Literacy as justice: the potential of working with Derrida and Freire

Year: 2013

Author: Carter, Jenni

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the potential of the work of Jacques Derrida and Paulo Freire to provide ways of thinking about literacy beyond individual performativity and responsibility towards an assemblage of relations where literacy is considered within a commitment to justice.  This potential lies in examining the ways their work is committed to interrogating the formulation of dominant discourses and the role of language in creating oppression and marginalisation.
Within dominant education policy discourses there is an emphasis on considering literacy within the confines of human capital formation, as a measure of the performance of the  child, the educational institution  as well as contributing to future  employment productivity.   Within this context, early childhood provision is described as an economic investment, where language and literacy are considered within the context of school readiness and the measurement of development. Within these discourses, notions of justice are limited to the provision of opportunity in order to overcome disadvantage and catering for diversity, and where literacy is seen as means to improving life chances and success. Such views limit understandings of justice and literacy within the confines of individual responsibility.
The focus of the paper is mapping some conceptual similarities and tensions between the works of these two key thinkers of justice. Derrida and Freire share a commitment that supports extending understandings of responsibility beyond the individual by examining the axiological, political and ethical relations and forces that shape the conditions of language and literacy learning and practice.  While Freire has an ambition towards liberation, Derrida considers justice as impossible, while at the same time emphasising its urgency within the concepts of aporia and ethical responsibility.
The purpose of this paper is to consider how considering the work of these two thinkers, both of whom have had a significant influence on understanding the critical in literacy, can further inform conceptual understandings of literacy as justice.  Within the spirit of both Derrida and Freire the paper seeks to open up a conversation that both affirms and interrogates the possibilities of their work.