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The work of illiteracy in the rhetorical curriculum

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It is conventionally held that illiteracy is simply the absence of literacy, however the latter term happens to be defined. As such, illiteracy is nothing more than failure to achieve the literate foundation upon which success in the rhetorical curriculum depends. I challenge convention by arguing that literacy is fundamentally a rhetorical construct and that the idea of illiteracy, integral to compelling identification with literacy, is an intentional product of the rhetorical curriculum. This relationship of illiteracy to the rhetorical curriculum can be glimpsed in narratives of literacy, especially those that circulate to mass audiences in popular films. Scholars have looked to such films for evidence to illustrate academic theories about literacy. By analysing several films and their reception, I show that non-academics are actively engaged in re-theorizing illiteracy. This engagement illuminates the rhetorical dimensions of illiteracy in a way that has the potential to revise the informal rhetorical curriculum, thereby changing conventional understandings of illiteracy.

Keywords: illiteracy; literacy; literacy narratives; rhetoric; rhetorical curriculum

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2012

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