You are here:

Theorizing literacy, politics and social process: Revisiting maktab literacy in Iran in search of a critical paradigm

International Journal of Educational Development Volume 15, Number 4 ISSN 0738-0593 Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


Literacy as a social practice is integrally linked with social, economic and political institutions and processes. As such, it has a material base which is fundamentally constituted in power relations. Literacy is therefore interwoven with the text and context of everyday living in which multi-levelled meanings are organically produced at both individual and societal level. This paper argues that if language thus mediates social reality, then it follows that literacy defined as a social practice cannot really be addressed as a reified, neutral activity but that it should take account of the social, cultural and political processes in which literacy practices are embedded. Drawing on the work of key writers within the field, the paper foregrounds the primary role of the state in defining the forms and levels of literacy required and made available at particular moments within society. In a case-study of the social construction of literacy meanings in pre-revolutionary Iran, it explores the view that the discourse about societal literacy levels has historically constituted a key terrain in which the struggle for control over meaning has taken place. This struggle, it is argued, sets the interests of the state to maintain ideological and political control over the production of knowledge within the culture and society over and against the needs identified by the individual for personal development, empowerment and liberation. In an overall sense, the paper examines existing theoretical perspectives on societal literacy programmes in terms of the scope that they provide for analyses that encompass the multi-levelled power relations that shape and influence dominant discourses on the relative value of literacy for both the individual and society.


Rassool, N. Theorizing literacy, politics and social process: Revisiting maktab literacy in Iran in search of a critical paradigm. International Journal of Educational Development, 15(4), 423-436. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved November 30, 2020 from .

This record was imported from International Journal of Educational Development on January 29, 2019. International Journal of Educational Development is a publication of Elsevier.

Full text is availabe on Science Direct: