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Learning to read from a social practice view: Ethnography, schooling and adult learning



This paper looks at some issues around “learning to read” from the viewpoint of a social practice concept of literacy for both child and adult literacy. This calls for an ethnographic approach that, although increasingly common in the field of adult literacy, is less common in the policy and practice of schooling; there, a more decontextualized approach predominates, seeing one form of literacy as a universal norm to which all adult literacy learning needs to conform. And—on the whole—in literacy education, schooling predominates, although there are signs in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of increasing awareness of the importance of a wider approach to adult learning for the achievement of the SDGs. This will increase the need for an ethnographic approach to both children’s and adults’ literacy-learning programmes.
Learning to read from a social practice view:
Ethnography, schooling and adult learning
Brian Street
The Author(s) 2017. This article is an open access publication.
Abstract This paper looks at some issues around ‘‘learning to read’’ from the viewpoint of
a social practice concept of literacy for both child and adult literacy. This calls for an
ethnographic approach that, although increasingly common in the field of adult literacy, is
less common in the policy and practice of schooling; there, a more decontextualized
approach predominates, seeing one form of literacy as a universal norm to which all adult
literacy learning needs to conform. And—on the whole—in literacy education, schooling
predominates, although there are signs in the United Nations Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) of increasing awareness of the importance of a wider approach to adult
learning for the achievement of the SDGs. This will increase the need for an ethnographic
approach to both children’s and adults’ literacy-learning programmes.
Keywords Learning to read Social practice Schooling Adult literacy Ethnography
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Challenging the dominant approach to learning to read
It now seems to be widely acknowledged that the dominant approach to learning to read
(and write) is to see literacy as a basic skill that an individual either has or does not have.
The result is that the world can be divided simplistically into those who are illiterate and
those who are literate. In this view, learning literacy brings with it automatically cognitive
benefits and, with these, economic, social, and cultural benefits. Learning ‘‘literacy’’ is seen
Brian Street left this paper in an advanced state of preparation; with his consent, Alan Rogers has edited and
completed it. It is substantially as Brian would have finalized it.
&Brian Street
Formerly of King’s College London, London, UK
DOI 10.1007/s11125-017-9411-z
to be essential not only for ‘‘development’’ but for all forms of modern living. And there
are standardized ways of teaching reading (and writing): cognitive psychology approaches
that place an emphasis on classroom practices and see systematic letter sequences, phonics,
or syllabic construction as essential for all learners, especially children. This view, that
literacy in itself has consequences irrespective of context, has tended to dominate edu-
cational thinking, a view I have described as an ‘‘autonomous’’ model of literacy (Street
1984). As with many people working in the field of literacy in international contexts, I find
myself challenging this dominant perspective, put forward by many agencies, which we
might characterize as a ‘‘skills approach’’.
An alternative perspective shifts the focus from schools and from children and instead
sees reading and writing as always taking place in some specific sociocultural context. One
is never ‘‘learning to read’’; one is ever only ‘‘learning to read some specific text or other in
a specific context’’. It is this sociocultural context and the practices that take place within it
that give reading (and writing) its meaning.
A number of literacy projects in recent years have, in fact, taken a more social view of
literacy and of learning than has been evident in the dominant policy perspectives. This
social view emphasizes that before launching into literacy programmes and interventions,
it is necessary to understand the literacy practices that target groups and communities are
already engaged in (Freebody and Welch 1993; Prinsloo and Baynham 2013).
Researchers trained in fieldwork methods and sensitized to ways of discovering and
observing literacy practices on the ground have conducted studies into these everyday
practices and their relationship to the programmes designed to alter them. Programme
planners at times now include these findings in projects from the earliest stage (Prinsloo
and Breier 1996; Yates 1994) and feed them into the campaign design and development.
Many others in different parts of the world, such as Barton, Hamilton, and Ivanic (2000)
and Papen (2005) in the UK, and Kell (1996) and Kalman (2005) in South Africa and
Mexico, respectively, have written extensively on this issue. They all confirm the
importance of taking context into account in the planning and implementation of literacy
and numeracy learning programmes. In this issue of Prospects, for instance, Negassa,
Rogers, and Warkineh write that, whilst ‘‘there is an individual cognitive component to
learning (see Abadzi in this volume) there is also a social element; the learning process
always takes place in ‘situated activities’. Without the social interaction, the cognitive
would not take place; and the form that the cognitive process takes is shaped by the
‘situated activity’ of which it is a part’’. All this work, then, emphasizes the social
dimension of learning to read.
