This concept of contact zones has been used to theorize the political and power disparities present in sites—such as texts (Pratt) and classrooms (Lu)—where such influences might not be visible.
A literacy contact zone framework for research would orient investigations of literacy in sociolinguistic and history-rich contextual understandings that assume asymmetrical power dynamics.
However, more recently its remarkable value is slowly coming to light, in all its rich transcultural glory.
The idea of the contact zone is central to my approach to my own field: the engagement between the early modern west and the east, taking India as the setting [or contact zone in question]. There is far more one can benefit from of an engagement in which more than one voice is heard – a study of a conversation between difference rather than a one way account, speech-like, of/against difference.
Compositionists have paved the way for understanding contact zones not just as spaces to observe and describe but also as spaces in which challenging learning and instruction can occur.
In a contact zone, different languages interact through writing, reading, speech, and other expressions because of historical circumstances and with greater and lesser privileges afforded to them on account of these historical circumstances.It is a quintessential text of the contact zone, one in which native language combined with the language of the colonizer as well as imagery in the coloniser’s tradition.This manuscript, first discovered in1908, was initially met with ambivalence and confusion, taking decades to finally appear in print.In Pratt’s words, “along with rage, incomprehension and pain, there were exhilarating moments of wonder and revelation, mutual understanding and new wisdom – the joys of the contact zone.” In other words, there was true learning and understanding, exhilaratingly so.As I continue my own research, I hope that the project of the contact zone will not suffer or dilute.As a westerner considering east-west encounters, the danger remains of reading more into a Western perspective out of a natural affinity.At the same time, as one with South Asian heritage, it is hoped that the pull of ancestral affiliation will counterbalance the gravity of present day belonging. However, few widely used conceptual frameworks for literacy research articulate these principles.To address this gap, I propose employing the linguistics concept of contact zones as a conceptual framework for literacy research because it foregrounds the contexts that have proven essential to literacy studies scholarship.Arts of the Contact Zone by Mary Louise Pratt In the Arts of the Contact Zone, Mary Louise Pratt has tried to explain the concepts of the “contact zone”, which she referred to as “the space of colonial encounters”.This social space that she speaks about is a stage where “disparate cultures meet, clash, and grapple each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination”.