Literacy and Orality at Work [New ed.] 1433183331, 9781433183331

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Literacy and Orality at Work [New ed.]
 1433183331, 9781433183331

Table of contents :
Chapter One: Introduction: Orality and Literacy 
Chapter Two: Apprentices’ Orality and Literacy
Chapter Three: The Literacy Tutors
Chapter Four: Supervisors and Communities of Practice
Chapter Five: Liminal Literacy and Social Practice Views
Chapter Six: Managers’ Orality and Literacy
Chapter Seven: Literacy, Cognition, and Knowledge
Author Index
Subject Index

Citation preview

Literacy and Orality at Work

Frank Sligo

Adults’literacy is a topic of great interest to multiple audiences and scholarly fields but research into it is fragmented across disparate disciplines and hence lacks coherence. In particular, an impasse exists between cognitive science researchers and economists on the one hand and critical theorists writing in the social practice tradition on the other. This book acknowledges the importance of these fields, then builds on them and on other scholarly traditions by locating its discussion of literacy and orality within a media ecology framework. Based on in-depth interviews within successive literacy research projects in industry and community settings with trade apprentices, their supervisors and managers, industry training coordinators, literacy tutors, and adults of liminal (threshold) literacy, this book reveals the importance of oral-experiential ways of learning, knowing, and communicating that exist in complex relationships with literate practices. The tradition of media ecology as exemplified in the writings of Walter Ong, Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Michel de Certeau, Eric Havelock, and a collection of contemporary scholars, provides new insights into literacy and orality. The book in exploring the everyday workplace and community environments of adults with liminal literacy demonstrates how a media ecology perspective allows adult literacy and orality to be reimagined within a deeper and more holistic way than possible within disconnected disciplinary areas. Frank Sligo (PhD, Massey University) is Professor of Communication at Massey University Wellington, New Zealand. His research areas of interest include adult literacy and orality, the knowledge gap hypothesis, and information richness and poverty. His teaching interests are in student work-integrated learning.

Cover image: ©

Literacy and Orality at Work 

Lance Strate

General Editor Vol. 9

The Understanding Media Ecology series is part of the Peter Lang Media and Communication list. Every volume is peer reviewed and meets the highest quality standards for content and production.


New York • Bern • Berlin Brussels • Vienna • Oxford • Warsaw

Frank Sligo

Literacy and Orality at Work


New York • Bern • Berlin Brussels • Vienna • Oxford • Warsaw

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Sligo, Frank X, author. Title: Literacy and orality at work / Frank Sligo. Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2021. Series: Understanding media ecology; vol. 9 ISSN 2374-7676 (print) | ISSN 2374-7684 (online) Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2020031464 (print) | LCCN 2020031465 (ebook) ISBN 978-1-4331-8333-1 (hardback) | ISBN 978-1-4331-8334-8 (ebook pdf) ISBN 978-1-4331-8335-5 (epub) | ISBN 978-1-4331-8336-2 (mobi) Classification: LCC LC149 .S495 2021 (print) | LCC LC149 (ebook) | DDC 302.2/244—dc23 LC record available at LC ebook record available at DOI 10.3726/b17476       Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at                      

© 2021 Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., New York 29 Broadway, 18th floor, New York, NY 10006   All rights reserved. Reprint or reproduction, even partially, in all forms such as microfilm, xerography, microfiche, microcard, and offset strictly prohibited.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgementsvii Chapter One: Introduction: Orality and Literacy Chapter Two: Apprentices’ Literacy and Orality Chapter Three: The Literacy Tutors Chapter Four: Supervisors and Communities of Practice Chapter Five: Liminal Literacy and Social Practice Views Chapter Six: Managers’ Orality and Literacy Chapter Seven: Literacy, Cognition, and Knowledge

1 29 57 79 101 127 169

References219 Author Index 233 Subject Index 237


The author is grateful to his colleagues in the Adult Literacy and Employment research group at Massey University Wellington and Manawatū for their enthusiasm and specialist knowledge of adult literacy and orality in their disparate areas of expertise during our successive research projects, some of which are described in this book. These are Elspeth Tilley for her insights into adult literacy, social justice and critical theory, Margie Comrie for her expertise in national and local government and the news media, Niki Murray for her research into literacy learners’ psychological journeys, and Franco Vaccarino for his many years of experience in literacy learning within marginalised communities, in particular incarcerated learners; and the late Su Olsson for her scholarship and leadership in building extensive community relationships. Inspiration and strong support were also received from Sally Patrick, John Franklin, Bob Dempsey, Bronwyn Watson, Marise Murrie, Gail Harrison, Robyn Chandler, Fiona Shearer, Paul Satherley, Allyson Caseley, Deborah Neilson, Sharon Benson, Christine Morrison, Nicky McInnes, Nigel Lowe, Mark Anthony Smith, and many other colleagues within and outside the university who added breadth and depth to the research described in this book. In the Whanganui portion of the research reported here, I  am indebted to the foresight shown by the Whanganui District Library, later joined by the Whanganui Community Foundation, Literacy Aotearoa (Whanganui), and Te




Puna Mātauranga O Whanganui. Under the Library’s leadership our research benefitted further from the support generously provided by the Whanganui District Council, Enterprise Whanganui, Work and Income New Zealand, the Department of Corrections, New Zealand Police, the Tertiary Education Commission, the Ministry of Education, and GoodHealth Whanganui. Thanks are due to the New Zealand Department of Labour, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and the New Zealand Ministry of Education for financial support of the research described here. That research could not have proceeded without the fullest possible involvement of many industry and community personnel. I am grateful for the candid and perceptive descriptions of literacy and orality provided by research participants such as trade apprentices, their supervisors and managers, industry training coordinators, and adult literacy tutors. Earlier accounts of some of the themes explored in this volume appeared in the following journals:  Communication Research and Practice, Education and Training, English Teaching:  Practice and Critique, Explorations in Media Ecology, Journal of Vocational Education and Training, and Text and Talk. Naturally all errors and omissions in this account of literacy and orality at work are the sole responsibility of the author.

chapter one

Introduction: Orality and Literacy

The starting point for this study began with our earlier research that reported on how people with liminal literacy communicate with others at work and in community in ways that are necessarily strongly oral in character, though in parallel with written forms of communication. Yet it had become clear to us that scholars’ understanding of the field of oral discourse is fragmented and to be found in diverse, unconnected bodies of scholarship that have not so far been brought together in a coherent way. However, the ways in which people learn from and respond to print sources are also uncertain in a number of respects. In 2005 Eisenstein considered that [e]‌ven at present, despite all the data being obtained from living responsive subjects; despite all the efforts being made by public opinion analysts, pollsters, or behavioral scientists; we still know very little about how access to printed materials affects human behavior (p. 6).

Since she wrote this, in the intervening years knowledge has been advancing across a variety of interested disciplines. This book traverses findings from a ­collection of these fields, taking into account classic studies from the past, in order to discover how literate and oral forms of communication seem to interlace and interact with one another.



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In the field of information studies, Turner (2010) proposed that, “Although research on information behavior has revealed the importance of information shared by talking, the field has failed to produce a full-fledged theory of orality” (p. 370). Such absence of a thoroughly-researched and well-accepted account of human orality seems strange, given an awareness that has developed over time that even those with a good command of literacy, when in work or everyday life contexts, may rely on oral more than textual forms of communication to obtain their most important information or improve their grasp of some issue. Then those with liminal literacy necessarily exist within a lifeworld of orality to a greater extent than others again. Turner (2012a) also referred to social constructionism principles which hold “that knowledge can emerge orally” (p. 853) in everyday work situations and she (2012b) noted that “[i]‌nformation behavior research repeatedly finds that people prefer to use informal information, which includes obtaining information by talking to others” (p.  878) in preference to textual sources. An increasing awareness has been building of the enduring importance of orality in diverse contemporary settings so that currently interest is being shown in the manifestations of orality in disciplines as in information use (Taylor, 1991) documentation and library studies (Turner, 2010; Wilkinson, 2001) or digital pedagogy (Mitchell, 2012). Nevertheless, these literatures lack connections with one another to the detriment of possible advances in the subject. As a partial explanation for why theory of orality is not well-developed, in societies whose most influential members are highly literate, and where, over time, oral discourse has gradually given way to literate, a devaluing of orality and misunderstanding of its salience have occurred (Illich & Sanders, 1988). In Ong’s (1980) observation, “[l]‌iterates have had trouble understanding oral cultures” (p.  202) so that a reluctance or inability to research orality by formal, systematic means gradually developed (Jones, 2012). Antley’s (2012) discussion of how Russian society during the 19th century made a transition from communal (oral) to legalistic (literate) rule includes the view that “[s]tudies on the interplay of orality and text demand new methodologies and analytical approaches” (p. 1046), which this book sets out to address. Yet Ong (1971, 1982)  did stress that orality and literacy should not be understood as binaries and gave instances of how each is complexly interwoven with the other. Ong’s (1982) research is still the best-known work undertaken in the field, and his thinking about primary and secondary orality remains influential in the field that has come to be known as media ecology (Soukup, 2007).

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Media Ecology Media ecology explores human communication holistically, grounding the study of all forms of communication within their particular environment. Albrecht (2004, p. 6) suggests that “[m]‌edia ecology insists on approaching communication not as a content, a message, or a text, but as an environment comprising techniques and technologies that limit and shape human experience”. Within this field communication is seen not just or not alone as content, message, or text; but nor does media ecology dismiss communication practices and processes. Instead, the media ecology framework as understood within the present research, sets out to make sense of literacy and orality practices with especial reference to those workplace and community contexts within which they occur. That is, the field of media ecology offers a hospitable setting for research such the present one that seeks to answer questions pertaining to human orality and literacy in multiple and diverse settings. The aim is for our study of literacy and orality to not treat either orality or literacy in isolation, but to see each as in interrelationship with and as modifying the other. In this field, technology, broadly defined, is also important since as Albrecht (2004, p. 55) points out, media ecology includes the ways in which technology has an effect on human communication and its broader context. In this perspective, technology should not be seen just as artifacts operating in isolation: Media ecology is an approach within communication studies that examines the consequences of technology upon the human communication environment. It is common enough to think of technologies as things in themselves that a culture chooses to develop and utilize as it wishes, but not more broadly as media that continually reconstruct and subtly reconfigure the whole cultural milieu.

Strate (2017a, p.  243) suggests, though, that media ecology’s reach is greater than solely communication studies. He observes that its “interest in topics such as technology and culture go beyond the boundaries of communication studies as a field, or even media studies as it is normally understood”. It is important to understand that media ecology is both holistic in its orientation and attentive to change, as Postman (1979, p. 31) indicates, in that the ways in which we are accustomed to communicating form a powerful milieu or environment that, like the physical context in which we live, shapes the people we are. However, should there occur “a radical shift in the structure of that environment this must be followed by changes in social organization, intellectual predispositions, and a sense of what is real and valuable”.



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Yet complicating our ability to diagnose our place within the media that enfold us is their status as being imperceptible, “invisible not because of their visual transparency but due to our own blindness to them” (Strate, 2017b, p. 245). Our blindness to them is, though, partly explicable in that our lifeworlds are subsumed within the ground of such media. Or as Meyrowitz (1985, p. 23) proposed, since we can understand a situation much better when observing it from an external perspective, “the studies on the effects of writing and print have tended to be much more detailed and scholarly than the studies of electronic media”. Chapter Seven returns to the issue of electronic media and their environments with the aim of unpacking their relationship to cognition and communication. An overview comes from Postman (1979, p. 186) who defines media ecology as the study of the information that surrounds us and forms our communicating environment. Writers in this tradition probe the ways in which the technologies and techniques of communication control the form, quantity, speed, distribution, and direction of information; and how, in turn, such information configurations or biases affect people’s perceptions, values, and attitudes.

Within this frame of reference, our narrative of people’s literacy and orality considers the contexts in which they work, the technologies, broadly defined, through which their communication occurs, and the ways in which their work activities and other interactions influence the range of cognitive and communication options that are open to them. The social practice tradition. A major source of opposition to the perspectives to be found in the media ecology field is contained in the work of adult literacy scholars writing within social practice traditions (e.g., Barton, 2005; Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Gee, 1986, 2000; Street, 1984, 2017). The concern of these writers is that any research describing an orality-literacy “divide” may reinforce Eurocentric notions of Western superiority over non-Western cultures (Carlson, Fagan & Khanenko-Friesen, 2011) with so-called inferior oral cultures inevitably conceding to literate ones. While Ong and others in the media ecology tradition hold that literacy shapes and strengthens cognitive ability, producing more analytical thinkers, Gee and collaborators argue that literacy has little part in improving analytical abilities. They refer instead to embodied competencies and forms of expertise fostered via hands-on learning more than text-based approaches. This conflict of perspectives is explored further in Chapter Five on liminal literacy and social practice views of literacy. McLuhan (1972) proposed a visual metaphor whereby orality and literacy may interchangeably form figure and ground in any society or situation that possesses text literacy. If literacy has not been much employed within a given context,

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orality (necessarily) comprises the most important form of communication while literacy will be of lesser import. As literacy becomes more predominant, the relative balance reverses so that literate practices become ascendant while orality retreats to a lesser standing. However, in a modern context orality and literacy should not be understood as completely disconnected systems given the ways in which each affects the other. Ong (1977, p. 334) explained how “[t]‌he place at which independent systems meet and act on one another or communicate with one another is called an interface”. In that space the sensory perceptions that surround us are both copious and overwhelming, meaning that their variety and scope are such that we cannot pay attention to them all. The particular culture in which we have been raised is strongly influential in shaping our sensory perceptions, teaching us how to attend “to some types of perception more than others, by making an issue of certain ones while relatively neglecting other ones” (Ong, 1967, p. 6). The term interface may not have enough reach though – the places where orality and literacy encounter each other might, in addition, be considered as implying other inter-words, such as interactivity or interpenetration of those elements inherent in the oral-literacy relationship. That is, in trying to make sense of the relationship between orality and literacy we need to be sensitive to the ways in which different forms of influence occur between oral and literate practices. Currently other scholarship is beginning to reconsider the relationship between orality and literacy, for example, as in Gibson (2011) who talked of “a continuum of expressive forms … (including) oral traditions that endure together and in interaction with literate forms” (p. 74). Gibson (2011) also noted that “the transition from orality to literacy should be conceived as a continuum rather than as a great divide” (p. 87). Present-day research into orality has been questioning earlier assumptions that written forms of communication normally simply supplant oral ones. Instead there is an emerging sense that literacy and orality are intertwined in a nexus of interwoven forms, requiring the written word always to be understood within its cultural (oral-experiential) context, especially given that writing’s “usages are culturally mediated” (Klaassen, 2011, p. 219). Cultural mediation also exists in respect of media that have emerged more recently than writing, seen in Strate’s (2012b, p. 92) reference to the categorical differences between varying modes of expression such as the oral and the literate … and the audiovisual, electronic, and virtual modes that have been developed over the past two centuries. These are differences that make a difference in how we relate to each other, how we understand the world, how we think, and how we lead our lives.



