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Theorizing Literacy, Politics and Social Process: revisiting Maktab literacy in Rian in search of a paradigm

Rassool, N. (1995) Theorizing Literacy, Politics and Social Process: revisiting Maktab literacy in Rian in search of a paradigm. International Journal of Educational Development, 15 (4). pp. 423-436. ISSN 0738-0593

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1016/0738-0593(95)00025-X


Literacy as a social practice is integrally linked with social, economic and political institutions and processes. As such, it has a material base which is fundamentally constituted in power relations. Literacy is therefore interwoven with the text and context of everyday living in which multi-levelled meanings are organically produced at both individual and societal level. This paper argues that if language thus mediates social reality, then it follows that literacy defined as a social practice cannot really be addressed as a reified, neutral activity but that it should take account of the social, cultural and political processes in which literacy practices are embedded. Drawing on the work of key writers within the field, the paper foregrounds the primary role of the state in defining the forms and levels of literacy required and made available at particular moments within society. In a case-study of the social construction of literacy meanings in pre-revolutionary Iran, it explores the view that the discourse about societal literacy levels has historically constituted a key terrain in which the struggle for control over meaning has taken place. This struggle, it is argued, sets the interests of the state to maintain ideological and political control over the production of knowledge within the culture and society over and against the needs identified by the individual for personal development, empowerment and liberation. In an overall sense, the paper examines existing theoretical perspectives on societal literacy programmes in terms of the scope that they provide for analyses that encompass the multi-levelled power relations that shape and influence dominant discourses on the relative value of literacy for both the individual and society

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Language and Literacy in Education
ID Code:26666

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