Literacy as social practice
The term ‘‘literacy as social practice’’ (LSP) has, to some extent, replaced the earlier term
‘new literacy studies’’ (Gee 1990; see Street 1993,1995b) on the grounds that it switches
the focus of attention away from the products of academic research to the many and varied
users and contexts of literacy. The concept of LSP refers to the nature of literacy in use. It
leads to quite new ways of understanding and defining what counts as literacy—an
approach that has profound implications for how reading and writing are learned and
taught. If literacy is a social practice, then it varies with social context and is not the same,
uniform thing in each case. LSP recognizes the plurality of literacies—that there are
different literacy practices that carry with them different values and affordances. This
B. Street
means that LSP has implications for policy, both in current national approaches to literacy
learning and also in such international perspectives as are expressed in the UN Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) (see below and Street 2016). Whereas the UK National Lit-
eracy Strategy, for instance, sees what it calls ‘‘the basics’’ as the key focus for literacy
education—involving such surface features of language and literacy as rules of grammar in
the traditional sense and rules for phoneme/grapheme relations—the LSP approach shifts
from such narrow views to the larger social and ideological contexts (Street 1995a). By
addressing these conceptual issues, I hope to engage practitioners, researchers, and poli-
cymakers in reflective debate.
That literacy is a social practice is an insight both banal and profound. It is banal in the
sense that, once we think about it, it is obvious that literacy is always practiced in social
contexts. Even school, however artificial it may be accused of being in its reading and
writing teaching methods, is a social construction. The site of learning (whether at school
or within adult-literacy programmes) has, like other contexts, its own social beliefs and
behaviours into which its particular literacy practices are inserted (Street 2005); whether in
school or adult-literacy groups, what is being learned is not the same concept in each
In contrast with the dominant ‘‘skills’’ view, I have posited an ‘‘ideological’’ view of
literacy, in which I argue that literacy not only varies with social context and with cultural
norms and discourses (regarding, for instance, identity, gender, and belief)—what might be
termed a ‘‘social’’ model—but also that its uses and meanings are always embedded in
relations of power. It is in this sense, I suggest, that literacy can be seen as ideological: it
always involves contests over meanings, definitions, boundaries, and control of the literacy
agenda. For these reasons, it becomes harder to justify teaching only one particular form of
literacy, whether in schools or in adult programmes, when the learners will already have
been exposed to a variety of everyday literacy practices (Street 2016). If we see literacy
simply as a universal technical skill, the same everywhere and for all people, then the
particular form being taught in educational contexts (where formal schooled literacy is
often treated as the only kind of literacy there is) becomes the universal standard, which
naturalizes its socially specific features and disguises their real history, ideological justi-
fications, and practices, and which delegitimizes all other forms of literacy. On the other
hand, if we see literacy as a social practice, then that history and those features and
justifications need to be spelled out, and students need to be able to discuss the basis for the
choices being made in the kinds of literacy they are learning—particularly who decides
what they should learn.
The ideological model of literacy, then, offers a more culturally sensitive view of
literacy practices as they vary from one context to another. It is about knowledge: the ways
in which people address reading and writing are themselves rooted in conceptions of
knowledge, identity, and being. Knowledge is also always embedded in social practices,
such as those of a particular job market, a particular religious culture, or a particular
educational context, and the effects of learning a particular literacy will be dependent on its
particular context. Literacy, in this sense, is always contested, regarding both its meanings
and its practices; hence, particular versions of it are always ‘‘ideological’’ in that they are
always rooted in a particular worldview and in a desire for that view of literacy to dominate
and to marginalize others (Gee 1990; Street and Besnier 1994). The argument about social
literacies (Street 1995b) recognizes that how teachers or facilitators and their students
interact is already a social practice that affects the nature of the literacy being learned and
the ideas about literacy held by the participants, especially the new learners and their
positions in relations of power. It is not valid to suggest that literacy can be ‘‘given’
Learning to read from a social practice view: Ethnography
neutrally and then its social effects only experienced afterward. I argue below that many of
the policy statements about literacy that we see in the public domain fail to take account of
the social practices embedded in different contexts for learning and using literacy.
Research in the field of Literacy as Social Practice (Barton et al. 2000; Pahl and Rowsell
2006; Robinson-Pant 2004; Street 1995b,2005) has addressed issues of how literacy is
learned in many different contexts, of which school is only one. By engaging in reading
and/or writing in contexts such as communities and workplaces, learners come to terms
with a variety of issues that they are not necessarily conscious of learning explicitly. As
Negassa, Rogers, and Warkineh state, in this issue, ‘‘The current interest in ‘lifelong
learning’ has directed attention to ‘informal learning’—the learning that takes place
throughout life outside of formal and nonformal educational and training programmes’’.
These are terms that we may have to learn and develop in order to elaborate on the social
practice perspective and its implications for learning.
Ethnographic perspectives
How, then, can we know about such social practices? I argue that an ethnographic per-
spective can be helpful in addressing the local uses and meanings of literacy—that is, in
discovering what people are doing with reading and/or writing in specific social contexts
(see Rogers and Street 2012).
In recent years there has been growing awareness of the value of qualitative,
ethnographic approaches to educational research and the contributions these can
make to development planning. Ethnographic research can be utilised at all stages of
the project cycle, from project identification to project appraisal and can help to
complement more positivist statistical surveys by revealing the cultural and social
dimensions which may positively or adversely affect how a project is taken up.