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One issue that arises is how in a 21st-century multimedia setting the strengths of orality can be protected and further developed. Chapter Seven further addresses the issue of orality and literacy in a modern-day digital environment. Anyone who still assumes that orality is necessarily pushed out by literacy may be surprised to learn that practices of writing can “perpetuate oral traditional practice” (Gingell, 2011, p. 112). This is partly because the oral tradition has an important function in “holding communities together” (p. 117) and written texts may be used strategically in communities to reinforce oral traditions. Klaassen (2011) refers to how intellectual coherence in a group has historically been maintained because of “institutional affiliation and the oral interaction that took place therein” (p. 223). Similarly, Strate (1986, p. 243) noted that neither the oral tradition, not the oral mindset, necessarily disappears when a society gains knowledge of writing or its possibility … [and] orality can be seen not as the opposite of literacy but as a parallel phenomenon.

The topic of adult literacy has been explored within diverse and unconnected academic fields, including critical studies, education, economics, and psychology but the area is conflicted on account of incompatible disciplinary perspectives. However, many countries internationally are investing heavily in adult literacy training in the workplace in an attempt to strengthen workers’ literacy. Their investment is largely based on evidence derived from competency testing in literacy that the reading, writing, and numeracy abilities of more than 40% of adults in many modern, complex societies are insufficient for everyday life and work needs (Reder & Bynner, 2009). The view that workers’ literacy skills are inadequate for modern work and community demands is associated with assumptions that insufficient literacy abilities are an important cause of poor productivity for both firms and nations. Yet competing paradigms exist that reject the competency testing of individuals under isolated examination conditions as an appropriate basis for determining actual literacy capacity. Such positions hold that adult literacy needs to be understood as an applied set of capabilities that exist within very diverse community or work settings. Scholars in this tradition argue that how people perform in pencil and paper tests of literacy is minimally or not at all relevant to their literacy performance when in collaboration with others at work or in the community. How much investment a given country may choose to make in adult literacy should be determined by broader assessments of what is needed to help citizens to participate more fully and more freely in their societies and economies. The importance is stressed of situational factors that affect somebody’s literacy performance at work or in the community. That is, capability in literacy is not to

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be defined by a written examination of an individual who is being surveyed with no reference to the setting in which they normally employ their literacy skills. All forms of literate practice need to be understood, it is said, within everyday life and workplace contexts (Gee, 2000). Contending paradigms in literacy each represent strong but incompatible perspectives on adult literacy but to the present no-one has shown how to acknowledge then build on the diverse insights to be found in these various academic camps, provide a resolution of their differences, and point to ways in which the field can be better understood. However, a different body of literature has built on the study of human orality and derives in particular from the late Walter Ong (further developed by others quoted in this book, including Postman, Strate, Meyrowitz, Goody, Maryanne Wolf, and Carr) which explored the dimensions of how literacy may be understood alongside oral forms of communication in historical and applied settings. The present study employs this perspective, learning from apprentices, managers, and others at work who possess constrained literacy. Exploring how such individuals have been coping, given rising workplace expectations about literacy performance, has provided fresh new insights into the interrelationships of literacy and orality. Investigating the context of adults with liminal literacy offers particular value for those who seek to discover how literacy intersects with oral-experiential practices at work. Precisely because of the difficulty that people with limited literacy have in employing print-literate practices, they are confined to operating largely within oral communication frameworks. Such individuals’ challenges with literacy impair their participation in the textual practices of everyday life and tend to reinforce them in oral-experiential modes of communication. In the workplace, these oral-experiential communication practices are here called occupational orality (to differentiate it from other named forms of orality, being primary, secondary, and residual). Oral-experiential forms of interaction are shown here to persist strongly in the workplace among both highly literate and less-literate personnel despite the rising literacy demands on almost everyone at work. This derives not least from the Internet-driven “culture of documentation” (Belfiore, 2004, p. 50). Yet liminally-literate people must negotiate their everyday interactions with others in ways that permit them to function in increasingly print-dependent workplaces and societies. Occupational orality is shown to be strongly pervasive in a variety of work settings and, in particular, is the natural home for such individuals. A focus here on both oral and literate dimensions of everyday work activities opens different ways of understanding the competing paradigms that so far have dominated research and practice to do with literacy in work settings. Thus, involving



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those with liminal literacy permits new insights into the interaction of literate and oral-experiential cultures in contemporary workplaces, creating new ways to understand how literate and oral ways of communicating interact with one another and are negotiated. In the contested area of adult literacy research, no agreement has been reached on what terminology is appropriate to use. Goody (1977) refers to “restricted literacy” which he juxtaposes to full literacy. The word restricted implies human deficits, drawing attention to what people lack. In contrast, liminal instead suggests an entry point and perhaps the possibility of further passage into other capabilities, especially (but not only) a print-literate framework. The terminology of “liminal literacies” has already appeared in the literature (Kamberelis, 2004). However there the phrase defines as “literacy”:  practices, whether oral, visual, online, or print, which are locally situated and are said to have a political orientation seeking to resist predominant forms of power. In that context, liminality is employed to mean local instances of literacy use that are marginalised when contrasted with predominant power. Yet the breadth of what literacy there is supposed to mean is problematic. Meyrowitz (1985) argues for example that there is no such thing as “visual literacy” since “[u]‌nderstanding visual images has nothing to do with literacy” (p. 77). That term should be reserved for “[t]he skill and learning required to encode and decode messages in a medium” (p. 74), in particular, the complex abstract coding systems as used in printed texts. Moreover, the Kamberelis paper provides no sense of threshold or entry into a greater entity, rather, liminal as referred to there is more like a barrier rather than a point of entry. Therefore, the current study claims the terminology of liminal literacy, in line with its etymological origin (Latin, limen, threshold), as more appropriately invoking a passageway into more developed forms of print literacy, rather than signifying resistance against power. Governments and policymakers internationally believe that modern globally based economies are becoming progressively more knowledge-based in nature, and that work is evolving into more complex forms. This is said to necessitate heightened levels of capability in literacy (Reder & Bynner, 2009). Growing expectations now seem evident in respect of literacy and numeracy competencies in occupations and jobs of all kinds and character, in that “new technology and rising global competition are increasing workplace skills demands” (Hilton, 2008, p. 63). Literacy and numeracy are regarded as of rising importance in helping employees to function as independent, proactive thinkers in increasingly more challenging knowledge-based work environments.

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Here literacy with textual materials is a core communication competency that enables its possessors to comprehend what they read and then respond to it in considered ways. Writing about orality. The task of writing about orality is complicated since academic discourse is embedded in scholarly prose framed within the assumptions of the literate community in which academics have been trained. At the same time, though, it is necessary for those writing about orality to understand the workings of non-text based, oral-experiential forms of communication. Later investigated are the difficulties experienced by people whose intellectual training has been from the standpoint of literate discourse as they try to explore the dimensions of oral-experiential communication. The economic historian Harold Innis considered that “all written works, including this one, have dangerous implications to the vitality of an oral tradition and to the health of a civilisation … ‘It is written but I say unto you’ is a powerful directive to Western civilization”. (Innis, 2007, pp. 19–20). De Certeau (1984) referred to the “scriptural economy”, in one example of which Mitchell (2012) set out to assess how the scriptural economy of modern universities prioritises the printed word over other forms of interaction within it. Valorising the printed word, she saw as a means of reinforcing the university’s own power as part of which “this essay must acknowledge its own complicity” (p. 1). In effect, the assumptions of communication as expressed in literacy mode are said to dominate the discourse landscape and (even unintentionally) subordinate oral-experiential forms of communication. Thus, there is a paradox here in attempts to employ literate practices in order to examine the ways in which other (oral) cultures are side-lined by literate practices. De Certeau (1984) held that a study of the oral uses of language should attempt “to restore to everyday practices their logical and cultural legitimacy” (p. xvi). Yet he pointed out that scholars’ ability to do this is undermined given that there exist only very limited “instruments necessary to account for them” (p. xvi). The power and pervasiveness of scholars’ literate discourse as means of examining communication have, in other words, been so complete that frameworks within which orality can be explored do not exist in anything like so sophisticated a form. A profound difference between oral-experiential and literate cultures was signalled by Ong (1982) in his comment on Malinowski: “Malinowski … has made the point that among ‘primitive’ [oral] peoples generally language is a mode of action and not simply a countersign of thought” (p. 32). Our research is not of course into “primitive” peoples but into the everyday life experience of liminal literacy where communication is necessarily oral in substantial ways. The book



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shows how our participants’ oral-experiential workplace functioning illustrated the embodied character of their knowledge at work. The words they used were associated with such things as doing, demonstrating, or mimesis, much more than explanation, commentary, or definition. Ong (1967, p. 19) had noted that [w]‌e are the most abject prisoners of the literate culture in which we have matured. Even with the greatest effort, contemporary man finds it exceedingly difficult, and in many cases quite impossible, to sense what the spoken word actually is.

Here though Ong is referring particularly to highly literate individuals. Those in liminal literacy are different. Their difficulty in accessing the word in print keeps them closely oriented to what is spoken and the array of other human interpersonal cues associated with voiced interactions. If the repertoire of analytical means to assess oral-experiential cultures is as limited as de Certeau alleges (and as appears likely) then new approaches and new methodologies are needed for the exploration of oral-literate interplay, as indicated in Antley’s (2012) comment above. The focus in the present book on individuals of liminal literacy offers one new approach to exploring modern orality. While there is a fair extent of literature about apprentices’ entry into work, people with liminal literacy have been much less researched. There is still less literature that successfully gets into the frame of reference of such individuals that captures their own understandings, in contrast to reviewing the pronouncements of literate experts upon them. However, interviewing people with liminal literacy as reported below has provided a valuable and rare opportunity to at least partially enter a communication world that necessarily employs oral-experiential modes of communication more than print-literate ones. Gee (1986) has commented on the “confusion in much of the linguistics and educational literature about what orality actually means” (p. 727, emphasis in original). This book contends that the difficulty in ascertaining what orality means is directly connected to uncertainties about what literacy means in current societies. A  UNESCO overview of literacy definitions proposed four main categories of literacy:  as an autonomous set of skills; as applied, practised and situated; as a learning process; and as text (Education for All, 2006). Certainly, understanding of what literacy is supposed to mean is contested and has changed radically over time, as illustrated later in this chapter. From an OECD (2013) standpoint, literacy needs to be understood within a context of enough capability in the command of information to enable a person to work well within the knowledge-oriented organisations and economies that are becoming ever-more prevalent in the 21st century. An orientation of this nature directs attention to issues of how to use information in effective ways rather than

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just how to understand or produce it. This opens a new facet of organisational studies, in examining how literacy facilitates problem-solving in workplace or community and this book explores some of the implications of this approach. Nevertheless, virtually all present-day writers on literacy appear to agree that a binary and mutually exclusive conception of orality versus literacy is misleading and unhelpful. Strate (1986, p. 241) pointed out how “the polarization between oral cultures dominated by the ear and literate cultures dominated by the eye, is overdrawn.” And Goody (1987, p. 106) noted how “the division between ‘literacy’ and ‘orality’ is never a question of crossing a single frontier, a simple binary shift”. Moreover, not only is there no simple separation, rather the literate and the oral inform each other in subtle ways. For example, Goody (1987) says of Aristotle’s Poetics, that the “strong statement of the dramatic unities” to be found there “could be regarded as essentially a literate formalization of the more fluid structure of oral practice”, observing, that is, how literate practice is shaped by oral custom. Yet a reverse effect may also be found in a reading-back of literate preferences “into the processes of oral composition to produce a more formal oneness” in oral delivery (pp. 106–7). Ong (1982) and Hatim (2003) talk about residual orality, and Goody (1977) describes restricted literacy while Gee (1986) has argued that “the oral/ literate contrast makes little sense because in fact many social groups, even in high-technology societies” are in mixed oral-literate groups (p. 737). Despite this insight, Gee often seems to represent literacy and orality in binary ways, as opposed to the position elucidated by Ong (1982) which was that orality and literacy are far from exclusive entities, and instead thread through each other in multifarious complex ways. One limitation in the literature, though, is that the nature of the connections between orality and literacy are not well understood, so this book aims to contribute to a better understanding of the ways in which literacy and orality seem to interact. As already mentioned, little agreement exists on how to theorise modern orality. Scholars are often said to pay little attention to orality since they are regarded as possessing an inherent and unconscious bias towards people’s communication by literate means. As already indicated above, McLuhan talked about interchange in figure and ground, so that as literacy starts to achieve precedence in a formerly oral society, if it were depicted visually it would move from its previous status of ground to a more prominent standing of figure. This is discussed further below in Chapter Two on apprentices with liminal literacy. As stated above, Ong described how those highly engaged in literate assumptions and practices do not find it easy to understand oral cultures. This may incur in them an unwillingness or inability to engage with such cultures. He contended



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that “persons from highly literate cultures have commonly been unable to react understandingly to adult, sophisticated levels of behavior in oral cultures” (1980, p.  202). Likewise, de Certeau explained how the oral character of language is central to everyday society, but researchers lack an understanding of what orality is or why it exists. Innis (2007) among others has commented on the modern-day difficulty of creating an in-depth understanding of how an oral culture works, given how literate people flounder when trying to grasp how a society based on orality might work. Carr (2010, p. 56) speculates that “[t]‌he oral world of our distant ancestors may well have had emotional and intuitive depths that we can no longer appreciate”. No-one in our present study lives in a long-gone, primarily oral world, so one challenge for students of present-day orality is to discover what may be the dimensions and nature of emotion and intuition that may be less accessible to those persons fully imbued in the conventions and assumptions of high literacy. Innis went on to suggest that “[i]t is scarcely possible for generations disciplined in the written and the printed tradition to appreciate the oral tradition” (p. 28). Innis was referring to historical times that featured primary orality, in Ong’s (1982) terms, rather than present-day cultures (e.g., in work settings) that still retain important elements of orality in their interaction and everyday decision-making. Innis went on to say that nevertheless “the power of the oral tradition … has continued throughout the history of the West, particularly at periods when the dead hand of the written tradition threatened to destroy the spirit of Western man” (2007, p. 80). Our research provides instances of how contemporary liminally literate people and even many of those with whom they work who have more developed literacy, resist the encroachments of “the dead hand” of high literacy that, they perceive, run counter to the ways in which they understand their work and their lives. In the following chapters, the book explores the dimensions of orality in present-day contexts using examples derived from our work with apprentices, their supervisors and managers, literacy tutors, and others in community settings who possess liminal literacy. What is orality? As mentioned, the various literatures that attend to orality, including adult education, history, religious studies, linguistics, information systems, and others, lack consensus about what orality is and how it might be researched. Orality may be best understood when seen in transition, revealing how via evolutionary processes literate forms of communication gradually overshadow then supersede (though not remove) orality within a given setting. Havelock (1963) provided good insights into how the introduction of literacy caused people’s

