Literacy As A Human Right: A Derridean Perspective

Year: 2015

Author: Carter, Jenni

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Within the global education policy field, literacy is determined as having responsibility for achieving a range of systemic, institutional and individual outcomes that include two sets of purposes. One purpose is to constitute literacy within the context of economic policy as a skill that can be measured to provide an indicator of the performance of individuals and education systems. The second view is as a human right within humanist ideals where literacy has transformational power through personal and social change and providing life opportunities.
This paper will consider the positioning of literacy as a human right by UNICEF within the Convention of the Rights of the Child. It will consider how within a rights framework literacy is positioned as a value that in part advances a simple approach to engaging with a complex set of ideals and concepts. These ideals and concepts are to do with the nature of text and text work as well as a desired social, economic and political order. Such an approach can be considered as philanthropic within salvationist ideals of social progress that morally limit challenges to the dominant social order. Further, the declaration of literacy as a right entails a juridicial production within a legislative framework, as such constituting a legitimising order for what counts as literacy.
This paper will consider the potential of Derrida’s concepts about law and justice, and particularly the authorising role of testimony and witnessing, to examine how literacy is constituted and legitimated as a human right. Derrida is concerned with both the mythical foundations of legitimacy, as well as the ways in which these foundations perform and are performed though the testimony of witnesses as an authorising force. Further, Derrida’s view of the impossibility of justice and undecidability renders the constitution of a legitimated position as aporetic where justice cannot be reduced to the law. It will be proposed that these Derridean concepts support an interrogation of the conditions under which literacy as a right is declared and presented as a legitimate foundation for literacy policies and programs. The exploration of the concepts of law and justice draws attention to the ways in which positions about what counts as literacy are authorised and mobilised. Further, drawing on these concepts supports an examination of the ways in which the determination of literacy as a right in global policy arenas to achieve economic, social and cultural outcomes presents an ethical demand that has far reaching implications for educational practice.