A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy Practices: Power in and out of Print

By Rebecca Rogers | Go to book overview

Preface

This is a book about literacies, individuals, and institutions. An ethnographic case study of June Treader and her daughter Vicky, the book explores the discursive forces that impact their lives, the attendant issues of power and identity, and contemporary social debates about the connections between literacy and society.

Using participant observation, ethnographic interviewing, photography, document collection, and discourse analysis I describe and explain the complexity of the literacy work that June and Vicky, the two focal participants, engage with in their daily life. Both June and Vicky, urban African Americans labeled as "low-income" and "low-literate" negotiate language and literacy in their home and community proficiently, critically and strategically. Yet despite these proficiencies which I document, neither June nor Vicky see themselves as literate. June was defined as having "low literacy skills," reading at a "mid-fourth grade level" in her adult literacy classroom. Vicky, at the end of her sixth grade year was labeled as "speech impaired" and "multiply disabled."

To understand these and other complex contradictions, I use Fairclough's (1989, 1995) critical discourse analysis (CDA). The book shows the remarkable value of CDA, but at the same time demonstrates its limitations. The unusually rich ethnographic data within which I use CDA make it possible to extend Fairclough's theory of critical language study by demonstrating how power in language operates over time and across generations, from mother to daughter. Calling on social theories of learning (Gee, 1996; Rogoff, 1995; Wenger, 1998), I also argue that apprenticeship serves as a useful metaphor through which to examine family literacy as the space in which the ideological work of literacy is done. In the process of learning about literacy, Vicky and June learn relationships with their social world and contradictory literate subjectivities. These subjectivities are internalizations of ideologies and can be selectively invoked by discursive contexts, preventing June and Vicky from transforming their literate capital into social profit.

Methodologically, the study demonstrates the importance of embedding critical discourse analysis in ethnographic description. It also shows the reflexive value of turning the analytic tool (CDA) on the researcher as well as

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