded in a particular social situation, and like all other types of literacy objects and events, the activity gains its meaning and significance from being situated in cultural beliefs, values, and practices. This book brings together anthropologists, historians, educators and other social scientists, providing a range of case studies that explore aspects of the socially situated nature of letter writing.
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Editorial Reviews

James Paul Gee
Barton and Hall's book is a hallmark example of the New Literacies Studies. A variety of careful studies of letter writing as realized in different local and situated practices illuminates a bevy of important theoretical issues dealing with the history of literacy, cultural change, the development of different genres in science and everyday life, the negotiation and renegotiation of identities, the nature of schools and schooling, new technologies, and the socioculturally variable workings of class, race, ethnicity, and gender.
Dorothy Sheridan
Four years ago, when I was developing the reading list for a new course in life writing, I was disappointed and surprised to find that very little research had been published on a practice so ubiquitous and so apparently everyday as writing letters. This book, then, which looks at letter writing and reading across cultures, is a much needed scholarly contribution to the study of written language and social communication. Humble as it may seem, early evidence of the letter form can be identified in all kinds of historical written transactions, including — amazingly — the Magna Carta and the US dollar. This book testifies to the flexibility and significance of letter writing as a social practice and helpfully brings together examinations of older forms of letter writing with contemporary practice including the use of e-mail.
Jennifer L. Adams
The articles selected for inclusion in this book cover a diverse range of topics, representing various cultures and historical eras. However, no matter what particular subject matter is addressed by these authors, a perspective of the letter as a social practice ties all the articles together [...] Taken as a whole, these articles do indeed present a convincing argument that there are social effects of letter writing that are rarely explored in academic literature [...] Given the lack of such research in the past, this book is more than a beginning; it provides a look at the most current and relevant considerations of letters across disciplines, and is a useful addition to the libraries of those who study the social implications of personal communication.
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