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Title: Marching onwards : the social practices of literacy in Usulutan, El Salvador
Author: Betts, Julia
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2000
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1990 was International Literacy Year. A decade later, both our essential understandings of what 'literacy' means and our approaches to literacy have developed immensely. We now know that literacy is situated and multiple, complex and ideological; it is no singular, autonomous entity but an intricate mosaic of practices. It is part of the rich and varied social tapestry that is fashioned through the playing out of lives. This text explores some of the social practices of literacy in rural communities of Usulutan, El Salvador. It aims to form part of the New Literacies body of work, by taking an ethnographic / ideological approach to the study of literacy. Its main substantive foci are firstly, the uses of 'local' literacies as they relate to the socio-political and cultural environment of rural Usulutan, and secondly, the ways in which existing and imported discourses are taken up and used by people in Usulutan according to their own determined agendas, conceptualisations and visions. The study seeks to reveal the diversity and dissonance within local ideologies and literacy practices that seem often to lie hidden in research. It takes as its theoretical framework Bakhtin's noticon of discourse, to explore the meanings which are created when dominant and subordincated discursive streams meet and challenge one another. Experience in Usulutan has revealed that 'literacy' here is a totemic creation of discourses, an invention of ideology, actualised through its continuing iteration by dominant voices. This discourse of power is critiqued by the voices of adults in the rural communities of Usulutan, who engage with literacy as part of their creative strategies in negotiating struggles for resources and positioning within relationships. It forms a dynamic part of the imaginative and ingenious management of lives. This study has found that labels such as 'literate' and 'illiterate' cannot capture the extensive range of practices which are ongoing as people act out their own cultural texts within the complex and ever-changing social world of Usulutan. It contests autonomous notions of literacy as a site of deficit or deprivation, and challenges oversimplified views of literacy as 'empowerment'. Instead, it constructs a vision of local literacies in Usulutan as performances, as part of an original and inventive process of reshaping the social fabric and challenging subordination. Literacies form in this arena a site for the recreation of history and the construction of identity; they are not only reflective of social process but a powerful force for 'marching onwards'. The experiences in whcih this text is grounded have revealed that the struggle for voice int his corner of the world is no polarized conflict of 'oppression', no binary battle of wills, but rather a reflection of the fluid and shifting boundaries of language. Dominant and subordinated streams of discourse meet, reshape and co-construct each other ont he vast, uncertain plain of dialogue; Bakhtin's 'living and unrepeatable' play of language and light. It is here, at the moment of discursive encounter, and in the surrounding intricacies of social practices, that hte most powerful and meaningful of Geertz's webs of human significance are spun.
Supervisor: Childs, Ann ; Brock, Colin Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literacy ; El Salvador