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ways of cognition and communication to evolve from pre-literate to literate modes within a specified society, in his case the ancient Greece of Plato’s time. Havelock (1963) describes how, in his major philosophical work, The Republic, Plato set out to provide a full account of what he understood to be the characteristics of the just city-state. He aimed to create a complete description of what a model utopian society should be for its citizens, but in his view a major problem for such a society was the injurious influence of those whom he called the poets. A poet’s “creations are poor things by the standard of truth and reality, and his appeal is not to the highest part of the soul, but to one which is equally inferior” (Plato, 1941, p.  329). The poet “stimulates and strengthens an element which threatens to undermine the reason [and] gratifies that senseless part [of the individual] which cannot distinguish great and small … he is an image-maker whose phantoms are far removed from reality” (p. 329). In the present day, we understand poetry as literature, but that is not how Plato was employing the term. Havelock (1963, p. 43) explained that “when Plato is talking about poetry he is not really talking about our kind of poetry” [but instead it was] “a kind of reference library or … a vast tractate in ethics and politics and warfare and the like … it is first and last a didactic instrument for transmitting the tradition”. The problem for Plato was that the keepers of the knowledge that comprised a kind of social encyclopaedia of the time, could transmit it only by spoken means, however “[t]‌he formulaic style characteristic of oral composition represented not merely certain verbal and metrical habits but also a cast of thought, or a mental condition” (Havelock, 1963, p.  viii). The collectively-held cultural oral encyclopaedia provided a consistent and comprehensible worldview that helped the society of the day to cohere, but it was an orientation that Plato felt forced to reject in the strongest possible terms for its inability to promote a reasoning-based perspective within society. Full dependence on orality, Plato believed, formed a severe impediment to intellectual progress in a community. When a given culture can be transmitted only by spoken means, then the “poets” who are seeking to sway their listeners and to persuade them in the direction of accepting particular beliefs or of taking particular action, had to employ a modus operandi that would inspire their audience to “identify almost pathologically and certainly sympathetically with the content” (Havelock, 1963, p.  45) of what they heard. However, an emotional response among listeners that featured a “pleasurable complacency felt in the poetic formula or the image” (p. 209) was antithetical to the reasoned, evidence-based use of logic in everyday life, to abstract intellectualism, to analysis, to a grasp of cause and effect, and to the employment of critical faculties that Plato saw as necessary for a society’s advancement. From this came the urgency in Plato’s claim that



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those who undermined citizens’ facility in reasoning carefully and logically in linear, stepwise fashion deserved to have no place within an imagined ideal republic. Havelock’s explanation helps to demonstrate the radical character of Plato’s disruptive approach in what he was advocating as his republic, an idealised society. He wanted nothing less than a profound change in the cultural experience of man … [and] the arrival of a completely … new kind of experience of the world – the reflective, the scientific, the technological, the theological, the analytic (Havelock, 1963, p. 277).

Yet Havelock and other commentators in the field including Ong and Innis have emphasised the evolutionary character of transitions from more-oral to more-literate, and they have seen no merit in describing a turn towards literacy in any binary manner. Nevertheless, Gee (1986), coming from a social practice standpoint, is among those who object to the notion of a “great divide” (p. 724) between literacy and orality in accounts of human culture and thought. In so doing, he made particular reference to Walter Ong’s influential work Orality and Literacy. However, Ong’s account of orality was nuanced and did not postulate any kind of simplistic divide. Tannen (1988), for example, stressed that Ong never intended for orality and literacy to be understood as mutually exclusive and that an important dimension in his thinking had to do with the interconnections between literacy and orality. She affirmed that Ong’s research had illustrated that “orality and literacy are … complex and intertwined dimensions, the understanding of which enriches and enables our understanding of language” (p. 42). Attempts to characterise Ong’s work as fostering a great divide have not well served the advancement of the field. As explained above, the problem for modern-day commentators in describing orality is that it is very challenging for them to put themselves into the position of those whose cognition and forms of communication have been shaped by primary orality. In this regard, Marshall McLuhan had a perspective similar to Innis’. He believed that one of the most “unfortunate” characteristics of anthropologists’ research in their attempts to account for societies in orality was that because of their “unconscious” state of literacy, they “approach structures of non-literate and oral societies with many of the expectations and patterns which they have acquired from their own highly literate society” (Culkin, 1968, p. 307). This is not something that is unique to anthropologists, but rather it is common to many professional people whose working lives engage them deeply in what Ong referred to as high literacy. The critique offered by both Innis and McLuhan, therefore, was of commentators who (uncritically or unwittingly) make assumptions about cultures with an

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orientation to orality based on what prevails in literate social settings. As mentioned, while both Innis and McLuhan were referring to societies that were still largely in what Ong called primary orality, which are little influenced by literate practices, in contrast, the present book explores the interplay between literacy and orality in present-day work and community settings. Understanding the forms of orality that still exist in current applied contexts is similarly difficult for anyone whose thinking has been fashioned within literacy. This task requires them to bend their understanding to the attempt to make sense of what is happening in situations where orality remains as an important basis for human learning, interactions, and decision-making. The issues pertaining to apprentices with liminal literacy form a particular feature of this book and accordingly, we should note their struggle to justify the validity of their personal knowledge in the face of increasing pressure upon them to adopt from out of the literate discourse, certain workplace practices mandated by so-called “academics”, the authors of apprentices’ learning materials. In doing so the present study investigates the situation of individuals who resist the encroachment of literacy practices into their oral-experiential workplace and community settings. Three main forms of orality have been defined to date (primary, residual and secondary) and this book makes the case for a further form of orality not described in the literature, as stated above, called occupational orality. This refers to the oral-experiential interactions typical of many workplaces, even ones where people have good literacy. Its use stems from the particular advantages operating in oral-experiential contexts at work when it is critical to obtain fast, real-time information and to be able to arrive at nuanced assessments of others’ reactions through face to face and other oral modalities. The terms primary and secondary orality were coined by Walter Ong (1982) and he was also the first scholar to define the concept of residual orality (Ong, 1980). As mentioned, primary orality occurs within a society that presently lacks substantial contact with societies that employ writing or print. As further reported in Chapter Seven, secondary orality is said to occur in present-day societies where a more contemporary version of orally based communication has emerged on the back of current communications technology, but which makes full use of writing and print. Residual orality refers to the remaining vestiges of orality in a society following literacy’s becoming a predominant means of communication, thereby mainly supplanting orality as the primary mode of discourse (Ong, 1980). Strate (2012b, p. 105) points out how “Ong uses the term residual orality to refer to the ‘orality’ recorded within written documents” (emphasis in original) and “what Ong refers to as residual orality represents a form of continuity between the original world



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of primary orality and newer media environments marked by literacy” (Strate, 2002, p. xi). Residual orality has also been of interest in fields such as translation studies (Hatim, 2003) when, for example, a translator transfers certain high-level rhetorical (oral) conventions within one language into a second language in a way that may create unclear or disputed meaning in the second one. Havelock (1986) stated that how, once a formerly wholly oral society has been powerfully affected by a more dominant print literate culture, modes of orality persist, but no longer are important in maintaining the social recollection of the tribe or form the primary means of discourse in community decision-making. The need for feats of memory declines when there is a new availability of written records so that all that is left “is residual entertainment, stories, songs, and anecdotes that are not saying anything very important” (Havelock, 1986, p. 45). One question raised in this book is whether remaining forms of orality do indeed retreat to such an insignificant status as Havelock thought, or whether they retain more genuine purpose, especially in organisational settings, than Havelock seems to acknowledge. Later in this book Chapter Six suggests that occupational orality, in fact, maintains a greater importance and persisting function than residual orality has typically achieved. While primary orality becomes largely side-lined by literate processes of communication and thinking, orality that is occupational in nature stubbornly adheres in workplaces because of the way in which it serves to help both managers and non-managerial staff to get work done effectively. Although Havelock was of the view that orality reduced in its importance in the communal maintenance of social memory and civil decision-making, he believed that the relative balance of oral and written traditions supports the strengthening of democracy (Heyer & Crowley, 2008). This is because everyday community discussion permits citizens to delve into the meaning and implications of events and issues in ways that make sense to them. Further explored are ways in which orality at work may be associated with both diverse and localised perspectives. This contrasts with the uniformity associated with a written directive in globalised organisations that sets out to constrict local autonomy as it sets policy and mandates measures by which local performance is monitored. It may be that resistance to literate practice in the workplace is associated with local opposition to centralising pressures conveyed by literate means. Ong (1982) proposed that with increasing use and predominance of telephone, radio, TV, and easy access to sound and visual recording, electronic technology has created a new form of orality, which he termed secondary. This new form of orality, he said, had many similarities to primary orality “in its participatory mystique, its fostering of a communal sense, its concentration on the present moment, and even its use of formulas” (pp. 133–134). In Ong’s (1967, pp. 257–258) view,

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radio exploits to the maximum the old oral-aural structures, building up around the hearer the resonances, personalist loyalties, strong social or tribal feelings and responses, and special anxieties … characteristic of the old oral-aural world. Television tends to fragment the tribe into individuals, even though not very reflective ones.

Ong thought nonetheless that secondary orality is more self-aware than primary orality given that it knowingly incorporates the employment of writing and print. Thus, the new electronic mediums simultaneously reinforce use of print but at the same time foster new forms of oral interpersonal communication “in a self-consciously informal style, since typographic folk believe that oral exchange should normally be informal” (1982, p.  133). Chapter Seven returns to the effects of television and social media in more detail. Warnick (2006) echoed Ong (1982) in very similar terminology, describing how forms of orality are enacted “in their participatory mystique, their fostering of a communal sense, their concentration on the present moment, and their use of textual formulae” (p. 144). Ong (1982) had also talked of how Marshall McLuhan’s most-quoted saying, ‘The medium is the message’, demonstrated “his acute awareness of the shift from orality through literacy and print to electronic media” (p. 29). Despite the persisting strength of orality in 21st-century settings, global workplaces are increasingly understood as “textual phenomena” (Farrell, 2006). What this means in actual terms is that there is a rising anticipation that all employees will possess a sufficient level of literacy to cope with the increasing volume and extent of textual material in hard copy and online that are currently shaping workplace practices. Paradoxically, however, in what is frequently an absence of formal training and development programmes, workplaces still rely on staff using their traditional oral-experiential workplace practices to learn from one another about new workplace routines.

What Is Literacy? Confusion and dispute exist about how to describe a person’s advancement in textual literacy. Everyone has their own set of literacy capabilities and their own areas in which they may have needs or aspirations for stronger literacy. Accordingly, no widely agreed-upon template is available to designate advances in different individuals’ literacy. While research funders may require literacy training providers to follow a prescribed template to account for literacy shortcomings or improvement, the challenges around literacy and its development differ so widely for individuals that attempts to standardise descriptions of literacy development have not proven



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to be broadly acceptable. Part of the uncertainty about how to define literacy may stem from an insufficient understanding of how the meaning of the term has evolved over time. Literacy until relatively recently has often been thought of as if binary in nature, with people considered to be either “literate” or “illiterate”. Now a more typical definition of print literacy is along the following lines: Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society (Montoya, 2018).

In other words, literacy is no longer a binary construct (is/ is not “literate”). Instead, the focus now shifts to both a person’s sense-making derived from particular texts and an action orientation involving how people employ knowledge in order to achieve their unique aspirations.

A Short History: From Orality to Inferential Literacy Accounts of the transition from orality to print literacy in a Western context necessarily include an examination of the emergence of the alphabet in ancient Greece, as Havelock (1982, p. 167) explained, what set in with the alphabetization of Homer was a process of erosion of ‘orality,’ extending over centuries of the European experience, one which has left modern culture unevenly divided between oral and literate modes of expression, experience, and living.

Havelock, however, stresses the ways in which orality and literacy were and remain intertwined, describing how the modes of literate discourse whatever they may be cannot be understood apart from an understanding of the modes of non-literate discourse. Each is intimately bound up with the other, the oral because it would not exist for us without the literate resources; the literate because the sophistication of its own vocabulary and syntax grew out of changes and transpositions in the oral vocabulary and syntax and cannot properly be understood without grasping what these changes were (Havelock, 1982, p. 183).

The term “oral literacy” has been used to some extent such as by ESL educators referring to challenges in helping children without English as a first language to

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communicate in that language (e.g., Pang, 2014) but a more accurate term might be spoken articulacy. This is the ability to speak fluently, in oral societies always including a demonstration of how well one can recall what has been memorised and to express versions of it in ways considered appropriate by and for one’s listeners. In such settings great prestige has often been attached to a person’s persuasiveness in speech, as Chadwick (1997) speaking of the 2nd century BCE, recounts how the Celtic peoples paid great attention to the development of an advanced oral technique as a vehicle for the transmission of their thoughts. … artistic speech is highly cultivated, and a high standard of eloquence is the aim of the intelligentsia among illiterate peoples everywhere … Diodorus Siculus … comments on the succinct and figurative nature of their [Celts’] speech, and their use of allusion, hyperbole and grandiloquent language (1997, p. 33).

It is interesting to note that even in societies where literacy had been shaping elite interactions for some centuries, eloquence in spoken persuasion may still be highly valued. An example is the Romans’ high opinion of prominent Celtic orators, with “the Romans … anxious to employ them as tutors to their sons” (Chadwick, 1997, p. 34). Postman (1985, p. 9) talked of how “the media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupations” and “[e]‌ach medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility” (p. 10). Yet there is no simple transition from oral to literate, and societies such as that of ancient Rome, still valorising excellence in spoken expression, could be in various ways psychologically attuned to the practices of both oral and literate communication. As well as Havelock (1982), Resnick and Resnick (1977), Myers (1986), and Bransford, Brown and Cocking (1999) have described how societal understanding of what literacy means has advanced in successive steps over some hundreds of years. A  community’s assumptions about what literacy means are said to be based on what that community seeks from literacy practices in any given era. As social conditions change and become more complex what is expected of literacy also advances. Each of the following progressive steps represents different and increasing levels of difficulty, each often subsuming preceding levels. Myers (1986) lists older forms of literacy as oral, signature, recitation, sign, and comprehension literacy. Signature literacy is the capability to sign one’s own name, and it is worth noting that “[u]‌ntil well into the nineteenth century, the capacity to form the letters of one’s signature was not a skill shared by the majority of the population,



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even in the more developed nations of Europe” (Resnick & Resnick, 1977, p. 371). Aptitude of this nature once achieved shows that the individual has some mastery of the rudiments of literacy, especially familiarity with holding and using a pen. This form of literacy also demonstrates that someone can recognise then reproduce on paper some letters of the alphabet and know how to represent themselves symbolically in a more sophisticated way than making an ink X on a document. Signature literacy has marked an advancement in a person’s social standing within a given community in that they are deemed to have crossed an important boundary from what was once called illiteracy into now demonstrably possessing some competency in chirographic literacy. Recitation literacy shows proficiency in reciting aloud materials that are familiar to the individual and typically to their audience as well. In the ancient Greek setting, Havelock (1982, p. 188) said that the purpose of recitation literacy was “to memorize and recite the poets”, the “poets” being the curators of the culture’s stories, history, myths, expressed values, and the like. In the modern era, recitation literacy in European countries and in North America became more of a hybrid performance. This characteristically involved the narration of Bible verses at church or recital of excerpts from literature defined as classic or morally improving in nature such as in a family gathering at home in the evening. However, while someone reciting might appear to be reading from a text, recitation literacy may have entailed relatively little actual reading, with the person reciting tending to employ their memory of texts previously heard, then narrating from what they recalled, alongside some word and letter recognition. How exactly they arrived at their ability, whether the use of their memory, their reading of words, or a combination of both, was of lesser concern to the listeners. The important attribute was the demonstration of familiarity with (and evident acceptance of) a given text held as important within a community, often chapters and verses in the Bible or other sacred text. Ong (1977, p. 290) noted transitions from mainly oral everyday life practices to more print-oriented ways of understanding that occur. He argued that the problem in moving from a participatory oral paideia, which used writing only incidentally, to one where writing shaped the thought processes is still real and urgent today … either one moves, at least to some degree, out of the participatory oral lifestyle (without necessarily closing the door to all re-entry) or one cannot enter the mainstream of objectivist cultures implemented by literacy.

