Embodied composition in real virtualities: Adolescents, literacy practices and felt experiences moving with digital, mobile devices in school

Christian Ehret, Tyler S. Hollett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


English educators are contending with the proliferation of mobile devices in students, lives, and with the imminent integration of mobile devices into classrooms. Concurrently, literacy researchers using social semiotic theories of multimodality to investigate adolescents, digital composing have focused on screens, paying scant attention to the bodies moving with them. Responding to recent critiques of multimodality that have centered on a lack of attention to embodiment and affect, this article leverages the concept of real virtualities to avoid artificially bifurcating screen and body, and to contribute a beginning theorization of the embodied experience of composing with mobile devices, which includes feeling-histories, affective atmospheres, and the felt experience of time. The data analyzed in this article come from a 12-week enrichment course in which five adolescents composed digital narratives with iPods. The overarching analysis describes all literacy practices with mobile devices in the course, and the microanalysis, using multimodal interaction analysis, compares two students with contrasting histories of mobile device use. Findings show these students, literacies as more body-centered than techno-centered, and evince tensions between institutionalized learning environments and adolescents, affective, cultural histories of being mobile while engaged in literacy. Further, findings describe how the feeling of tools and semiotic material influenced the trajectories of students, bodies and narratives. Theories of digital composition should continue expanding to account for connections between mobility and affect, and the pedagogical importance of motility. The changing nature of literacy in the milieu of mobile computing compels researchers to consider the role of the moving, feeling body in literacy with more scrutiny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)428-452
Number of pages25
JournalResearch in the Teaching of English
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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