(Yates 1993)
I will then call on an ethnographic approach that is concerned with attempting to
understand what actually happens in relation to reading and writing in their social contexts.
The findings of the ethnographic approach to literacy may lead to different measurements
of and claims for outcomes, and to different curricula and pedagogies from those employed
in many traditional programmes.
Rather than appealing to large statistical data sources where the methodological validity
rests on what Mitchell (1984) terms ‘‘enumerative induction’’ based in representative
sampling, an ethnographic perspective is founded on ‘‘analytic induction’’. Instead of
looking for a representative sample, the ethnographer looks to another kind of inference
involved when analytical statements are made:
What the anthropologist using a case study to support an argument does is to show
how general principles deriving from some theoretical orientation manifest them-
selves in some given set of particular circumstances. A good case study, therefore,
enables the analyst to establish theoretically valid connections between events and
phenomena which previously were ineluctable. From this point of view, the search
for a ‘‘typical’’ case for analytical exposition is likely to be less fruitful than the
search for a ‘‘telling’’ case. (Mitchell 1984, p. 239)
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Green and Bloome (1997) and others have pointed out that such a perspective need not be
restricted to anthropologists. In fact, an ethnographic perspective is already evident in the
work of many educationalists, linguists, and social commentators. Such ethnographic
accounts of literacy, then, can, in Mitchell’s (1984) terms, provide ‘‘telling cases’’ of what
literacy means to different populations of users, focusing on the cultural and institutional
locations of such meanings, using analytic induction, and avoiding the ethnocentrism
involved in narrow, dominant approaches.
There have now been many very fruitful studies of literacy using ethnographic per-
spectives (Gebre, Rogers, Street, and Openjuru 2009; Nirantar 2007; Openjuru, Baker,
Rogers, and Street 2016; Prinsloo and Breier 1996). And the results are impressive.
Multiple forms of literacy can be seen—a literacy family, if you like, which includes
religious literacies, many different occupational literacies, family/domestic literacies,
bureaucratic literacies, academic literacies, etc. Of these, the formal literacy of the school
taught to young people and to adults is simply one member of the family, and it is often
different from the informal literacies that the learners, adults and children, encounter in
their everyday lives (few people bother with punctuation or capital letters when writing
shopping lists, and few feel incorrect grammar and spelling prevent them from under-
standing when reading graffiti). This gap between the taught and the everyday literacies is
wide and hard to bridge. Ethnographic studies show that the world cannot be simply
divided between literate and illiterate, and that everyone engages with literacy practices in
their own way, mediation being particularly important; often they do not see their own
practices as ‘‘literacy’’. These studies show empirically that there are multiple ways of
learning to read: Rafat Nabi and colleagues’ detailed studies (2009, pp. 65–97) show
conclusively that some people do, in fact, learn to read through word recognition, however
much educational psychologists may deny this possibility (Abadzi 2010). Ethnographic
studies deny that there is only one literacy and one way of learning to read (and write).
The implications of this conclusion for the policy and practice of helping adults and
children to learn to read are profound. Below, I note a few of the policy statements on
education and literacy and cite some critiques from a social perspective that colleagues
have made.
Learning to read, adults as well as children: The contribution
of the Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2000, the United Nations Millennium Declaration set out goals (MDGs) to be
reached by 2015, the main focus of which was eliminating poverty, hunger, and disease.
Because states did not reach the Education for All goals by the deadline (Convergence
2004), in 2015 new participants met to set up Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is
here that we find more explicit attention to literacy and education than in the MDGs; for
example, SDG-4 includes the statement, to ‘‘[e]nsure inclusive and equitable quality
education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’’.
Again, however, the focus seems to be mainly on schools and children, although in the
follow-up to the SDGs, adult learning has received rather more attention. For instance, a
sustainable development framework was put forward at the World Education Forum held
in Incheon, Republic of Korea, in November 2015. In this framework, given the title
‘Equitable and Inclusive Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All by 2030:
Transforming Lives through Education’’ (UNESCO 2015), the participants ‘‘reaffirmed the
Learning to read from a social practice view: Ethnography
vision of the worldwide movement for Education for All initiated in Jomtien in 1990 and
reiterated in Dakar in 2000’’. Indeed, they recognized that the previous policy had not
entirely worked: ‘‘We recognize with great concern that we are far from having reached
education for all’’ (UNESCO 2015). The reasons for this dilemma and the issues involved
in the new policy are key matters for us to discuss here.
An international seminar held in the UK in April 2016 attempted to provide some
answers to the question of why these previous policy positions seem not to have succeeded.
The seminar linked this to a more precise question: Why have adults been marginalized in
the past, and what needs to be done to bring adults more clearly into the mainstream? (see
UppSem 2016).