As people progress over time through increasingly complex levels of literacy, their capability builds in respect of their learning and reasoning, as they take advantage of how documentation “persisting through time unchanged, is to release the

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human brain from certain formidable burdens of memorisation while increasing the energies available for conceptual thought” (Havelock, 1982, p. 148). Another insight into the nature of transition into literacy is provided by Ong (2002a, p. 472) in observing that no oral peoples can provide lengthy, linear, properly philosophical explanation of anything. They can be, and often are, deeply intelligent and profoundly wise, and can be highly articulate with the proverbs and other sayings in which their thought dwells. But lengthy, abstract, categorical explanation eludes the human mind until the mind has made writing its own and thereby capacitated itself for types of intellectual activity otherwise utterly beyond its powers.

Sign literacy goes beyond memorised content of texts and means aptitude in recognising the letters of the alphabet and numbers and in reading simple words. This kind of capability was empowering for those who attained it, as it signalled a kind of transition in their lives, permitting them some measure of intellectual independence in assessing the veracity of documents that might affect them. Probably in concert with others advising them, they could puzzle out the gist of texts that seemed important, such as relevant legal or commercial agreements, or they could undertake making a will, or read advertising handbills or local government notices and the like. Goody (1987, p. 264) identifies the following as more characteristic of written forms of language than oral forms: the greater use of abstract terms; the greater choice of words; the less personalized (and hence less contextualized) usage; the greater elaboration (syntactical); the greater formality; the greater reliance on a dead language.

All of these elements tended to gradually push readers and writers in the direction of greater conceptualisation in their thinking and communication and a reducing orientation to practice. At a certain stage within any culture where literacy is evolving, a tipping point occurs, with Havelock (1982, p. 60) contending that “[t]‌he more readers in ratio to the population, the more literate a given population becomes”. The performance of literate composition slowly emerged in the school systems of Europe and North America as presumptions of literacy gradually advanced over time. By the early 19th century, pupils were being taught how to listen to text read aloud by their teacher and transfer it into handwritten form. Yet it was not until towards the end of the same century that students were being asked to create texts of their own composition and “[e]‌ven then, writing instruction was largely aimed at giving children the capacity to closely imitate very simple text forms” (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999, p.  121). Sanders (1995, p.  209) dates an



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increasing belief in the importance of literacy to late in the 19th century, with, for example, the New England Journal of Education coining the word literacy in 1883, thus creating “a new category of citizen” that defined people by their capability in employing print. In this period there was still ambiguity about schooling’s intended outcomes. In the USA of the 19th century, literacy development was still largely conflated with schooling in oratory, “since education in the classical tradition … had been education for the oral performance of the man in public affairs” (Ong, 2002a, p. 466). Nonetheless, a slowly-developing trend had been that as a greater focus emerged in the schools to developing students’ proficiency in writing, “the teaching of rhetoric … imperceptibly became more and more, over the centuries, the teaching of writing” (Ong, 2002a, p. 467). Comprehension literacy is the ability to read passages of text not previously seen. During World War I a significant movement away from sign literacy and towards comprehension literacy occurred. US army recruiters realised the need to have large numbers of men who were being sent to the European front to be competent in comprehension literacy, especially in reading instructions pertaining to military equipment they had never seen while working in unfamiliar (and often highly stressful) settings (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999). Resnick and Resnick (1977) thought that by 1918 around one quarter of US soldiers and sailors would not have had sufficient comprehension literacy to read a newspaper article or to write a simple letter. Hence US Army training became reoriented to the task of quickly trying to build forms of literacy beyond recitation or sign among large numbers of young recruits. Soldiers were instructed to tease out the key content or messages in a text, including who was involved, what action was the reader being told to take, where was the location of the message subject or of what elements did it comprise, when or in what sequence was some action supposed to happen, and how was the message receiver supposed to react. However, in the view of Bransford, Brown and Cocking (1999), the relatively simple tasks under comprehension literacy of “[f]‌inding out who, what, when, where or how, simply does not yield the inferences, questions, or ideas we now understand as defining full or ‘higher literacy’ ” (p. 121). Until early in the 20th century the role of schools had been to teach the basic forms of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but it was not generally presumed that students would develop inferential capabilities in critical thinking and reading, could solve exacting problems in maths, or learn how to advance a persuasive argument based on interpretation of evidence. This kind of argument has lent support to the idea that both personal and collective advances in literacy are closely connected to enhancements in the

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challenging mental processes in written forms of argument. E.P. Thompson (1968) in describing the rise of literacy in England in the early 19th century, considered that learning how to read was only the first step in a more demanding progression. More difficult was building the “ability to handle abstract and consecutive argument” (p. 783) associated with literacy. He said how arduous it was to create this aptitude as it “was by no means inborn; it had to be discovered against overwhelming difficulties – the lack of leisure, the cost of candles (or of spectacles), as well as educational deprivation” (p. 783). Havelock (1982, p. 290) points to transitions in an understanding of the progression of literate forms: As speech written down becomes separate from him [sic] who has spoken it, so does the content of the statements made. They become objectified as thoughts, ideas, notions existing in their own right. Correspondingly, as separate entities, they seem to require a separate source, not a linguistic one associated with the speaker’s tongue or mouth, but a mental one of a different order located in his consciousness.

Thompson (1968) also depicted the communal transformative effort needed to build a print-literate culture, so that “[t]‌he towns, and even the villages, hummed with the energy of the autodidact … labourers, artisans, shopkeepers and clerks and schoolmasters, proceeded to instruct themselves, severally or in groups” (pp.  781–782). Thompson paints a compelling picture of the revolution in the quality of public discourse as cooperative efforts to build literacy gradually bore fruit and as the populace became more exposed to the use of abstract and more complex forms of argument following from literacy advances. Havelock (1982, p. 314) had a similar account of what happened in ancient Greece as literacy became widespread, in that a kind of energy was released in human affairs which was not there before, a driving force which has operated upon many spheres of human activity besides communication itself, and which indeed has changed somewhat our habits of thought.

Yet a community’s development in literacy depends on its social stability and there is no inevitability about a sequence of literacy progressions. For example, during the gradual decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fourth and fifth centuries CE, “the general population ceased to read and write so that a previous socialized literacy reverted to a condition of virtual craft literacy” (Havelock, 1982, p. 315). A media ecology perspective on transitions into literacy will address the communication media that are becoming most pervasive and persuasive in a society. The media that we use constitute environments which shape our understanding and communication forms, but such



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environments may be said to be both cumulative, in that later stages contain elements or residues of earlier stages, and yet [are] uniquely distinguished by the addition of new technologies that color perception and rearrange existing patterns of thought, feeling, and social interaction (Albrecht, 2004, p. 81).

Succeeding chapters assess how differing workplace environments abut, complement, and compete with one another. Lévi-Strauss (1976) suggested that the prime motivator underpinning governmental aims to increase the population’s literacy was to create a more sophisticated and comprehensive means of social control. He connected the institutionalisation of compulsory education in Europe to a universal requirement for military service along with the preparation of a proletariat ready for work that involved literacy, such skills facilitating “an increase in governmental authority over the citizens” (p. 393). In his view, the precursor to this in pre-modern times was that the main purpose “of written communication … [has been] to facilitate slavery” (p. 393). This, he believed, was because systems of social control could not function efficiently without bureaucracies that employed writing. In more recent times, the political expedient of announcing a “literacy crisis” was explained by Jackson (2004) as a means of ramping up popular support for attempts to raise workers’ literacy. Additionally, it served to blame or imply blame for a wide range of social and economic ills on workers’ literacy deficiencies. This is indicated for example in Brine’s (2006) study of European Union documents pertaining to low adult literacy which found that workers (rather than managers or business systems) were said to have the problem of insufficient literacy but also to be the problem. However, research conducted within three manufacturing companies (Black, Yasukawa & Brown, 2015) found that staff difficulties with literacy and numeracy did not impact production work in negative ways in those contexts in the three companies, which helps to illustrate the lack of simple cause and effect relationships between adult literacy and productivity. Today’s social assumptions of literacy have advanced well beyond comprehension literacy into inferential literacy. The literacy level on which researchers and policy specialists are presently focusing is variously known as higher, inferential, or critical literacy. In educational settings this is likely to be designated as inferential comprehension (N.S.W. Department of Education, 2019), which refers to competence in interpreting the meanings inherent in or to be inferred from textual material, thereby being able to solve a gradation of increasingly complex issues posed in applied ways, by this means becoming better prepared to participate in the social and decisional life of one’s community and enterprise. Or as Resnick and Resnick (1977) have said, the definition of “functional” literacy has progressively shifted from the capability to sign one’s own name, to being

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able to decode words, to reading for new information and now currently knowing how to make evidence-based decisions at work or in the community from the information that one has found directly or inferred from word or numerical texts. In the view of Resnick and Resnick (1977) the so-called “back to basics” movement that occasionally makes an appearance in the news or social media is most unhelpful, since earlier ways of describing literacy (e.g., reading, writing and arithmetic) actually are based on quite simplistic understandings of literacy, sometimes to do with comprehension literacy, compared to the more exacting performance of inferential literacy. Postman (1979, p.  23) reserves some of his most acidic criticism for the proponents of such movements: “[t]‌here is in every ‘back to the basics’ proposal I have ever heard a badly concealed hostility toward both the young and their teachers”. He went on to say so many of the ‘back to basics’ advocates are themselves crass technocrats who would reduce the schools’ objectives to the most simplistic, mechanistic, and trivial goals. They often deny communities the opportunity to engage in a serious and creative argument about what is both worth doing in schools and what really can be done by the schools (p. 112).

Certainly, it is true that inferential literacy cannot occur until a learner has worked through other literacy levels like sign and comprehension. It is also the case that a proportion of school-leavers in perhaps all countries never makes a transition into this demanding form of literacy and leaves school with low capability of deriving inferences from texts and of determining what decisions they need to take as a result. Reflecting on future developments in literacy, Postman and Weingartner (1969, p. 165) observed that printed media and the printed book in particular will continue to exert powerful influences on our society. Once they have become literate, most people have intellectual and emotional powers that are irrevocable … [but] toward the middle of the nineteenth century … a more or less continuous stream of media inventions began to make accessible unprecedented quantities of information and created new modes of perception and qualities of aesthetic experience.

Chapter Seven returns to the issue of electronic media and the ways in which they are changing the human sensorium, cognitive processes, and forms of social interaction associated with the rising importance of Internet and social mediabased forms of communication. Harris, Willis and Simons (1998) pointed out how identity is constructed through interactions with others. While print-based or online interactions via print modalities may also serve to inform a person’s identity, face to face interactions are



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richer and more powerful in identity formation. Identities are composed via talk; interaction with others, often face to face, is what shapes workplace performance. Ong put the case that “[o]‌ral communication unites people in groups. Writing and reading … throw the psyche back on itself ” (1982, p. 69), and this is illustrated in the everyday lives of personnel who work in trade settings. According to de Certeau (1984, pp. xiv–xv), orality is clandestine, part of the “tactical … makeshift creativity of groups or individuals”. These semi-occluded forms of everyday resourcefulness within oral-experiential workplace culture emerge in the interface between the commonplace activities of the workplace and the attempts by educators to change processes of learning at work. Meanwhile, those who work in oral-experiential ways are little-seen in the literate ecology of current society. Literacy is strategic; orality is tactical. Dieleman (2013) explored “hybrid cultures” in Mexico City. In his assessment, from colonial times onward, “written culture did not suppress ancient forms of orality” (p. xx) and he cited Canclini’s (1990) work on written and oral cultures: “[a]‌t times they accompany them and at times they conflict with them, yet without destroying them”. This sometimes-uneasy relationship leads to “the functioning of multiple logics at the same time” (Dieleman, 2013, p. xx). In the present book, other descriptions have identified similar agonistically oriented and sometimes dysfunctional interconnections between oral-experiential and literate cultures within organisations as well as in communities. Yet strategic power remains embedded within literate rather than oral-experiential culture in organisational contexts. The reach of the Internet into enterprise settings has increased the primacy of formal print or digital texts that now set policy and regulate organisational processes along with standard operating procedures (SOPs). Increasingly such texts comprise the scriptural economy which is prioritising print over oral-experiential ways of functioning. The influence of the scriptural economy is expressed in discourse that normalises distributed digital Internet-enabled texts such as policies, processes, and the like, which are now introducing new and intense pressures into oral-experiential enterprise cultures. The present book suggests some of the ways in which the stress lines between textual and oral-experiential work cultures are revealed. In one instance as already observed, Mitchell’s (2012) focus has been on the interplay of literacy and orality within one particular contemporary culture, that of the university, and she said how “[o]‌rality remains important within the university, but only insofar as it supports and subsequently makes way for literacy” (p. 2). She went on to explore how oral forms of communication (classroom deliberations, conference presentations, etc.) continue to have their place within present-day university culture. However, they exist only to form the foundation for

