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The contexts of adult literacy policy in New Zealand/Aotearoa Walker, Judith Marianne


This dissertation investigates the nature, scope and characteristics of recent adult literacy policy in New Zealand, and explores the reasons and mechanisms by which such reform took place. In this analysis of adult literacy policy, the author considers the context in which adult literacy rose to ascendancy in New Zealand government policy during the first decade of the millennium. In addition, she examines the relationship between adult literacy policy and changes in political ideology and government leadership, assessing the impact of both neoliberalism and inclusive liberalism (Craig & Porter, 2006) and Third Way thought (Giddens, 1999) on policy. Analysis was undertaken of government documents published from 1999-2008, as well as policies released during the previous political era, 1984-1999, to situate later policy. Additionally, interviews were conducted with 20 adult literacy policy actors in the country, including government bureaucrats, literacy researchers, and other experts who worked in and for unions, interest groups, and community and workplace literacy organizations. In drawing from Bowe, Ball and Gold (1992) and Ball (1994), the findings focus on three contexts of policy: the context of text production; the context of influence; and, the context of interpreted practices and outcomes. To address these contexts, the author drew on an array of methodological and theoretical tools. The findings from this study provide four keen insights: First, adult literacy policy formed a legitimate part of economic and social policy; in other words, adult literacy policy was developed for both economic and social purposes and constituted actual policy response beyond rhetoric. Second, adult literacy policy, while developed between 1999-2008, was a continuation of previous government policies set in motion during New Zealand’s so-called neoliberal era (1984-1999). Third, policy was characterized by paradoxical discourses of “control” and “freedom.” And, fourth, government prioritized practices of economically related workplace literacy and of targeted social support. This dissertation contributes to both the understanding of inclusive liberal/Third Way government education policy as well as to the emergent field of policy studies on adult literacy in developed countries.

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