In response to this question, in a background paper to this seminar, Alan Rogers (2016)
noted: (1) the relative absence of adult learning from the implementation of the Education
for All (EFA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), despite statements in the
policy documents as to the importance of adult learning; (2) the almost complete absence
of adult-education practitioners from the discussions leading up to the formulation of the
education goal SDG-4 (see for example, UNESCO 2014); and (3) the current prioritizing
of children in many of the discussions on the implementation of SDG-4. He does, however,
see some change, as have a number of colleagues, especially in the inclusion of adult-
learning targets in almost every one of the 17 SDGs, either explicitly or implicitly. He
notes that ‘‘since 1990 the concept of lifelong learning/education (LLL/E) has become
more common in educational policy contexts in developing countries’’ (Rogers 2016). In
support of this, he cites the recent IIEP statement that ‘‘[t]he new Sustainable Development
Goals confirm the importance of ensuring life-long learning opportunities for all’’ (IIEP
News, 14 January 2016). This leads him to ask whether the conceptualization of lifelong
learning/education (LLL/E) as embracing both SDG-4 and the other learning targets would
help to ensure a greater provision for adults. The questions this leads to, which are relevant
to the debates in this issue of Prospects, are ‘‘How can we avoid this discourse being
rhetorical? Can such a LLL/E agenda which covers both SDG 4 and the other learning
targets be operationalised? And how can its learning outcomes be measured?’’ (Rogers
A number of those attending the Uppingham Seminar commented on Rogers’s account
(all quotations come from papers on the Uppingham Seminars website, UppSem 2016). Ian
Cheffy agrees that ‘‘the learning needs of adults have received relatively little attention in
the last 15 years’’, and offers an explanation from a psychological perspective: ‘‘Somehow
I think that human survival instincts enter into this! Adults, especially parents, prioritise
children since they are the ‘hope for the future’. Parents want their children to have better
opportunities than they had—and this spills over into public policy. Unfortunately it’s hard
to change human survival instincts!’’ (UppSem 2016). He does, however, also offer a more
‘social’’ explanation; namely, ‘‘the desire of the international community to focus on a
limited range of specific development goals concerning many aspects of development and
not education alone, as seen in the MDGs’’. And he takes encouragement from the new
SDGs in that they do not reduce the focus on education to simply one of primary schooling
but are now concerned with education at all levels—lifelong learning—a point that Anna
Robinson-Pant in the same seminar also recognized. So, Cheffy states, ‘‘[T]he thinking
about education for all ages which was a feature of the 2000 Dakar Education for All
agenda has now been integrated (with updating) into the SDGs themselves’’. He concludes
on a relatively positive note: ‘‘This at least opens up opportunities for international
development efforts to pay attention to the needs of adults without in any way stepping
outside what are now set up as the priorities’’. For instance, he assumes that ‘‘the Education
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2030 Framework for Action document which was formally adopted at UNESCO in
November (UNESCO 2015) will not be overlooked’’. This UNESCO statement amplifies
the 10 targets within SDG-4 and gives a good deal of recognition to the needs of adults and
an emphasis on lifelong learning for children, youth, and adults. It indicates that, within the
lifelong-learning framework, ‘‘special measures are needed to address the needs of adult
learners’’, particularly as concerns relevant skills for employment (TVET) and basic
There is, then, Cheffy argues, an important balance to be established here, between
focusing, on the one hand, on the role of adults in relation to the schooling of children but
also, on the other hand, on ‘‘the need to recognise the contribution which adult literacy
makes to children’s schooling, even if it concentrates simply on parents learning to read
and write’’.
Another contributor to the discussions at the Uppingham Seminar on the adult-learning
dimensions of the SDGs, Mari Yasunaga, also asks, ‘‘Why is adult education neglected?’
She offers further explanations: ‘‘[S]ome funding is in fact made available beyond formal
adult education contexts, for instance to communities, NGOs, the private sector and donors
involved in grass-root level activities, workplace education, etc., about which a state and/or
non-state actors may not have a complete picture’’. So, an important issue here might be to
follow through on the funding streams and recognize that some support is being given for
the adult level, even if it is not defined as ‘‘adult education’’ but as skills development, or
women’s empowerment, or health projects, etc.
An additional theme worth highlighting, Yasunaga asserts, is the importance of
‘[m]aking the learning outcomes and benefits of adult education/literacy more visible’’.
She suggests that some of the recent international reports do, in fact, show that ‘‘an
evidence base regarding the multiple benefits of ‘education’ is expanding’’, citing the
UNESCO report Sustainable Development Post-2015 Begins with Education (UNESCO
2014). Yasunaga adds that we need to take into account ‘‘the principles of family literacy
that avoid separating adults and children’’. So, whilst the dominant policy perspective in
the SDGs may be a general notion of ‘‘universality’’, in fact we may need to give more
attention to recurrent education, or adult learning and education (ALE). It will take
ethnographic approaches to the analysis of such programmes to reveal the extent of this
provision for adult and intergenerational learning.