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a print-literate normative discourse (written essays or examinations, journal articles, or books) that are deemed superior and form the apex of pedagogical and scholarly assessment within the academy. Paraphrasing de Certeau (1984), this she refers to as a “scriptural economy that reinforces the primacy of the written word” (2012, p. 2). Mitchell also drew attention to the confusion experienced by those who are “largely still being taught in an apprenticeship model of academic teaching and learning” (p. 2), that is, one which, at least from the student’s perspective, is largely oral-experiential in character. Yet to win academic standing as they advance within the institution, students have to navigate through largely unknown waters to demonstrate capability within what is to them a new culture in the form of the university’s dominant literate discourse. The existential context of the university student as apprentice thus has much in common with that of the industrial wage worker as apprentice whose situation is examined in the following chapter. Both student and apprentice work and are taught within their industry’s own particular variety of oral-experiential culture. But to gain on-site credibility and to have their studies validated, each must show sufficient mastery of textual materials to persuade their assessors to allow them entry into the predominant literate mode (Sligo, 2015a). University students as apprentices learn by engaging with the world of their teachers, initially by means of mimicry, until they eventually understand how to reproduce that discourse. Yet at a certain point “their appropriation of discourse is also one that threatens to appropriate them” (Mitchell, 2012, p. 3). That is, their progress through successive layers of the institution requires their partial disengagement from their former oral-experiential ways of functioning then to build an increasing understanding and competence in the assumptions of the literate framework. Mitchell’s view is similar to that of Ong, McLuhan, de Certeau, Havelock, and others, which is that those embedded within the discourse of literacy generally lack any real grasp of how oral-experiential cultures function. Therefore, a transition from more-oral to more-print may occur with little critical reflexivity evident as to the nature of the shift that has happened. As apprentices at work gradually learn to use their company’s intranet sites and other online sites of workplace policy such as ISO (International Organization for Standardization), they must integrate this form of literate knowledge with their existing oral-experiential means of undertaking work. In this way, they come to terms with a superordinate normative discourse founded on textuality that while not fully replacing, is over-writing the oral-experiential framework in which they have been trained and which until now had been their dominant mode of operating at work. Intranets and other repositories of institutionalised texts create



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the conditions for texts to become reified in policies and SOPs and then serve to direct and re-direct the enterprise’s priorities and modus operandi. It is important to assess textual culture in its relationship to workplace oral-experiential culture within everyday settings as this enables us to discern so far poorly understood dimensions of each and how they interact. One difference between apprentices on the job site and university undergraduates is that while in both instances neophytes are required to achieve capability in the approved terminology of the normative discourse, within an industrial setting apprentices must in reality not lose their (partly subordinated) oral-experiential forms of interaction that enable them to be fully accepted within the local culture and perform their work. In this sense, the industrial workplace may be more complex than the university and if so, the cognitive dissonance experienced by apprentices at work will be greater than that experienced by university students. De Certeau observed that when orality at work operates in covert ways, senior organisational personnel enclosed within their literate world may have little grasp of how their workplace actually functions in oral modes. He saw orality as largely hidden given its existence within the cracks of literate culture and commented how “cultural memory (acquired through listening, through oral tradition) alone makes possible and gradually enriches the strategies of semantic questioning … reading is preceded and made possible by oral communication, which constitutes the multifarious ‘authority’ that texts almost never cite” (p.  168). This complements Ellul’s (1985, p. 44) observation that the written word is “language that has passed from the order of the auditory to the visual. Henceforth it is a word placed in space, a word … that no longer involves dialogue”. The following chapter addresses the situation of apprentices with liminal literacy and provide instances of how the interplay between literacy and orality is manifested in specific ways.

chapter two

Apprentices’ Orality and Literacy

The New Zealand Modern Apprenticeship Scheme, launched in 2000 and administered by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC), set out to assist young adults to begin and complete formalised industry training. Each apprentice was allocated to a Modern Apprentice Coordinator (MAC), who was often a member of the relevant Industry Training Organisation (ITO). These apprenticeships were especially targeted at those between the ages of 16–21, covering apprenticeships of generally three to four years duration. The coordination role for the scheme was contracted out by TEC to 23 ITOs, some tertiary education institutions such as polytechnics and some private training establishments. Each industry possessed its own resources and apprenticeship training structure and designed its own apprenticeship workbooks and learning assets. In addition to general mentoring support, MACs were to visit each apprentice allocated to them and the apprentice’s employer at least once a quarter. MACs could also, if they realised the necessity for it, refer apprentices to print-literacy support, which was undertaken by a national consortium of regional adult literacy training specialists. MACs liaised between the apprentice’s employer and the assigned literacy tutor with the aim of coordinating appropriate one-to-one support for each apprentice.



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Following a growing awareness that many apprentices required specific support in literacy or numeracy, a focused apprentices’ literacy programme began in April 2008, providing a maximum of 30 hours literacy or numeracy tutoring for each apprentice considered as needing such support via one-to-one tuition. This programme operated on a contextualised approach, employing professional literacy tutors who used the particular industry’s apprenticeship course materials. Each apprentice deemed by their employer or MAC to need literacy support was assessed by an adult literacy specialist employed within the consortium of literacy training providers, with the aim of providing a personal learning curriculum developed for apprentices’ particular learning needs. The overall aim of the programme was to strengthen literacy especially in reading, writing, and numeracy relevant to apprentices’ trade learning. Yet concerns were raised by reports such as one from the Ministry of Education (Mahoney, 2009) which disclosed that only a third of apprentices had completed their qualification within a five-year timeframe, though originally the assumption had been that the great majority of apprentices would achieve their certificate within four years. Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing apprentices appeared to be having the greatest difficulty, with only 9% of them attaining their qualification within five years. As such evidence came to light, the media started to feature articles commenting on such tardy completion rates, with some finger-pointing and blaming evident. The country’s main farmers’ lobby-group, for example, stated, “[i]‌t requires diligence … and academic ability … farmers are not … doing what they need to do … standards have been allowed to slip” (Todd, 2009: par. 10). This particular story simultaneously blamed three different participants:  apprentices (lacking, it seemed, both diligence and academic ability); employers (farmers who were not doing whatever they were supposed to be doing); and the relevant ITO (whose standards had allegedly slipped). Commentary of this kind appeared to be reverting to a kind of unthinking denunciation of those involved, in the absence of any clear understanding of possible causes of apprentices’ problems. What appear to be knee-jerk practices of blaming could perhaps be countered if more people had better insights into how to understand literacy in workplace contexts. Some prior New Zealand research has occurred into apprentices’ learning. An exploration of what apprentices find most challenging was undertaken by Jeffcoat and Jeffcoat (2006) who interviewed current, completed, and terminated apprentices plus industry trainees. These learners identified the following as the problems or difficulties they were encountering:

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Table 1.  Challenges in Apprentices’ Learning. Difficulties or problems: Problems with written work Employerrelated problems Insufficient support for written work Problems with industry training coordinator Wage-related issues Other Total number of problems

Current apprentices

Completed apprentices

Terminated apprentices

Industry trainees


























36 231

0 22

0 62

0 115

Total problems

36 430 problems

Derived from Jeffcoat and Jeffcoat (2006) page 65, tables 23 and 24.

Therefore, the difficulties to do with written work for apprentices (not understanding their printed materials plus insufficient support for their writing) amounted to 290 (180 + 110) or about two-thirds of the apprentices’ problems. It is noteworthy that in the recollection of the completed apprentices nearly all of their problems related to their written requirements and low support for them in this regard. We might infer from this that such impediments stayed fresh in their minds, surpassing whatever else they may have faced in their learning experience. In comparable fashion, a considerable majority of terminated apprentices’ problems centred on their reading, writing, and absence of support. We were interested to note how apprentices’ problems with their written work were predominant for them (even considering all other sources of potential difficulty for them such as their personal finances, their relationship with supervisor, their travel to work, etc.). The industry trainees surveyed reported very similar outcomes in that the other trying features within their work lives (e.g., wage-related issues, problems with their industry training coordinator, or troubles associated with their employer) seemed trivial by comparison. This research illustrated very strongly that the greatest hurdle for these mainly young learners was how confronted



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they were by literate expectations coupled with a dearth of support for them as they tried to cope with their printed documentation. They may have encountered an on-site indifference to their learning challenges or that their managers or co-workers lacked the ability to assist them. Jeffcoat and Jeffcoat did not explore any possible differences between apprentices and industry trainees who possessed either good or poor literacy. In this way, it stands out that problems both with understanding written materials and insufficient support to engage with them comprised the bulk of all the problems that the apprentices and industry trainees identified, regardless of their relative incapacity in literacy. That is, these difficulties applied to all apprentices surveyed, including any who may have possessed good literacy. It is easy to infer that apprentices with poor command of literacy would have been further disadvantaged. Accordingly, the difficulties in print-based learning for the apprentices compounded by poor support from any industrial sources present as the overwhelming issue facing apprentices and trainees regardless of their literacy level. We began to appreciate the extent of the problem facing young learners who are being socialised into an oral-experiential culture but are told to show good abilities in a text-competent one. In 2008 our research group won a contract from the New Zealand Department of Labour to undertake a detailed formative evaluation of how well the literacy tuition that was underway for apprentices (in light engineering, building and construction, and automotive engineering) appeared to be progressing. The programme was the first of its kind in this country and was one of the ways in which the government had been seeking to invest in ways to increase the literacy and numeracy of (mainly young) apprentices in the workforce most of whom had not succeeded at school. Our goals were first, to assess the perception of all participants (apprentices, MACs, adult literacy tutors and employers) as to how well the apprentices’ literacy development programme was working; second, to appraise how well the one-to-one tuition was assisting apprentices to advance in both their study assignments and practical work; and third, to evaluate the quality of the literacy support and specify enhancements if we thought them desirable. We worked closely with the national office of the lead provider company in the literacy consortium and additionally liaised with its network of regional affiliates which had been contracted to undertake the work with apprentices. Ethics applications were completed to the satisfaction of the Massey University Human Ethics Committee. The research contract specified two data-gathering approaches comprising two phases. Phase one was an assessment of the training provider’s database that held details of all 191 apprentices who were enrolled in the literacy programme.

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In this assessment, we attempted to identify any trends pertaining to apprentices’ literacy development to that point. In phase two we undertook 14 case studies that enabled us to interview an apprentice, his workplace supervisor, MAC, and adult literacy tutor. (No female, Māori, or Pasifika apprentices were enrolled in the programme, indicating the low numbers of these demographics in the wider programme.) Forty-six interviews (some MACS and supervisors had a connection with more than one apprentice) provided us with in-depth understanding of how each apprentice was succeeding both in literacy development and trade knowledge. Through this contract, our team was provided with a valuable means to access typically hard-to-reach trade apprentices who possessed liminal literacy, in tandem with literacy tutors, supervisors or managers, and training facilitators. We were additionally fortunate that the entire focus of the programme we were investigating had to do with apprentices’ literacy in the workplace. This meant that all parties had prior to our arrival been giving thought to questions of literacy in their workplace settings. This made them attuned to issues of literacy and prepared to field questions from us as researchers. All industry people would have portrayed themselves as of a thoroughly practical mind-set, and none would have claimed prior training in any theory of literacy or orality but fortunately for us, all possessed insights into literacy at work and were prepared to share them. This chapter explores what we found in respect to the barriers that existed for liminally-literate apprentices to acquiring and practising textual literacy. It identifies apprentices’ intersected problems of health challenges, early family troubles, an absence of time for learning activities, unreliable or absent transport to literacy classes, and personal ways of undertaking learning that bore little relationship to how their previous schools had provided education in literacy. Phase one: Database analysis In phase one as mentioned, we undertook an evaluative analysis of the training provider’s database of the 191 apprentices currently enrolled in the literacy programme. We had access to learner demographics, MACs’ remarks about apprentices’ literacy and progress, literacy tutors’ assessments of apprentices’ needs in literacy or numeracy, progress indicators, allocation of tuition sessions, apprentices’ absences from training, and explanation if an apprentice had left the programme early. Training providers had assessed each apprentice as one of low, moderate, or high needs in their perceived ability to cope with the literacy requisites within their apprenticeship. Low need was considered as requiring up to ten hours of tuition to achieve the person’s particular learning targets. An apprentice so categorised usually was shown to have some reasonably well-defined learning



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requirement to do with literacy or numeracy that had prospects of being rectified within a reasonably short period. Moderate need meant an apprentice had somewhat minor gaps in their knowledge or a specific but more exacting learning need. These learners were provided with between 11 and 30 hours of tutorial support. High need learners were evaluated as possessing more complicated needs calling for something greater than 30 hours. Regardless of level, however, the apprentices had been thought to have literacy and/or numeracy of a kind designated as inadequate for their trade learning. The information in the database derived from disparate sources. It contained explanations from MACs as to why apprentices had been referred; the literacy provider had entered details from the apprentices’ preliminary assessment, literacy tutors explained apprentices’ progress, or lack of it, in whatever ways seemed apposite to them, while MACs stated workplace outcomes that seemed to have occurred from literacy tutoring. We analysed whatever quantitative information was discernible in the database using SPSS Version 16 and attempted to categorise written comments to obtain frequency counts of terminology. We quickly found though that dissimilar terms used by the many personnel involved, along with incompatible terminology from the different industries involved, plus unrelated ways of describing apprentices’ progress, pretty much annulled our ability to derive good insights from this source into apprentices’ learning or undertake any comparisons of how well apprentices might have progressed. Notwithstanding this, one useful impression that we took away from our study of the database was the individual character of apprentices’ encounter with literacy training and how difficult it was to generalise about the ways in which learners might be struggling with their literacy. Although otherwise our findings were quite limited from the rudimentary frequency analyses that we could do, and from our derivation of themes from the database, we did learn that most apprentices in the three categories were in the first year of their studies. Most were said as needing to undertake two hours of tutoring each week, usually after work. We were later to recognise how an afterwork literacy tutorial provision reinforced a separation for apprentices between two quite distinct worlds. One was the “real world” of work into which they were seeking to be accepted following what had been for most an unhappy school experience. This world was communal, masculine, and physically embodied, where the apprentice sought a sense of belonging and aspired to be seen as being a capable person. The other was an add-on world of literacy, which the apprentice was told to enter usually after work when they were already tired. Here a literacy tutor,

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often an older woman, tried to engage the apprentice in a static, individualistic, and theorised domain of literacy, which the apprentice normally would have associated with low confidence and minimal success. We were able to discern that apprentices who stayed engaged with their tutoring were around twice as likely to take part in literacy tuition during work time rather than after work in comparison to others who had exited the apprenticeship programme. We inferred from this that there was a better prospect of apprentices staying in the programme if literacy training could be organised for them within work hours rather than after work. Ong (1982) observed that trades traditionally have been learned by oral-experiential means, via observation and practice. He considered that the embodied and mimetic character of the workplace remained important in certain settings. He said that in largely oral cultures “[t]‌rades were learned by apprenticeship (as they still largely are even in high-technology cultures), which means from observation and practice with only minimal verbalized explanation” (p. 43). Learning of this embodied kind appears well-suited to the apprentices whom we met since in their own minds they had failed in the conventional practices of the classroom (though our view was more accurately, that their schools had failed them). Apprentices felt they had come home into the oral-experiential context of the workplace, relating strongly to the oral character of their workplace culture and were relieved to have escaped the literate demands of school. Phase two: The interviews Our interviews were up to an hour long and occurred mainly in workplaces or in offices of the literacy providers, and a few in apprentices’ homes or by phone. Ten apprentices were deemed to have high needs in their literacy and as noted, this meant that they had been assessed by their tutor as requiring more than 30 hours of literacy support. Four apprentice interviewees had moderate needs (between 20 and 30 hours of literacy training were said to be needed). The 46 interviews were recorded and transcribed, and we used the HyperResearch (ResearchWare, n.d.) qualitative analysis package to explore the data via multiple close assessments with the goal of specifying themes in the transcripts. We identified repeated and related concepts, mapping the content through noting repetition in key terms or word patterns, then revisiting theme categories until such time as the best quality insights seemed to have emerged from the transcripts. We had confidence that each theme arrived at was supported by a substantial amount of in-depth data. This approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Glaser, 1992) offers the possibility of discerning unforeseen content and promotes



