Technological literacy is an invaluable personal skill in the information age, one that can open doors and allow individuals to escape the cyclical pattern of urban poverty. Chip Larsen ’13, Ana Baldrige ’12 and Paige Cross ’13 are spending their summer as Levitt Fellows with Associate Professor of Anthropology Chaise LaDousa on a project called “New Literacies for an Old City,” a reference to the social and economic landscape in the city of Utica, that will look at the changing relationship between the state and its citizens in the movement from an industrial to a service economy.
Like many former powerhouse industrial cities in the Northeast, Utica has lost its base of industrial labor and has been victim to drastic depopulation in the last century. Their research is an opportunity to examine the strategies that characterize recent state initiatives to address problems—poverty, economic and social inequality—that have come along as a side effect of deindustrialization.
LaDousa and the students are working with the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), a federally-funded initiative (managed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration) that seeks to expand access to broadband services in the United States. BTOP is being implemented state-wide in Minnesota and New York, regionally and south and central Texas, and city-wide in Richmond, Calif., and New Orleans.
There are five literacy centers in Utica that provide tutoring opportunities for people who have not had regular exposure to technology. The researchers, who will be tutoring and interviewing BTOP participants, have been going through Learner Web, a software-based learning support system for adults interested in increasing their technological literacy. The students have also been using discourse analysis to look at the ways in which the program envisions its constituency.
Although they are working on the project collaboratively, the students are each responsible for a 25-page paper, to be completed by the end of the summer. Their research is still in the developmental stage, but they are already starting to see separate tracts diverging which they may wish to pursue in their papers. They will also take part in a poster presentation in the fall semester.
All three students are anthropology majors, and view this research as a valuable opportunity to take research-gathering techniques they have learned in the classroom and apply them to anthropological fieldwork. Cross and Larsen both took LaDousa’s Ethnography of Literacy class in the spring. “This is a way to take the theoretical interest in that course and bring those issues to bear on a situation of contemporary interest,” LaDousa said. He hopes to use this research experience in future iterations of that course.
Baldrige is a graduate of Kutztown Area High School in Pennsylvania; Larsen graduated from St.Luke’s School in Connecticut; and Cross is a graduate of Germantown Academy in Pennsylvania.