Anna Robinson-Pant, UNESCO professor of adult literacy and learning for social
transformation at the University of East Anglia (UK), also commented on issues raised in
the Uppingham Seminar. Her work leads her to explore the policy documents more closely,
and she advises us to examine more deeply the language used to describe what is going on
in the contexts under discussion. She pointed out some of the changes in the policy
documents: ‘‘There are repeated statements in the 2030 Framework for Action where there
is a strong emphasis on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls as cross-
cutting the dimensions of sustainable development—for instance one heading states ‘A
world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality, and all legal, social and
economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed’’’. The (at least, rhetorical)
commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment in the 2030 agenda presents,
she suggests, an important opportunity to look at what assumptions about learning and
education could contribute to these aims. And here she draws on Rogers’s (2014) dis-
tinction between informal learning and education to explore what kind of adult learning/
lifelong education might support the targets in SDG-5 (to achieve gender equality and
empower all women and girls). Adult learning (particularly awareness raising) seems to
underlie most of the Goal 5 targets (e.g., ‘‘enhance the use of enabling technology’’) but is
Learning to read from a social practice view: Ethnography
not stated explicitly. Thus, she proposes that, once again, definitions and terminology need
more refined attention.
However, the participants quoted here do not necessarily all agree; in this case,
Robinson-Pant questions some of the more negative readings of the SDGs in relation to
adult education expressed in some of the seminar papers. As she puts it, ‘‘[M]y reading of
the SDGs (particularly as compared to the MDGs/EFA agenda) is much more positive
—in that I saw only two of the Goal 4 targets (4.1 and 4.2) as focused exclusively on
children and schooling. As I consider there is a reasonable emphasis on adult learning in
the other targets, the issue for me is less around ‘the absence of adult education from SDG
4’ and more around ‘what kind of education or adult learning is envisaged within each
target?’’’ Indeed, she notes that SDG-4.7 seems to mark a significant shift away from the
3Rs and formal skills/education, with the potential to support informal and nonformal
learning around global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity, gender equality,
and so on.
If, then, we are looking for explanations for why the dominant policy perspective has
tended to focus on children rather than adults, we might look beyond narrow practical
constraints and instead examine more closely some of the assumptions behind different
forms of political commitment. Both children’s and adults’ education are often supported
for reasons other than learning; spending money on children’s schooling rather than on
adults has been seen by some, for instance, as a vote winner, since many adults have
expressed a preference for the education of their children over that of themselves. It is here,
once again, that ethnographic approaches are needed; it seems important to look at what
the other agendas (subplots) might be. And there are issues here that we might need to
pursue more closely in the global North as well as in so-called developing countries, as
governments and NGOs attempt to develop policies that, at least rhetorically, respond to
the UNESCO and SDG statements (Street 1995a).
In this article, I have argued that the dominant approach to learning to read (and write) is to
see literacy as a basic skill that an individual either has or does not have, so that the world
can be divided into illiterate and literate; that learning literacy automatically brings with it
cognitive and other benefits; and that there are standardized ways of teaching reading (and
writing) to both children and adults. I suggest that adopting a ‘‘literacy-as-social-practice’
perspective on learning to read (and write) challenges these assumptions for both children
and adults. Using ethnographic approaches, LSP shows that there are multiple literacies
(Street 2015) and multiple ways of learning literacy—that a ‘‘single-injection’’ model of
teaching literacy is less effective than a lifelong- and especially a ‘‘lifewide-’’ learning
model. And I have argued that this helps us to see how adult learning of literacy has been
relatively neglected in both policy and practice in favour of primary schooling, and that the
new emphasis on the Sustainable Development Goals provides an opportunity for
redressing this imbalance.
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Brian Street (United Kingdom) is Professor Emeritus of language in education at King’s College, London,
and visiting professor of education in both the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania,
and the School of Education and Professional Development, University of East Anglia. Following fieldwork
in Iran in the 1970s, he has written and lectured extensively on literacy practices from both a theoretical and
an applied perspective. He has a longstanding commitment to linking ethnographic-style research on the
cultural dimension of language and literacy with contemporary practice in education and in development. He
has conducted lecture tours, workshops, training programmes, and research in a number of countries
including the USA, South Africa, Nepal, India, and Singapore and was involved in LETTER Projects in
Ethiopia and Uganda. In 2008, he received the Distinguished Scholar Lifetime Achievement Award from the
National Reading Conference in the USA.
B. Street
... Because the use of the health-relevant skills, the situation, and meaning-making in all their complexity cannot be assessed in common cross-sectional (quantitative) studies on HL, other methodological approaches are required. To assess health literacy as a social practice, qualitative studies, especially ethnographic studies, are the methods of choice (Street 2016). However, as each chosen method brings both possibilities and limitations and describes a narrow picture of HL, a critical examination of the methods is imperative. ...
... Health literacy is a widely used concept in policy, research, and practices, yet understanding health literacy, conceptual models and measurement tools, and interventions differ in many ways. When studying health literacy, it is fundamental to make explicit whether one understands health literacy as context-independent or whether it is context-bound (see the discussion about the autonomous vs. ideological model of literacy) (Street 2016). Depending on the perspective chosen and the study's purpose, no or plentiful attention is paid to the complex nature of HL in use, its development, and the role of contextual influences, such as the social determinants of health. ...
