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Challenging representations: constructing the adult literacy learner over 30 years of policy and practice in the United Kingdom

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date10/2011
JournalReading Research Quarterly
Journal number4
Volume46
Number of pages24
Pages350-373
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article addresses the question, How do changes in policy discourses shape public representations of literacy learners and the goals of adult literacy education? It examines specifically how the agency of adult literacy learners is constructed. We carry out a critical discourse analysis of two key adult literacy policy documents from the U.K.: the manifesto A Right to Read (British Association of Settlements, ) and Skills for Life: The National Strategy for Improving Adult Literacy and Numeracy Skills (Department for Education and Skills, ). We describe the overall structure and genre of the documents and analyze the semiotic resources in the texts to explore the discursive shaping of adult literacy learners. Our analysis shows that, while a functional discourse of individual deficit is prominent throughout the texts, each document expresses it differently. A discourse of rights and participation in the earlier text changes to a discourse of social inclusion, conditional on duty and responsibility and narrowed to the sphere of paid employment. The profiles of individual learners are heavily framed by the dominant discourses of literacy and education that constitute the texts. We argue that the discursive shifts we trace in these national documents relate to wider changes in notions of social disadvantage, rights and citizenship, and the emergence of literacy as a key indicator of progress. Our analysis demonstrates the powerful ways in which policy documents articulate relationships between national and transnational literacies.