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the likelihood that the data (not any assumptions held by a researcher) shapes the findings. The interview transcripts revealed a collection of often-interconnected problems for apprentices, especially difficulties with literacy, issues with personal learning style that was not compatible with how they were expected to learn, insufficient time to finish study assignments, work fatigue and issues of health, challenging family contexts, or poor access to transport and remoteness from work or literacy support. All of these matters appear in other adult literacy research (e.g., Sligo, Watson, Murray, Comrie, Vaccarino & Tilley, 2007), but while they may appear in any young person’s life transitions, they may be particularly acute for young adults with liminal literacy. Here there could well be a compounding effect as some of these variables intensified the impact of others and further undermined their ability to learn. One strong theme from the interviews provided fresh insights not so far seen in any depth to date in the literature. Following difficulties in literacy, the second most frequent issue that interviewees mentioned was a view that there existed a disjunction between the culture of the workplace and what it sought from those working there, and the norms of ‘being print literate’ into which adult literacy tutors worked to draw apprentices. The research team came to understand that apprentices were simultaneously trying to find passage into two different worlds, their trade/ technical setting and the demands of a textually-oriented world as represented by their literacy tutor. This signalled to us the necessity to assess the implications of multiple and differing expectations of apprentices’ behaviour. First, however, the complex nature of apprentices’ literacy problems became evident as we identified nine major themes from interviews with apprentices, managers, tutors, and training coordinators, each of which was exemplified by at least ten statements in the interview transcripts. These were: functional literacy challenges, a disconnect between “theory” and “practice”, practical wisdom/ learning style, apprentices’ coping strategies, time and fatigue, motivation, health, reactance to failing, and apprentices’ organisational and independent study skills. Each of these nine themes permits different insights into the interplay of literacy and orality at work. While this book reports on responses from all four of managers, apprentices, tutors, and training coordinators, this chapter particularly considers the implications for the apprentices. Some less-salient themes (e.g., “family background”, “transport/ remoteness”, “every learner different”, “financial”, and “missed foundational steps”, totalling 35 comments) were also identified.

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Table 2.  Nine Major Themes from Interviews Major Themes from Interviews Functional Literacy Challenges Disconnect Between ‘Theory’ and ‘Practice’ Practical Wisdom / Learning Style Apprentices’ Coping Strategies Time and Fatigue Motivation Health Reactance to Failing Apprentices’ Organisational / Independent Study Skills

Number of Comments in the 46 Interviews 76 37 31 26 22 18 13 12 11

Given that the apprentices we interviewed all had difficulties with literacy, it was unsurprising that “functional literacy challenges” emerged as the major theme, arising from 76 comments in the transcripts. Yet the two next-largest themes, “Disconnect Between ‘Theory’ and ‘Practice’ ”, and “Practical Wisdom / Learning Style” gave us deeper insights into the issues facing the apprentices. In identifying one of the major themes as involving “wisdom” we were not conscious of being beholden to any theory of how in fact wisdom is to be defined, but rather were thinking of wisdom as appearing to be expressed within the context of interviewees’ everyday interpersonal lives. To this Strate’s (2012a, p. 467) commentary is relevant: whereas wisdom involves understanding relationships, which is to say it operates on the medium or relationship level, knowledge is about content, and works on the content level. Note that wisdom does not disappear when writing appears, and neither does speech after all. But the characteristic of wisdom becomes more distant the more fully immersed we are in literate culture, more mysterious and elusive.

In other words, as we read the interview transcripts and started to obtain some insights into how our respondents were practising their working lives, we found instances of what seemed to us to be acumen and good judgement in what they had to say. The ‘disconnect’ theme came out of comments in which the research participants of all kinds (manager, apprentice, tutor, coordinator) expressed ways in which theory and practice were separated from each other, or divisions between theory, and concepts like ‘doing the job’ or ‘doing bookwork’. In the following grouping appear interviewee remarks that identified a gap between what



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happened in literacy tutoring and what standard practice at work was. Literacy and trade were thought to comprise disparate worlds essentially disconnected from each other. Typically, literacy was somewhat peripheral to success in the practical world of trades. Examples from the category of ‘disconnect’ are: Employers:

• You know you get some bloody good apprentices that are just fantastic with

• The apprentices are just overwhelmed with actually doing the job and then

their hands and they struggle with putting it down

they’ve got all this theory to go with it which we didn’t have when we were boys • Academics have written these units.


• I ask the guys at work or I ask and some of them are going, “I don’t remember this one, why the hang do you need to do it?” and even they are having problems with it.


• Most of them are very good practically and trades nowadays is all about hands-on. I mean you can have all the written stuff and theory you like but at the end of the day it’s the job that they produce is what they are paid for • We discuss what’s going on with the apprenticeship package and we think it’s gone way overboard, it’s got far too high tech. They’re making something, a trade that’s simple, complicated, very technical and it’s not, building is simple • You say to some [employers] “Your apprentice hasn’t turned up to a night class for three weeks,” “Oh he’s been busy”, they say, “Oh they learn the trade just like I did”.

Literacy Tutors:

• He’s actually said once I’ve done this I don’t need to do any more writing

again. He’s had a struggle all his life. … He’d like to get all this out of the way so he can just get on and do the practical work.

The second prominent theme, Disconnect, reflected a perceived disjuncture between incompatible learning styles, one practical and the other theoretical. This theme records a variety of participants’ views that apprentices do actually have many of the skills needed to do well in their industry or are on track to obtaining

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them by on-the-job learning. However, there is a misalignment with how the literacy programme in particular and often the broader apprentice training programme is seeking to get the trainees to perform. Representative views of interviewees along these lines included: Employers:

• He knows what he’s doing now but it’s still his putting information down

• So often we find young apprentices absolutely good hands-on people you

on the paper is terrible you know

know and they just understand, they understand whatever instruction I give them [orally], [but] give them the written word and they’re lost and even down to the reading plans and that.


• I can do anything the others here can do – I just don’t have the piece of

paper. … The learning standard refers to the apprentice successfully completing three cambelt changes, but I’ve done thousands of them and so I’ve got lots of experience with them I’m quite a hands-on person. I  actually like learning by doing. I  know • exactly how to put it together, even if it’s a different model. I’m actually very more hands-on than more of a writing and sitting down on my backside kind of thing.


• The answers he was writing, I couldn’t decipher his words and his writ-

ing was shocking. But when you talked to him he knew what he was talking about • They’re very kinaesthetic learners and very bright but they’ve got a barrier … that hadn’t been picked up.

Literacy Tutors:

• In their enthusiasm to be a very good builder they neglect the assignment

side, the written side of it. … they build this up to be quite a problem for them … I’ve only got six months to go and I’m only halfway through book two and this is invariably what happens Some will never achieve the skills for literacy but they are both excellent • workers and have great skills with their hands. The majority have excellent memories and are very valuable to their employers. A skilled artisan is equally important as a skilled literacy person; we need all types to make a complete world.



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Apprentices were expected to advance their reading, writing, and numeracy to the point where they were capable of coping to a reasonable extent with printed or digital information without undue support from others. Yet our respondents clearly felt mistrustful about how much literacy and numeracy (as assessed by a literacy tutor) was actually needed for performing competently at work. Success, in their mind, came much more reliably from their being able to demonstrate on site their embodied skills, motivation in the workplace, and their willingness to work hard rather than from any external attestation of literacy performance. We noted with interest that industry training coordinators seemed just as likely to hold such views as others whom we interviewed such as apprentices’ supervisors. Our assessment of some key divergences between the two worlds in which apprentices had to operate was as follows: Table 3.  How the Apprentices’ Worlds of Industry and Tutoring Differed The Industry Community of Practice 1 The age of community members 2 Community members’ gender 3 The community’s apparent culture 4 How apprentices took part 5 Possible insider-outsider barriers to membership 6 Is knowledge socially constructed? 7 How apprentices built their knowledge 8 Apprentices’ learning autonomy

The World of the Literacy Tutors

From teenagers to retirement Literacy tutor typically at age least a generation older than the apprentice Generally male Generally female Oriented to men

Oriented to women

Participation was strongly collective in nature Apprentices would normally undergo some formal or informal rites of passage Knowledge in the trade setting very socially constructed

A focus on one-to-one coaching Literacy tutors sought to be highly welcoming to and supportive of the apprentice Largely not applicable – literacy and numeracy knowledge exists in documented form Knowledge acquisition is explicit via face to face tutoring

Knowledge creation is both explicit (documented study units) and implicit (learning through participation) Many opportunities for opportunistic workplace learning

Learning oriented to a specified print syllabus and addressing literacy gaps in the apprentices’ knowledge

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Table 3.  Continued

9 Nature of interaction 10 Collective or individualistic 11 Formal instruction employed 12 Teaching matched with apprentices’ needs 13 Apprentices’ felt connection to others 14 Apprentices’ interest in the topic

The Industry Community of Practice

The World of the Literacy Tutors

Informal learning from multiple others Mainly collective learning as a group member Relatively little

Mediated formally via literacy tutor Mainly one-to-one and solo learning Much

Little formal instruction of this nature

Coaching tailored to what the apprentice appeared to need Less close

Close Strong direct interest in the topic

15 Likely tensions between Probably some tensions in those of long and most industrial settings shorter tenure

Variable interest, with literacy seen as instrumental to the more important aim of acceptance in the trade Probably no such tensions.

As Table 3 indicates, we found a range of diverse differences between the two worlds that apprentices had to navigate, and the differences gave good insights into the complex character of what they had to face. Apprentices found themselves on tricky ground as they attempted to prove their capability within the trade context that they sought to join, but they also had to do enough to satisfy their literacy tutor that they could cope with written materials. Given that their trade communities were vastly more important to them than the relatively abstract and unknown world represented by their tutor, apprentices had to pay close attention to the dominant discourses of the workplace. Very problematic for the apprentices were the covert or even open ways in which the industrial setting contradicted then undermined the learnings that the literacy tutors were trying to inculcate. In a sense, this is a clash of competing cultures. Ong (1977, p. 126) refers to a “shift from a culture in significant ways favoring auditory syntheses to a culture in significant ways favoring visual syntheses in its way of organizing both physical actuality and knowledge as such”. However, in occupational orality, in particular, among the liminally literate, there is an extent of resistance to any such shift, and an orientation to the auditory remains strong.



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As our interviews progressed it quickly became evident to us that almost the exclusive motivator for the apprentices to participate in literacy tutoring was their commitment to entering their industry. Accordingly, the apprentices saw this tutoring as essentially instrumental in nature, and in this, they were reinforced by the workplace norms within which they had to participate. Apprentices were confronted by a divide between “doing the job” and “doing bookwork”, and they found that they were to become two different kinds of people. They had to demonstrate literacy in the eyes of their training materials’ authors and in the assessment of the literacy tutor, but they also had to show compliance within the oral-experiential culture of their workplace. This might be somewhat of an issue for all apprentices, yet it is especially acute for those with liminal literacy. They were deeply impacted by being forced to interact with two different worlds simultaneously: the industrial world that they so strongly yearned to enter, and the literate set of assumptions of their literacy tutor. Sanders (1995, p.  64) seemingly thinking of advanced forms of literacy observed that “orality comes first; but literacy does not supplant orality. Rather, literacy comes to dominate one’s life, while orality remains omnipresent in the background”. Our apprentices of liminal literacy, however, seemed to be less dominated by the literacy they did possess than the others to whom Sanders was referring. Literacy had entered their lives to a certain extent, but it did not pervade it as it might do, were the individual not sheltered within their oral-experiential work setting. As the quotations above may demonstrate, both workplace supervisors and MACs were reluctant to agree that their industry’s printed learning materials were of primary importance. They were likely to say that the apprentices’ learning materials were pointlessly difficult and that it would be much more practical for apprentices to learn their profession via collective means on site. Postman and Weingartner (1969, p. 19) said that “the critical content of any learning experience is the method or process through which the learning occurs” (emphasis in original) and we can see some awareness of this insight among the supervisors interviewed. They were clearly nervous at the prospect of apprentices’ learning becoming unduly book-based rather than experiential in nature. There was also unease at the costs of the prescribed training. Managers were aware of intense competition within their industries and they felt that unnecessarily elaborate training systems meant they incurred an avoidable expense. They asked why it was that the apprentices’ schooling had apparently failed to teach the literacy and numeracy basics, so why did industry now have to pick up the educational shortfall?

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Some literacy tutors agreed that the literacy demands of the workplace were excessive for the apprentices, given their relative lack of skills. These tutors came to the view that their task was to help the apprentice to get through the workbooks, even to the extent of the tutor’s filling in the answers by hand following their student’s spoken dictation, which is described in more detail in Chapter Three. Advanced literacy and skills valued at work were thus seen in a binary sense so that it was uncommon for interviewees to refer to anyone excellent in both dimensions. This is one of the few perspectives that united the two communities of industry and literacy training: each tended to understand the individual who succeeds in their particular world as someone who would not flourish in the other. In most cases, literacy tutors had had little prior contact with the trade/ technical industry of their learner and had little grasp of their apprentice’s specialist technical language, hence the apprentice often had to explain their everyday trade vocabulary to their literacy tutor. This may have been beneficial for the apprentice’s communication ability but suggests that the two communities were not working in a coordinated way to serve the learner. Interviewees asked if it was possible to devise ways to strengthen connections between the disparate worlds of industry and education. It seemed clear to all parties that tutors need to be assisted to learn more about their students’ trade and its learning needs. We did find that the relatively few tutors who were retired tradespeople with an enthusiasm for teaching new entrants were well regarded. The relationship between tutors and apprentices is explored further in Chapter Three. Apprentices’ entry to and acceptance within their trade/technical world depends in essential ways on access first, or in parallel, to literacy. Early in the process, the researchers had tended to assume that the industry training coordinators would be strong advocates of better literacy and numeracy. However, our interviews demonstrated that training coordinators were more closely aligned with apprentices’ employers in questioning whether high levels of literacy were in fact needed in trades. In part, this may have been because some training coordinators felt insufficiently prepared in respect of their own literacy and numeracy abilities, and if so, they may have tended to stress the importance of practical rather than theoretical capability. We concluded that there was a good opportunity for the industry training organisations to take the initiative to build what we thought of as ‘a communication triangle’ comprising MACs, literacy tutors, and employers. This would locate the apprentice in the centre in a place of common focus, to ensure a kind of wraparound support for each apprentice once in literacy tutoring. The aim would be



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to get all parties working cohesively to ensure that each apprentice received optimum support both on and off the worksite. The issue would be, though, whether each party in this kind of collaboration could agree on the purpose and priorities for learner support. Chapter Four further addresses Lave and Wenger’s (1991) perspective on communities of practice and how the present study contributes to their point of view. For them, “the mastery of knowledge and skill requires newcomers to move towards full participation in the sociocultural practices of a community” (p. 29). As will be further developed later, the present research provides some basis for questioning Lave and Wenger’s assumptions. It is possible that mastery of knowledge may be impeded by full participation in a community if the practices within that community are antithetical to what the apprentice is trying to learn. Instead, a different perspective is proposed, which is that sociocultural practices within the trade communities may serve to undermine apprentices’ mastery of knowledge and skill. In this way, untested assumptions are interrogated in Lave and Wenger about the convergence of knowledge and workplace practice when issues of literacy and orality are considered. Lave and Wenger’s “full participation” (1991, p. 29) in a community may in apprentices’ circumstances create limits to learning, with dysfunctional consequences both for the person and the trade itself. The present study attempted to identify some deeply-rooted impediments to apprentices actually achieving mastery in their understanding and performance. It concluded that until the values of apprentices’ relevant communities are assisted to become more congruent with each other, intractable difficulties will continue to undermine the creation of high-level capabilities that equip apprentices well for complex technological futures. Language as mode of action. Chapter One quoted Ong (1982, p. 32) in his comment that language may be “a mode of action and not simply a countersign of thought”. Zevenbergen (2000) provided a useful illustration of the difference between reasoning that is closely tied to someone’s active lifeworld and the reasoning that they are prepared to undertake within a more abstract, theorised mode. Her example referred to trade apprentices who were given this task: You are building a set of shelves, each of which has to be one metre long, and you have four lengths of timber, each 2.5 metres long. How many of your one-metre shelves can you get from your four lengths of timber?