... Scholars advocating for a social practice view of literacy, such as Street (2016) or Meyer (2015a), have in common that they question the autonomous model of literacy and propose understanding literacy as a set of social, contextualized processes that can only be understood in context. Also, Meyer draws attention to the myriad of different forms of texts and uses of literacy and that each discipline (and thus also each area of life, including health) requires different skills (Meyer et al. 2015a). ...
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*** Fulltext: urn:nbn:de:bsz:frei129-opus4-9840 *** Globalization, digitalization, global pandemics, climate change, and infodemic pose increasing challenges to individuals, communities, and societies, which require good health literacy to maintain and promote health. Empirical evidence on HL (health literacy) has rapidly increased worldwide and exposed the inadequate levels of HL in most countries. Especially people with low socioeconomic background, low educational attainment, and migrants are considered vulnerable to low HL, based on quantitative studies and conclusions. A group that is multiply affected and variously described as vulnerable is people of Afghan descent. However, empirical evidence on their actual HL and their HL practices in everyday life is scarce. To empower people to respond adequately to current and future health-related changes, a good knowledge of HL in the relevant population group is indispensable. Since recent qualitative studies indicate that health literacy can only be adequately described as a real practice in its specific context and unique situation, I explore in this dissertation how HL can be captured and described as a contextual, situational social practice, using the example of people of Afghan descent with different research methods. This work incorporates three major research projects, each employing different methods to explore HL among Afghans and provide relevant insights into the concept of HL. Research on health and health literacy is diverse, so it is important to begin this work by outlining the different understandings of health and health literacy and common strategies for promoting them. Since health is understood from a health promotion perspective as a positive, comprehensive concept in a socio-ecological context, HL is consequently not understood as an individual autonomous skill but as a contextual, social practice. Accordingly, health and HL are also described in context by the groups under consideration, and their possible influence on HL is shown. The use of the term vulnerable is critically examined, and the focus is shifted away from the characteristics of the individual to the influencing circumstances. Based on raw determinants and health outcomes, HL in Afghanistan is rated as low. Given the diverse data on immigrant populations and the different theories explaining their health status, it is shown that immigrant populations face many pressures and need to acquire new HL. Third, building on the course offering: language course, it is argued that those participating in it (including Afghans) need to improve their HL. Building on account of the health literacy of so-called vulnerable groups, which traced the complexity and heterogeneity, it is concluded that HL needs to be understood and explored as a contextual, situational, social practice to adequately describe HL. Therefore, in the three research projects, special emphasis is placed on the respective overall social context, the situation's specifics, the use of language, the actual actions, and the meaning of social others. Furthermore, it is examined what can be learned from the respective methodological approach to HL with regard to HL as a contextual, situational social praxis, as well as how the vulnerability or resource wealth of the target group and the vulnerability- or capability-producing context are revealed. Last, important lessons for HL promotion were derived from all three projects. The first four contributions are from a quantitative, cross-sectional study in central Afghanistan that examines HL, determinants, outcomes, but also quality of life, and beliefs in two groups of people influential to health, heads of households (N= 524) and female patients and/or caretakers (N=322). Participants were in a two-stage randomization process identified and orally interviewed by trained interviewers of the same sex. The study provides empirical evidence of poor determinants of health and health outcomes, health behaviors that need improvement, and low health literacy. The analysis showed that HL is largely related to schooling opportunities (for women). Surprisingly, despite adverse circumstances, an astonishing number of Afghans exhibit positive health behaviors. A qualitative examination of the items of the HLS-EU-Q16 shows which activities are particularly difficult and, at the same time, particularly prerequisite-rich, which should also be better researched in the future for developing interventions. The second three contributions stem from the ELMi research project, which ethnographically researched the HL of immigrant youth (including three Afghan refugees) in everyday life and embedded the findings in a review and theoretical considerations. The limitations of reviews for describing HL in vulnerable groups became obvious in these three theoretical contributions. Furthermore, the frequent, mostly implicit theoretical orientation of HL as an individual rational-choice model and three alternative models for the description of HL were presented, a difference-deficit model was introduced, and a plea for applying sociological theories, especially the capability approach, was given. Overall, the ethnographic studies revealed the need for further studies of vulnerable groups from a salutogenic perspective, the conceptualization of HL as family HL, and the interwovenness of analog and digital worlds and respective HL. The third three contributions are from the SCURA research project, which ethnographically explored the role of health and health literacy in language and integration courses and developed appropriate methods for promoting HL in them. The contribution of integration courses to the promotion of HL was presented in detail, the corridor of possible interventions was explored and described, and concrete suggestions were made as to how the knowledge gained from language didactics can be transferred to health promotion and how language-sensitive health promotion can be used as an effective and sustainable method. Finally, the key strengths and limitations of the studies were highlighted, and the question of 'vulnerability' was revisited in light of the results found. Furthermore, the five aspects of HL as a contextual, situational, and social practice were re-examined with the help of the results obtained, and other studies, recommendations for the promotion of HL through context, acquisition, and targeted support were presented, and the capability approach was applied to the results. In many ways, this multi-project, multi-method, multi-perspective approach to HL of so-called vulnerable groups highlighted the need to describe HL as a contextual, situational social practice. Since many new, little-trodden paths were taken in this work, this work can serve as an impetus for many other researchers to critically examine the topic. The work unmistakably revealed how relevant a good understanding and targeted, context-sensitive promotion of HL is. Online available:
... Although these constructs have been used to introduce various perspectives of writing, in many educational settings, writing continues to be viewed and taught as a discrete skill set, one to be acquired promptly (Belcher, 2017), and language instruction and assessment practices continue to privilege traditional forms of writing, for instance, the five-paragraph essay (Casanave, 2017). From this perspective, writing is conceptualized as a simple process of encoding information rather than as a social process of extracting and evaluating information across genres and modes to create new meanings (Cope & Kalantzis, 2015;Street, 2016). Today, as we continue to reflect on writing and writing pedagogy with linguistically diverse language learners and users, we argue that we need to broaden our perspective and engage in praxis, namely, committing to a process of critical reflection and of action for transformation by engaging students in meaning-making in socially-situated contexts. ...
