University of Tasmania

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The literacies of 'empowerment': literacy practices in a socio-economically disadvantaged community

posted on 2023-05-26, 03:04 authored by Millar, PM
The underpinning theories of this study are that literacy is social practice, embedded in the social context (Street, 1984; Gee, 1990, 1999; Barton & Hamilton 1998); that literacy and identity are closely connected (Gee, 1999, 2001); and that literacy interacts with other knowledge and identity resources to be an important part of the dynamic of the accumulation and use of social capital (Falk & Kilpatrick, 2000). The study uses narrative research and case study techniques to investigate the literacy practices of people in a socio-economically disadvantaged community who engaged with a three and a half year community development project. Treating interview and observational data as actively constructed narratives (Silverman, 2000), these data were then organised in a narrative format. Analysis included strategies of both case and cross-case analysis, and discourse analysis. Findings are presented in story segments which follow the experiences of individuals and a community management group as they engage with the multiliteracies of running effective meetings and developing group collaboration and decision-making capability, of resuming education and training, of volunteering in an adult literacy program, of applying for a job, getting a learner's licence to drive, coping with the medical and behavioral disorders of their children, and coming to terms with issues such as domestic violence and the stigmatisation of their suburb. Progress is achieved, by individuals and by groups. The situated enabling‚ÄövÑvp leadership (Falk & Mulford, 2001) of the Community Management Group was able to function through the three years of the study and was still functioning when the study ended. Because of this, various other community groups were able to operate under its supervision. Some individuals improved their standard of living by obtaining some employment. Others moved into further education and training. The community was better informed as a result of a regular newsletter. An odd jobs service, activity programs for children, an adult literacy program and an anti-abuse program were maintained. But findings suggest that, for individuals and community alike, consolidation of gains in literacy, social capital and empowerment may be a slow and vulnerable process, not helped by the limited time-frames of funding typical of community development projects. New literacy skills and the learning acquired through these must interact with other empowerment factors, such as identity resources, in order to be fully useful.




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