Those familiar with abstract reasoning understand this as a problem of mathematics and will respond to it on that basis. Only secondarily might they think of it as a practical task for them to undertake. As they relate to the question in an arithmetical way, they find that the answer is eight shelves. However, Zevenbergen

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(2000) found that apprentice carpenters with liminal literacy and less familiarity with working in abstract forms of language, related first to their own learned discourse of hands-on carpentry. They are likely to reframe the question in pragmatic ways, identifying options along the lines of:

1. I’d want to see if we could make the shelves a bit shorter, around 800 mil, to avoid waste, or else make them longer 2. I don’t think I would have bought 2.5 metre timber – why would I do that? You can get timber of two or three metres 3. With the gluing you can do these days if you had 0.5 metre off-cuts you’d definitely want to get more shelves out of them.

These are all evidently intelligent answers any of which might produce a satisfactory outcome to the problem posed. Nevertheless, addressing the question in order to arrive at an applied outcome suggests less familiarity with, or a wish to avoid, the abstract realm of numeracy. They may have been able to do the simple arithmetic implied in the question they were asked, but either deliberately or unconsciously resisted doing so because of the strength of their modes of thought here called oral-experiential. In contrast, anyone whose first response is to provide the arithmetical answer of eight is likely to have had an educational experience in conceptual problem solving that nurtured “literacy brain and literacy mind” (see Chapter Seven) and in particular their capability in the abstractions of numeracy and literacy. Such people may be able, if pressed, to reconsider the question as the apprentices did, but in their instance a ‘how to do it’ response is of lower priority to one that is theorised. Zevenbergen (2000) believed that “[t]‌hey [the apprentices] interpret the task as being an everyday task and answer within this discourse rather than recognising that they need to shift to the esoteric discourse” [mathematics] (p. 41). It is evident, however, that any of the three answers provided might well be ideal within the apprentice carpenter’s everyday work. A  mathematical answer of “eight” might, within that context, seem pointlessly abstract or even comic to others on the job site. You could next encourage the apprentice to reason mathematically, and they might accept that framing a problem in such an abstract manner may be quite legitimate in its own right, then agree that you could respond to the question posed by providing eight as the correct answer. Yet he or she could regard conceptual interactions along these lines as rather futile compared to an answer that actually provided a useful resolution of a tangible issue. The person would be



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motivated to return to their applied way of decision-making that they knew provided no-nonsense solutions to genuine problems. Note that all three examples above indicate that the apprentices had already seen that there was a mathematical option in framing the question they were posed with. In some cases, they would have done the mental arithmetic to come up with what seemed to them to be a more efficient answer than the ostensibly ‘correct’ one. This points towards the interviewees already having some capability in undertaking arithmetical abstractions. Such constructs, though, appeared less useful in this situation than an approach to maximise utility by means of lateral thinking instead of what those imbued in literacy might have seen as the prescribed mathematical response. In this way, Zevenbergen provides a good illustration of the apprentices’ oral-experiential world. Its characteristics are that it is focused on the familiar, it is readily contextualised and responsive to actual needs, it is possibly collective rather than individualistic, immediately to hand and it is one that resists what seem to be purposeless abstractions. The example also suggests the interesting possibility that many people in more-oral contexts can, if they choose, park their normal ways of thinking and engage in an abstract discourse, then undertake reasoning in that mode if there seems good reason to do so. However, in their regular lifeworlds, it would be neither normal nor useful behaviour for them to do so. As mentioned, how ready or able such individuals may be to engage in abstractions is included in Chapter Seven which addresses literacy brain and literacy mind. Along similar lines, Lee (1976, p. 45) recounts an instance of a child in school who is asked the question, “If it takes four men to build three perches of wall in three days, how many days will two men take to do the same job?” From one perspective this is a matter of simple arithmetic, but the child with the “unschooled” mind (Illich, 1970) instead wants to reframe the issue in hands-on terms. They might ask, where is the wall? Who needs it? Where will its materials come from? If a wall is to be built, why are we even talking about four men and two men? In other words, Lee is making the point that creating an arithmetical problem which asks the learner to enter the cognitive frame of numeracy serves to distract the mind from the more comprehensive and practical issues of why, how, when, and by whom the wall should be built. These scenarios compare two different kinds of discourse. One is habitual to the liminally literate who possess less everyday familiarity with abstractions, but who instead are grounded within their experiential world which has inculcated in them the norm of finding solutions to practical problems. The second discourse is familiar to those who have had sufficient experience in the abstract setting of mathematics that their default option is to work within that mental framework.

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In doing so and at least until they are challenged to consider options in a more practical way, it may not occur to them that there is practical value in attaining a maximum number of shelves out of some timber. Strate (2012b, p. 96) notes how [i]‌t is orality, and not literacy, that produces a centered subjectivity. The oral subject is plunged in medias res, in the middle of things … By contrast, the literate subject is removed from the action, marginalized in his or her objectivity.

This helps to explain the ongoing tensions being explored in this book that exist between the “academics”, well trained in literate ways of cognition and communication, and those whose life experiences have habituated them to the pursuit of practical outcomes. As already mentioned in Chapter One, McLuhan (1972) employed a visual metaphor to convey the idea that orality and literacy interchangeably form figure and ground in any society or context possessing literacy. He had in mind a situation where people were starting to engage with literacy in the setting of a culture that until then had been wholly oral. When literacy has not made extensive inroads, orality necessarily constitutes the predominant ground of interactions while literacy will comprise a relatively limited figure within that landscape. Then as literacy becomes more widely used, the relationship between literacy and orality is likely to reverse so that the assumptions and practices of literacy become more predominant and influential in social relationships. At that point orality accordingly wanes into recession to a greater or lesser extent. Apprentices with the kind of liminal literacy as illustrated in our study necessarily possess orality as their primary ground since their prior experience has not equipped them enough in literacy to permit them to be confident in their reading and writing. McLuhan’s metaphor may help to shed light on the situation of those who are impeded in their literacy. As the presence of printed or digital texts strengthens in the workplace, the less-literate (who necessarily are accustomed to oral-experiential ways of operating) become increasingly isolated from print-oriented forms of work organisation. While all apprentices whom we interviewed certainly possessed, to variable extents, some capabilities in literacy, they were substantially less fluent than their co-workers who were more secure in their command of literacy practices. Yet while these apprentices’ peers had a stronger grasp of literacy, their communities of practice keep them engaged in what Chapter One calls occupational orality, given orality’s salience in how work gets organised and carried out in many workplace settings. This is set out further in Chapter Four on workplace supervisors and communities of practice, and in Chapter Six on managers’ orality and literacy.



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Ong (1982) reported on the work of A.R. Luria, a Soviet psychologist researching human learning and communication in Uzbekistan in the 1930s, which investigated cognitive development in a time when social transitions were occurring from full orality to a mixed world of partial literacy and orality. Luria found that oral (not-literate) individuals “identified geometrical figures by assigning them the names of objects, never abstractly as circles, squares, etc.” (Ong, 1982, p. 50). For example, if shown a diagram of a circle, people were likely to call it a plate, or a square a mirror, a window, etc. They had terms such as circles, squares, etc., in their vocabulary, but it was normal behaviour for them to respond thinking of something tangible (plate) rather than an abstract entity (circle). This finding illustrates oral culture’s connection to the familiar, grounded and situational, and an avoidance of what was seen as pointlessly theoretical or without substance. Luria also reported on a study that presented participants with “drawings of four objects, three belonging to one category and the fourth to another, and who were asked to assemble together those that were similar or could be placed in one group or designated by one word” (Ong, 1982, p.  51). The objects were drawings of a hammer, a saw, a log, and a hatchet, but pre-literate persons did not perceive the objects in any categorising way, for example, by grouping the three tools together and excluding the log. Rather, they responded to the question in terms of a behavioural response that seemed of potential value. Thus, participants would normally group the saw, log, and hatchet, while the hammer was excluded since it had no conceivable function for processing a log of wood into anything useful. When it was put to Luria’s respondents that the odd one out in the question could be the log, they realised that this was an option, but this seemed like a fruitless intellectual exercise, too abstract and vague to be worth considering. Luria’s finding suggests the primacy in orality of the applied and empirical along with the dismissal of theory and abstractions as not very relevant or useful. In this way, discourse employing abstractions and forms of categorising in ways that seem irrelevant to everyday life seems to be avoided by those with lesser development in literacy. Then someone who had received some more schooling in literacy compared to others showed different results. This person strongly preferred a categorical rather than situational solution to the problem, and “insisted on the correctness of the classification under attack” (Ong, 1982, p. 52). This seems to be an instance of a transitional effect occurring in this society at this time, and illustrates the role of personal preferences as people adjust to their changing circumstances. Sanders (1995, p. 31) reflecting on Luria’s findings, observes that

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[t]‌here seems to be no such thing as a little literacy. Even the smallest amount of literacy begins to alter perception. Almost immediately, it has the effect of lifting a person out of group thinking and setting him or her back down in a more self-centered and abstract world.

However, Sanders’ interpretation appears to be somewhat binary in nature. Indications from the present study are not really that someone has been lifted out of group thinking and relocated into an individualistic state. Instead, liminally literate persons, although certainly influenced by the array of literate practices that have pressed into their lifeworld, remain at home within their less-literate context. Our research suggests that those of liminal literacy very often can move between abstract and applied ways of seeing, but the potency of the culture that they share with their fellow workers sustains and reinforces their oral working lives. Hence yes, there is such a thing as a little literacy. Sometimes it is partnered with occupational orality and potentially it seems to allow choices within noetic processes, with their subsequent (for liminally literacy persons, more practical) behaviour being conditioned by the nature of their lifeworld. The instances provided by Ong (1982), Zevenbergen (2000) and Lee (1976) help to illustrate that the orientation to the specific rather than the abstract is grounded within settings where people place a strong value on practical solutions to everyday problems, a craft literacy, one directly relevant to and focused upon some particular area of expertise. In such cultures or communities of practice, their learned preferences and aptitudes shape their characteristics of thought and behaviour. Computer programming can be seen as a current example of craft literacy since while it employs artificial ‘languages’ which certainly depend on alphanumeric coding and logical operations and therefore require a certain type of literacy, it is very much a form of craft literacy, not a social literacy (Strate, 2014a, p. 128).

We later return in Chapter Seven to what Daniel Bell (1973) called the imperative in modern contexts for “the primacy of theory over empiricism” and “it is in current post-industrial society that the literate trend to favour abstraction over the practical continues to gather strength” (p. 20) and consider the implications of this perspective. Craft literacy is said to have been fostered from the need for abstract codification systems like mathematics and the alphabet for the purpose of facilitating trade and to achieve efficient communication. Referring to the expanding empire of Babylon in the 2nd century BCE, Innis (2007) recounted how the



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close definition and wide promulgation of set standards for weights and measures applying to food crops such as grains and to the production and trade of artifacts made of metal facilitated trade within a unified but widely-dispersed empire. He reported how [m]‌athematics was studied in relation to accounts, field plans, and calendars. As such, mathematics and other forms of abstraction were essentially a means of reinforcing the main framework, orality, in which everyday business was being done. Mathematical texts were used as supplements to oral instruction and were in the form of concrete examples (Innis, 2007, p. 55).

Then as the alphabet came to be accepted as a recognised part of Greek society a set of important transitions occurred: society was shifting in Plato’s day from a stage of craft literacy, in which some persons knew how to write as others knew how to make vases or to make ships, to a stage of general literacy, in which the ability to write radically affected the storage of knowledge and thus altered man’s [sic] entire view of his lifeworld (Ong, 2002b, p. 309).

Yet abstract codification systems also provided a way for trade and emerging other business relationships to achieve more than would have been possible within earlier societies existing within primary orality. Our study suggests that in some trade contexts the long-standing oral-experiential ways of organising work and getting the job done remain powerful. As in ancient times, textual materials are used in particular to supplement the embodied and experiential character of the workplace. In some ways not much has changed: when primary discourse at work is within oral-experiential modes, abstractions are useful only when they support everyday approaches to understanding and working. One aspect of the apprentices’ position that deserves more in-depth understanding is that they may well have good competencies in oral, face to face communication and understand how to work the multiliteracies of electronic media at a basic level, such as in respect of their Instagram or Snapchat use. Yet they are undermined and are made likely to flounder by an absence of capability in complex levels of literacy, including in electronic forms of communication, where more advanced tasks are involved. Ong (1971) coined the term “literate orality”, meaning the ways in which users of electronic media, while apparently competent in basic use of electronic technology, were still essentially working within a framework of orality. Strate (2012b, p. 106) talked of how [i]‌n essence, literate orality is speech characterized by literate residue. Literate orality can only emerge in chirographic, and usually only in typographic media environments, although it can persist within electronic media environments [and when] … oral expression increasingly reflects the habits of literate styles of composition.