... Il est intéressant d'observer dans de nombreux contextes éducatifs que, malgré l'avancement des connaissances en didactique de l'écriture qui développent ces concepts, l'écriture continue à être considérée et enseignée comme un ensemble de compétences distinctes (Belcher, 2017), et les pratiques d'enseignement et d'évaluation des langues continuent de privilégier le genre de la dissertation (Casanave, 2017). Dans cet ordre d'idées, l'écriture est conceptualisée comme un simple processus d'encodage de symboles graphiques plutôt qu'un processus social complexe de (re)construction de sens (Cope et Kalantzis, 2015;Street, 2016). Alors que la réflexion sur la didactique de l'écriture avec des ALAD se poursuit, nous soutenons que nous devons adopter une posture de pratique (praxis), c'est-àdire nous engager dans un processus de réflexion critique et d'action pour la transformation de nos pratiques et idéologies. ...
... These discourses of academic achievement become associated with groups of people [Black] who in turn are placed at higher risk of deficit practices by those leading them. This pattern of practice includes a continued lack of value placed on out of school literacy within academic contexts (Street, 2015) which includes afterschool programs that utilize research based tutoring programs as part of their program offerings. Children's experiences with literacy learning in after school spaces does not lend itself to in-school policies that tend to negate the children's literary approaches and knowledge. ...
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This article challenges and explores an after-school literacy tutor program in a semi-urban midwestern state. As after-school programs continue to be widely used across the United States, there is also continued efforts to engage students in continued academic learning after school. Hynes and Sanders (2011) studied the experiences of various racial groups in after-school programs across the United States. They found that African American children were more likely to use after-school programs than White students, and most children participating in after-school programs lived in ‘urban’ (un-defined) areas. They also discovered more options for after-school programs in the Southern region of the United States, which has a larger portion of African American students (After School Alliance, 2009; Hynes and Sanders, 2011).
... Literacy must address a diversity of contexts and a variety of processes that differ from one society to another (Omoniyi, 2003). Street (2016) conceptualizes literacy as ideological, involving contestations over meanings, definitions, boundaries, and control of the literacy agenda. He emphasizes that the history underlying those features and justifications need to be made clear, so students can consider the reasons for the choices being made in what they are learning and how and who makes those choices. ...
Bringing together an international team of scholars, this pioneering book presents the first truly systematic, cross-linguistic study of variation in literacy development. It draws on a wide range of cross-cultural research to shed light on the key factors that predict global variation in children's acquisition of reading and writing skills, covering regions as diverse as North and South America, Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa. The first part of the volume deals with comprehensive reviews related to the variation of literacy in different regions of the globe as a function of socio-political, sociocultural, and language and writing system factors. The second part of the volume deals with comprehensive reviews related to the variation of literacy in different world regions. Offering a pioneering new framework for global literacy development, this groundbreaking volume will remain a landmark in the fields of literacy development and literacy teaching and learning for years to come.
Despite the increasing emphasis on the language and literacy practices of immigrant communities, our understanding of Asian immigrants’ everyday experiences in their workplaces remains limited. This study examines the language and literacy practices of two Korean adult immigrants within their professional environment—a family-owned dry cleaning business. Drawing on the concept of Literacy as Social Practice, this study explores their lived experiences. Research was conducted using an ethnographic approach, incorporating participant observations, interviews, and field notes. The collected data was analyzed using an inductive method, facilitating a deeper understanding of the family's evolving social practices and the crucial role their workplace plays in the context of immigrant families. Findings suggest that the family refined their professional skills and essential English proficiency through self-initiated learning, utilizing available resources. The workplace emerged as a significant platform for the family's immigrant experience, markedly shaping their language and literacy practices. This research provides insight into the underrepresented population's literacy practices and spaces, contributing valuable understanding to the field of adult literacy.
