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Voices in a Knowledge Conversation: an exploration of two narrative representations of Adult Literacy Learners

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2013
Number of pages409
Awarding Institution
Award date31/03/2013
Place of PublicationLancaster
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


As a result of policy changes in adult literacy education in England in recent years, political and public narratives about adult literacy learners have become dominated by the notion of skills deficit, demonstrating a disregard for adult learners’ lives and life experiences beyond employment and skills. At the same time, research in the field of adult literacy education continues to highlight the importance and complexities of adult learners’ lives and literacy practices. Informed by these ongoing debates in adult literacy, this doctoral research focuses on two different narrative representations of adult literacy learners: their biographical narratives, constructed from life history interview data; and their Skills for Life narrative, in the form of learners’ individual learning plan (ILP) paperwork. Using these two different narratives as sources of evidence, the study explores the identities constructed by and for the adults, along with the meanings assigned to literacy learning within each.
Within each of the two narrative representations, participants are found to engage in an important epistemological conversation regarding knowledge, a conversation with two specific sides: objectified knowledge and local, embodied modes of knowing (Smith, 2005). This knowledge conversation influences participants’ perceptions of and membership within different discourse communities (Swales, 1990) throughout their lives. A focus on the use of the ILP within the Skills for Life discourse community suggests that increasing textualisation can both support and reinforce the objectified knowledge side of the conversation, while providing participants with opportunities to challenge this by emphasising the importance of local, embodied ways of knowing. This study combines a number of methodologies to develop an original approach to life history research, with an emphasis on participant voice. Adding to the growing body of research around textualisation, paperwork and audit culture, the thesis openly acknowledges issues around carrying out research in a low-trust environment, thereby contributing to this, often overlooked, aspect of research.