Forgotten Places: How Digital Media Can Help Support Small, Rural Communities

Rhetoric, Digital Literacy & Community Engagement: Reviving the Stories of Ameri

Sean McCarthy is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English at the University of Texas, Austin, in the Digital Literacies and Literatures concentration. His dissertation explores the intersection between community literacy and digital literacy and community engagement theory and practice. As assistant director of the Digital Writing and Research Lab at the University of Texas, Austin, McCarthy investigates online digital writing as well as traditional writing practices. His interest in community literacy and digital literacy led him to examine the role digital literacy plays in restoring relationships, building connections, and rejuvenating dying conversations in small, rural towns in Texas. Since 2010, McCarthy has been working on the Mart Community Project, a program set in the small town of Mart, Texas, designed to inspire individual and community transformation through art, storytelling, and digital literacy workshops. This past August, McCarthy shared his dissertation writing with fellows and mentors at the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub’s Research Associates Summer Institute 2011. In the video below, McCarthy explains how the interdisciplinary field of digital media & learning serves as a jumping off point for researchers to examine issues outside their specific academic expertise. Below are some excerpts from the video, but in the full video (below), McCarthy, whose background is in rhetoric and composition, brings his frame of reference to the budding digital literacy conversation.

Texas is huge - these towns are very far apart from each other. They don’t have very great connections to Austin or Dallas. I think digital technologies can really help us connect them in some ways -- but more importantly -- is creating or fostering new relationships among the people there, just to get that circulation going again.

I come from a very small fishing village on the west coast of Ireland so I have a feel for small-town life. Even though it’s not what I expected to be doing with my work, there is a personal aspect of understanding how these small places work and the social dynamics of them.

Is there a set of generalizable practices, which I am in the middle of now, where I could say, OK, we can go into this town and make it work, and we don't need a huge infrastructure -- we don’t even necessarily need a core question -- except that this place needs some help, and we could learn a lot from being there.

I’m really interested in the application of digital technology across different disciplines. Even though I focus particularly on literacy studies, I’ve been working with social workers, architects, and I’ve run a summer camp with middle and high school kids. It’s really expanded my understanding of what my own practice is.

Coming from a particular discipline, I might have had certain ideas about the way my works enters the world, and this has completely exploded that.

Banner image credit: Mart Community Project

Video production credit: Marc Bacarro