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Of cultural dissonance: the UK’s adult literacy policies and the creation of democratic learning spaces

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The broad aim of this paper is to track the evolution of adult literacy policy in the UK across three decades, highlighting convergences between policy phases and the promotion of democratic learning spaces. It is anchored onto the argument that, although it is generally accepted that democratic learning spaces are perceived as beneficial to adult literacy learners, policy has often deterred its promotion and, therefore, implementation. The paper identifies three block phases of adult literacy development: the seventies to mid-eighties, the mid-eighties to mid-nineties and the mid-nineties to the Moser Committees. The features of each of these phases are highlighted to map out convergences and divergences to the ethos of democratic learning spaces. The paper argues that, with the evolution of policy in adult literacy, the ethos of democratic learning space continuously diminished, such that as policy evolved year on year, the principle of democratic learning space found itself at counterpoint to policy. We draw on two theoretical frameworks, the NLS view of literacy and Bourdieu’s capital framework to explain these divergences and conclude that the dominant perception of literacy and the prioritised capital in the context of policy appear to limit the vestiges of democratic learning spaces.
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Keywords: Adult literacy; cultural dissonance; democratic learning spaces; human capital; policy; social capital

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Education and Health, Greenwich University, London, UK 2: Education, Edge Hill University, Lancashire, UK

Publication date: July 4, 2017

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