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Doing freedom : an ethnography of an adult literacy centre Soroke, Bonnie

Abstract

My research is a study of the experiences and perceptions of the people of the Reading and Writing Centre in Duncan, BC. Based on a sociocultural perspective of literacy and using a framework of power, this ethnography explores what a dialogic, learning-centred literacy program looks like from the perspective of the people involved and asks : how are power and authority operating in this place? The purpose is to document the relationship dynamics of good adult basic education in a place where teachers and students say they are "doing freedom". The study shows how doing freedom within this educational environment means creating and maintaining a community relationship and a facilitative power system through the force of the teachers' philosophy and vision of a learner-run centre. The study builds on current research about participatory practices and student leadership within adult literacy programs. My analysis of the relationships amongst students and teachers is placed within the context of the politics of the North American literacy discourse. Analysis of the efficacy of the Reading and Writing Centre illuminates why the dominant literacy discourse is problematic and pushes us to critique the specific elements and ideas of individualism, the deficit model of adult literacy education and the narrow definition of literacy and literacy education. Since my research focus was to hear from students and teachers and to explore their perceptions of the Reading and Writing Centre, ethnographic research methods were chosen. I completed five months of fieldwork, with two-day visits to the Centre every week for participatory observation, interviews with nine students and two teachers, and two discussion groups with students. During the research process, artifacts were used as a tool for data generation, for reciprocity, and as a way of testing my ongoing analysis of the data. I created artifacts (in the forms of sculptures and diaoramas) to visually represent my responses and interpretation of the themes that were arising from my observations and interviews, and then shared several of the artifacts with people at the Centre. These artifacts depict issues in the research process, power dynamics amongst students and teachers and illustrate elements of my theoretical analysis. Research participants also created sculptures and dioramas during group discussions. My use of artifacts evolved to include them as a research presentation tool. The presentation of this ethnography and the ethnographic process involves an interactive installation of the artifacts with explanatory posters, followed by a participatory workshop that explores the implication of this study for literacy practice and practitioner research. This style of research presentation extends the accessibility to this ethnography beyond the academic community and creates opportunity for audience interaction and multiple-sensory engagement.

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