An alternative stance on literacy and development An alternative stance on literacy and development

Researchers within LDG are recognised for adopting an ‘alternative' stance with respect to literacy, language and development, incorporating ethnographic insights into literacy as a social practice, and facilitating collaboration between ethnographers of literacy and economists. This has involved challenging some of the established assumptions about the links between literacy and international development, and new theoretical and methodological contributions to the field.The group will be organising two one-day seminars as a BAICE Thematic Forum on ‘Challenging deficit discourses in international education and development’ in 2015:


Building on his seminal research into informal learning, skills development and literacy, Alan Rogers has published a paper in the CARE Working Paper series.  Skills development and literacy: some ethnographic challenges to policy and practice by Alan Rogers, brings together the areas of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), skills development and literacy. The paper seeks to challenge some common assumptions in the areas of the concept of ‘skills deficit’, the provision of more TVET programmes, and the relationship between skills training and literacy. The catalyst for this Working Paper was fieldwork undertaken by Alan in Afghanistan for two international agencies in 2005-6 and 2010-12 on projects combining skills development with adult literacy. The paper has already been requested by several leading development agencies working in this area and is available here:


Robinson-Pant, Rao, Maddox and Aikman, have engaged with the dominant policy discourse around literacy and development, with the aim of problematising concepts such as ‘the measurement of literacy', ‘women's literacy' and ‘benefits of literacy' through in-depth ethnographic case study analysis (see Basu, Maddox, Robinson-Pant (2008), Interdisciplinary Approaches to Literacy and Development, London, Routledge). Robinson-Pant has developed her ethnographic research on women's literacy programmes in Nepal (Why Eat Green Cucumber at the Time of Dying? (2001, UNESCO Institute of Education Hamburg – UNESCO International Award for Literacy Research), through critique of research and policy based on an instrumental view of women's development (Women, Literacy and Development (2004, Routledge, edited volume). She has attempted to work from within this dominant discourse to explore the potential for integrating an ethnographic perspective on policy (see Robinson-Pant, 2008). 

The group have continued to take forward their work in this area, through the commissioned policy studies for international development agencies outlined above. A second major contribution to the field has been through inter-disciplinary collaboration – in particular, integrating ethnographic perspectives into economic models and theory. This work began with Maddox's paper in World Development on ‘Worlds Apart: Ethnographic Reflections on ‘Effective Literacy and Intrahousehold Externalities (2007), and built on the LDG inter-disciplinary research conference on Literacies, Identity and Social Change (UEA, 2006) and subsequent publications (above).

These include a paper by Palmer-Jones and Iversen, which won the Journal of Development Studies Dudley Seers Prize in 2009. Further inter-disciplinary collaboration includes a research symposium and special issue (Maritime Studies, December 2009) on Education and Literacy in Fishing Communities. Inter-disciplinary collaboration on research and publications continues, through a distinctive contribution from LDG, informed by a fusion of ethnographic perspectives and insights from development theory. LDG is particularly keen to expand our work under this theme through development of a larger funded research programme.  


Other publications in this area include:

Aikman, S. (2012) Interrogating discourses of intercultural education: from indigenous Amazon community to global policy forum. Compare Vol. 42, 2, pp.235-259

Robinson-Pant, A. (2015 forthcoming) Education and rural development: proposing an alternative paradigm, in McGrath, S. and Q. Gu (eds), Routledge Handbook on International Education and Development, Routledge

Robinson-Pant, A. (2014) Women and Literacy: when will we stop talking about benefits and barriers?  Compare: a journal of comparative and international education, Vol. 44/4, 655-662

Basu, K., Maddox, B. and A. Robinson-Pant, Eds. (2009) Interdisciplinary Approaches to Literacy and Development, Routledge: London  

Maddox, B. and Overa, R (2009). ‘New Technologies, New Demands and New Literacies: The Changing Literacy Practices of Fishing Communities in Bangladesh and Ghana'. Journal of Maritime Studies. (December 2009).

Robinson-Pant, A. (2009) ‘Changing discourses: literacy and development in Nepal', International Journal of Educational Development

Basu, K., Maddox, B. and A. Robinson-Pant  (2008) ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to literacy and development: a review of the field', Introduction to Special Issue of Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 44, No. 6 July

Maddox, B (2008) ‘What good is literacy? Insights and implications of the capabilities approach' Journal of Human Development (Vol. 9, No. 2, July 2008)

Robinson-Pant, A. (2008) ‘"Why literacy matters": exploring a policy perspective on literacy, identity and social change', Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 44, No. 6 July