Reconstructing a Radical Tradition in Literacy Each time that in one way or another, the question of language comes to the fore. thai signifies that a series of other problems is about to emerge. the formation and enlarging of the ruling class, the necessity to establish more "intimate" and sure relations between the ruling group!> and the national popular masses, thai is, the reorganisation of cultural hegemony. I

111ese remarks, made in the first half of the tv.'cmielh century by the Italian social theorist Amonio Gral1lsci, seem str.mgely at odds with the language and aspirations surrounding the current conservalive and liberal debate o n schooling and the "problem" o f literacy. In fact, Gramsci's remarks appear to both politicize the notion of liter· acy and at the same time invest it with an ideologiC'.lI meaning that suggests that it may have less to do with the taSk of teaching people how to read and write than with producing and legitimating oppressive and exploitative social relations. Gramsci viewed literacy as both a concept and a social practice that must be linked histOrically to configurations of knowledge and power, on the one hand, and the (Xllitical and cultural struggle over language and experience, o n the other. For Gramsci, literacy was a double-edged sword; though it generally represented a signifier monopolized by the ruling classes for the perpetuation of relations of repression and domination, it could also Ix: wielded for the purpose of sclf-and social empowerment. Gramsci believed that as a terrain o f struggle, critical literacy had to be fought for both as an ideological construct and as a social

lI i l nt i mSC J.n l l t r

t i l on i li f m rn i m iter-

ical m s o f

l l i ::l r

i i o ri of a po

C'.1I t l , on F , l

s ifi i s i it l be kl sel e

i r c t r t i


movement. As an ideology, literacy had to be viewed as a social construction that is always implicated in organizing one's view of the past, the present, and the future; furthermore, the notion of li teracy needed to be grounded in an ethical and political project that dignified and extended the possibilities for human life and freedom. In other words, literacy as a radical construct had to be rooted in a spirit of critique and project of possibility that enabled people to participate in the understanding and transformation of their society. As both the mastery of specific skills and particular forms of knowledge, literacy had to become a precondition for social and cultural emancipation.