This article examines how participants in literacy events mediate the validation and legitimacy of official documents. Through articulating the perspectives of literacy as a social practice, paperwork studies, and the analysis of administrative burdens, we argue that the value of official documents is unstable and can fluctuate between valid and invalid each time applicants and frontline workers redefine the context of use. Through ethnographic observation, we gathered data on the historical production of birth certificates and the social construction of their meaning. We documented a participant’s unsuccessful efforts to renew her voter’s ID card over several years and in different government offices. We show how government employees rejected or accepted the same official birth certificate she presented, depending on how she framed her paperwork. Its meaning relied on the articulation of the negotiated administrative purpose, the definition of the context of use, and the document’s materiality.
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Temos o objetivo de identificar indícios dos modelos de letramento acadêmico no que dizem professores sobre suas práticas pedagógicas com a leitura e a escrita em cursos de licenciatura. Para tal, foram realizadas entrevistas semiestruturadas com 11 professores de universidades públicas e comunitárias de Santa Catarina. O principal escopo teórico advém dos estudos do letramento acadêmico, especialmente Lea e Street (2006), quando nos apresentam três modelos de letramento acadêmico. A análise dos dados evidenciou que não há um modelo predominante, e que há indícios indicando a ocorrência de práticas inerentes aos três modelos. Predominou a intenção de que os estudantes se insiram no espaço acadêmico, nos usos linguísticos a ele inerentes, no domínio dos gêneros acadêmicos ou na constituição de uma dada identidade, como estudantes e como futuros professores.
In this article, we draw on sociocultural perspectives on literacy to explore the ways in which pre‐engineering students took up and made sense of engineering notebooks implemented as part of a robotics project in a first‐semester university study course at a large, public Hispanic‐Serving Institution. Through ethnographic methods, we uncovered two primary sets of uses for the notebooks: (1) recording and remembering and (2) problem solving and decision‐making. The study illustrates the ways in which entering college students, especially those from underrepresented groups who seek to become engineers, may take up opportunities to “try out” disciplinary literacies through meaningful engagement with the practices of the discipline.
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In this chapter, we explore sites of ethnography, not physical sites of people studied, but intellectual sites that frame how ethnography is being undertaken in particular ways. The approach we have taken complements recent discussions of ethnography and ethnographic research in the social sciences and education emphasizing the scope of topics, research designs, methods, and theoretical traditions as well as differences from other qualitative and quantitative approaches to research (e.g., Duranti & Goodwin, 1992; Egan-Robertson & Willett, in press; Guthrie & Hall, 1984; Hammersly, 1990; Spindler & Spindler, 1987a; Zaharlick & Green, 1991). Yet, at the same time, our approach is intended to provide another way of looking at ethnography and ethnographic research. As Brian Street’s (1993b) review of Martyn Hammersly's (1992) book, What’s Wrong With Ethnography? makes clear, ethnographic research has evolved and changed over the past three decades. Not only has the use of ethnography and ethnographic research become more sophisticated and researchers more aware of the complexities and issues involved, there have been important changes in what counts as ethnography and ethnographic research, who conducts such research, where and how, the research agendas being pursued, and how such research contributes to evolving knowledge bases in education and the social sciences. These changes have led to enhanced understandings about how such research can be used to contribute to changes in various social institutions.
This book joins two important fields, that of literacy and multimodality, with a focus on local and global literacies. Chapters include work on media, popular culture and literacy, weblogs, global and local crossings, in and out of educational settings in such locations as the US, the UK, South Africa, Australia and Canada. © Kate Pahl and Jennifer Rowsell and the authors of individual chapters. All right reserved.
With a radically new perspective on reading, writing and mathematics for adults, this refreshing and challenging book shows how teachers and curriculum developers have much to gain from understanding the role of literacy in learners' lives, bringing in their families, social networks and jobs. Looking at the practicalities of how teachers and students can work with social practice in mind, Adult Literacy as Social Practice is particularly focused on: how a social theory of literacy and numeracy compares with other theoretical perspectives, how to analyze reading and writing in everyday life using the concepts of social literacy as analytical tools, and what this tells us about learners' teaching needs, what is actually happening in adult basic education and how literacy is really being taught, professional development. With major policy initiatives coming into force, this is the essential guide for teachers and curriculum developers through this area, offering one-stop coverage of the key concepts without the need for finding materials from far-scattered sources.
Acknowledgements Introduction Section 1: Literacy, Politics and Social Change Introduction 1 Putting Literacies on the Political Agenda 2 Literacy and Social Change: The Significance of Social Context in the Development of Literacy Programmes Section 2: The Ethnography of Literacy Introduction 3. The Uses of Literacy and Anthropology in Iran 4. Orality and Literacy as Ideological Constructions: Some Problems in Cross-cultural Studies Section 3. Literacy in Education Introduction 5. The Schooling of Literacy 6. The Implications of the New Literacy Studies for Pedagogy Section 4: Towards a Critical Framework Introduction 7. A critical Look at Walter Ong and the 'Great Divide' 8. Literacy Practices and Literacy Myths Index