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In the present study, though, the categories of primary, residual, and secondary literacy did not sufficiently account for the situation of the apprentices in the workplaces which we researched. Nor did “literate orality” quite capture the condition of those who are blocked from the comprehensive use of literacy. This encouraged us to think about the state of orality that occurs when adults at work have an impeded extent of literacy but when they find a natural home within the oral-experiential context of their work. De Certeau (1984) maintained that “for the past three centuries learning to write has been the very definition of entering into a capitalist and conquering society” (p. 136). This is the entry-level tension afflicting the apprentices in our investigation. They must learn to read and write to a certain level if they are to find acceptance within the work communities that they aspire to enter, but at the same time, their own newly-accessed communities of practice reject literate mode if taken too far and at the point when it seems to contradict oral-experiential ways of getting the job done. It is possible to see in present-day oral-experiential industrial culture some of what de Certeau referred to: “[t]‌here is a disappearance of the places established by a spoken word, a loss of the identities that people believed they received from a spoken word” (p. 137). Postman and Weingartner (1969, p. 162) said how anxiety, suspicion and pessimism accompany communication changes. Men [sic] tend to resent the intrusion of a new medium of communication and often feel compelled to defend the older medium against anticipated or actual competition.

The resistance we saw among employers and industry training coordinators to what they perceived as the “far too high tech” learning materials written by academics divorced from the realities of the workplace will be connected to their anxieties that their own hard-learned ways of getting the job done were under threat from overly-theorised printed materials. De Certeau also noted that “[w]‌riting becomes a principle of the social hierarchization that formerly privileged the middle class and now privileges the technocrat” (1984, p. 139). Tensions in the present-day industrial scene can be seen as a form of mutually-misunderstanding interactions between oral-experiential versus technical cultures. De Certeau thought that (at least in France, where he spent most of his life) technocrats had captured the initiative in industrial education: the massive installation of standardized teaching has made the intersubjective relationships of traditional apprenticeship impossible: the ‘informing’ technicians have thus been changed, through the systematization of enterprises, into bureaucrats cooped up in their specialities and increasingly ignorant of users (p. 167).

The anxieties expressed by the managers and industry training coordinators whom we interviewed (more fully described in following chapters) quite precisely



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echo the sense of division between information producers and information users that de Certeau was describing. However, in the present research, the state of the traditional apprenticeships we were surveying appears to be rather less fraught than in de Certeau’s account of the situation in France. In this New Zealand study, as the quotations provided in this chapter show, the oral-experiential culture’s unease with the literate educators’ and bureaucrats’ approach to apprentices’ learning demonstrated a mainly passive resistance to the use of such materials. Much of this somewhat subterranean opposition might not have come to light in the absence of research such as ours. A persisting parallel form of traditional on-site embodied learning was evident, that partly acknowledged and made use of, and partly rejected the officially mandated instructional training materials and approaches. De Certeau went on to argue that bureaucrats’ insistence on the primacy of whoever wrote the training materials takes no account of the agency and creativity inherent among the consumers of learning materials. Therefore, it becomes necessary to “discover creative activity where it has been denied that any exists” (p. 167), that is, among the consumers of the instructional materials. Ellul (1985, p. 47), makes a similar observation in his comment: Written language has closed the mind. Like a fist grasping a diamond, it has closed its grammatical and structural trap over a vanishing whisper that it tries to translate through enclosing and containment. But instead, writing snuffs it out, and we must open the straitjacket of writing so that it becomes a freshly spoken word.

Ellul here seems to be describing the power of text to define in precise ways what is being talked about. This is likely to reduce the possibility of different interpretations occurring of what has been discussed in a collective setting, as one person’s or group’s account of what has been decided upon predominates. Consequently, impediments may arise to creative new ways of responding to a particular challenge in a grounded setting. In the present study, interviewees would certainly have taken pride in their abilities to be proactive and creative in their everyday work lives. It may be that in more-oral settings freedom of movement is enhanced when one restrictive definition of how something is to be done has not been written down. Still strongly contested is the question as to the extent to which deep creativity and effective forms of innovation can occur among those with liminal literacy. Wolf (2007, p. 65) maintains that literacy fosters new ways of thinking, opening up cognitive opportunities as “the act of putting spoken words and unspoken thoughts into written words releases and, in the process, changes the thoughts themselves”. Ong (1982) offers a perspective on this issue: “literacy is absolutely

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necessary for the development not only of science but also of history, philosophy, explicative understanding of literature and of any art” (p. 15). Tied to this is an argument that literacy is needed for purposes of innovation given the ways in which strongly oral-experiential cultures tend to be closely oriented to the past, to tradition, and lack the tools for innovative practice. The aggregative character of language used in oral communities was illustrated by Ong (1982) in his comments on how orality is “aggregative rather than analytic” (p. 38). Then people in orality make much use of “clusters of integers, such as parallel terms or phrases and clauses, epithets” with all of these devices serving to help both the speaker and listener remember and focus on key aspects of what is being said. Ong went on to contrast forms of expression in orality and in cultures that are imbued with literacy so that “[o]‌ral expression thus carries a load of epithets and other formulary baggage which high literacy rejects as cumbersome and tiresomely redundant because of its aggregative weight” (p. 38). An accent on the repetition of known facts and a relative absence of orientation to analytic process is likewise argued to impede the ability to think and converse in innovative ways. This is because an everyday habituation in reproducing spoken formulaic material moulds the character of the discourse into conservative patterns of mind and speech. Returning to the idea of liminality and literacy’s threshold, this chapter has addressed the situation of apprentices with low functional literacy in English who are completing the bookwork to meet the formal demands of their apprenticeship. As they enter the oral-experiential world of the trade setting, they already possess and are further developing many literacies of their body, of tools and materials, and as such have some proven capabilities in learning from and usefully interacting with others on the job. Yet since the apprentices were only on the threshold of literacy, having some skills in the manipulation of texts, their reading and writing were far from sufficient to cope well with workplace written tasks they had to complete. In their trade learning, they were tasked with becoming sufficiently literate with texts to a level that would permit them to handle the textual requirements of their occupation. Their workplaces’ strong oral-experiential character is suggested by the statistic that appears to be quite typical in a variety of OECD countries that up to around 44% of those aged 16–65 in industrialised societies are considered to possess literacy that is insufficient for modern, complex workplaces (OECD, 2013). Very likely the apprentices will have little contact in their everyday interactions with those whose lives are led within literate culture such as “the academics” who wrote their textual trade learning materials. Similarly, nor will the managers, supervisors, and industry training coordinators who



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together form the industrial context that shapes and reinforces the apprentices’ oral-experiential world. Drucker (1979, p. 261) described the gulf between “practical people” and “the academics” that was predominant in even the largest US organisations during his time as a management consultant from the 1940s onward. He quoted General Motors’ CEO Alfred Sloan as saying, “I don’t think we ought to give the public the impression that you need a degree to make a career in American industry … I’d rather stress our people who started as machinists or store clerks”. Drucker recounted how [i]‌t is hard to imagine today that less than forty years ago, higher education was still a liability rather than an asset, not only in manufacturing industry but in banking and even in government service … [with a widespread] prejudice against the formally schooled man [sic] as ‘impractical’ (p. 261).

This disparity between the perceived qualities of a so-called practical person versus a theoretician aligns well with what has been said of more-oral and more-literate forms of cognition and communication. However, the discrepancy suggests still-unanswered questions about the nature of more-oral and more-literate work practices and assumptions that fuel this sense of a dichotomy that as Drucker reported, was very powerful in people’s minds, and as the present study indicates, still exists in some workplace settings. The apprentices’ liminal status in terms of their difficulties in employing printed texts suggested that they lived in a state of orality to varying extents. In our current and precursor studies (Comrie, Vaccarino, Culligan, Sligo, Tilley & Franklin, 2006) we had discovered many ways in which those who struggled with their literacy had devised different evasive routines to conceal their situation. Their means of coping with insufficient literacy capabilities were as diverse as the persons themselves, but in each case, their world had to be one that creatively circumvented the incessant presence of texts in the workplace and community to which present-day societies have become so accustomed. In essence, apprentices were placed in the problematic reality of having to serve two masters with unaligned goals, one being the government-funded industry literacy programme and the other their workplace’s assumptions about human interaction at work. As such the apprentices were unwilling Trojan Horses of government’s literacy aspirations for industry, being unwitting agents of an upskilling that did not happen or happened much less than had been hoped. Ong (1982) commented that “orally managed language and thought are not noted for analytic precision” (p. 104). Yet given that orality in the oral-experiential workplace is only one of an integrated package of communication forms and

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is threaded through a collection of embodied forms of communication at work, close precision in word use is not necessarily needed in order to get the job done. Clarity in communication emerges from reading the kaleidoscope of signals provided in on-site interpersonal interchange, including verbal, nonverbal, phatic, and other forms of communication. Rather, it is in literate culture that precision comes to be needed since in this context communication becomes relatively divorced from embodied forms of interaction. It is more reliant on exactness of word choice, appositeness of phrasing, precision in categorising, grammar and construction of sentences, etc., none of which matters in the same way in an oral-experiential setting. In literate settings, it is words and numbers rather than observable behaviour that mould the interactions within relationships and so are the means by which collective endeavours are or are not achieved. All this leads to the potential for misunderstanding between literate and oral-experiential cultures, with each side possessing difficulties in understanding how the other operates. Chadwick (1997, p. 35) comments on this misunderstanding when in the 2nd century BCE the expanding Roman Empire clashed with pre-literate Celtic societies throughout Europe: The practical importance of eloquence, the paramount need of an illiterate people to make a desired impression by the spoken word, is largely responsible for many of their characteristics which appeared as childish weaknesses to their more advanced contemporaries, and do so to us today.

But the “more advanced”, that is, the literate, may in their turn be viewed with distrust by those who live in more oral worlds, as Ong observed. In such subcultures the “functional orality” to be found there will have its members “feel writing as a threat, a destruction of their psychic world, however desirable writing may be” (1977, p. 257). Here writing may not be an especially desirable form of communication; rather it may be equated as something to be resisted as antithetical to normal oral-experiential processes. Moreover, even as people who are more imbued with orality’s assumptions smart at an assumed disparagement coming from the more-literate, they may also be perfectly well aware of how well “adult men and women, middle-aged and older … often have coped with life more adroitly and more successfully than their literate critics” (Ong, 2002a, p. 474). Ong said that “of course all language and thought are to some extent analytic … But written words sharpen analysis, for the individual words are called upon to do more” (1982, p.  102). That is, words carry a larger burden in the absence of other forms of communication and so both the words and the manner of their phrasing need to convey more than in oral-experiential settings where other means of communication are possible.



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The next chapter goes into how the apprentices’ situation played out for the literacy tutors who were attempting to enter that world. It reports on how tutors had to come to terms with how apprentices with liminal literacy were faced with the challenge of having to enter two distinct communities (or discourses) simultaneously, the trade community, which possesses a strongly oral dimension in its everyday work activities, and the broader adult community of practised print-users. The apprentices already possessed oral-experiential literacies of the body, of tools and materials, but lacked print and writing literacy. The dominant discourses within trade communities were both overtly and covertly undermining the tacit assumptions within print-user interactions such as those which literacy tutors employed in their efforts to assist the apprentices. Apprentices wanted to engage with literacy only to an extent that would permit them to complete their book work and their book or theory studies were largely a literate means to an oral-experiential workplace end. However, the test for the tutors was that employers, industry training coordinators (and ultimately some literacy tutors as well) agreed that literacy should not be privileged at the expense of other workplace demands.

chapter three

The Literacy Tutors

Our Department of Labour contract to carry out a formative evaluation of a programme to advance apprentices’ literacy gave us great access to a wide collection of people at the coalface as it were in respect of adult literacy in industrial settings. One of the most interesting groups comprised the literacy tutors whose work with the apprentices and their outcomes we were asked to assess. As this chapter describes, tutors felt confounded and much tested by the pressures placed on them, and from their experience, good insights emerged into the nature of how to facilitate improved literacy among young marginalised individuals. Literacy tutors working in places that have a strong oral dimension are an important and interesting group to study. This is because they see themselves very much as members of an imagined community of readers that greatly values literacy, but they need to partially depart from that world to find acceptance and achieve some positive outcomes in working within the norms of a world that may be new to them, which operates on different (oral-experiential) principles. For the period of their service to liminally-literate apprentices, tutors were suspended between two worlds, affected by both but not fully operating within the assumptions of either. One world comprises oral-experiential industrial communities, a proportion of whose inhabitants are liminally literate, and all of whom employ craft-related literacy to achieve their collective workplace goals. The other world of high literacy is one that the tutors are much more familiar with, and



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it is comprised of those for whom books are an important part of their lives, whose cognition and communication are influenced by complexly written digital or print texts. This chapter also addresses disparate ways of work, noting Albrecht’s (2004, p. 56) reference to how media ecology emphasises “the role of technology in structuring the form by which information is transmitted, recorded, and collectively understood”. Our assessment of the tutor-workplace relationship necessarily involves a consideration of technology in use (as broadly defined within the context of “techne”, from the Greek τέχνη, which might be understood as the craft within which people carry out their work and which in turn shapes them). This assessment notes the tension that exists between two technologies. One is the tangible forms of techne that exemplify the hands-on workplace, while the second, partly supporting and partly opposed to the first, is the literate, objectified, abstract realm of the literacy tutors. Strate (2006, p. 23), referring to Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that the medium is the message, explains the media or technologies that we use play a leading role in how and what we communicate, how we think, feel, and use our senses, and in our social organization, way of life, and world view

all of which is true of both the apprentices grounded in their community of practice, and the tutors, equally securely sustained within theirs. Drucker (1979, p.  253) warns though that “[t]‌he interaction between the ‘medium’ and the ‘message’ is more profound than McLuhan’s aphorism has it; neither determines the other, but each shapes the other”. He goes on to say that technology “changes man [sic] and his personality and what man is – or perceives himself to be – just as much as it changes what he can do”. For such reasons, particular difficulties existed for literacy tutors who found themselves in a problematic position in attempting to introduce their students to fuller forms of literacy. They were surprised to learn something that they had not anticipated and which they had never encountered before in their previous experience with assisting adult learners, which was that the apprentices were uninterested in literacy as such. Instead, they were motivated primarily to join a workplace community of practice reported on in more detail in Chapter Four. Tutors talked of their new realisation that these industrial learners were seeking sufficient literacy to enable them to attain their goal of membership of a workplace communal setting and to perform particular tasks well within that community. Yet literacy for its own sake was not a priority for them, and for many was something to be resisted. The rest of this chapter unpacks some of the implications of this finding.

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This chapter lays out what was learned from the 10 literacy tutors, here designated as A to J, whom we interviewed both in the New Zealand South Island (Otago and Marlborough provinces) and North Island (Waikato, Auckland and Northland provinces). Interviews were recorded and transcripts typed out, with interviewees then contacted and given the opportunity to correct the transcripts or to withdraw their permission for use of their interviews. The tutors explained to us how their work with these apprentices contrasted from what they were accustomed to in their prior teaching of adult literacy students. More typically the tutors were used to serving the needs of willing learners, often in middle age, who arrived at adult literacy training out of their own volition. Such learners nearly always voiced a sense of frustration that their insufficient literacy was impeding their everyday life activities or life prospects in various ways. They might have realised that any further advancement at work was blocked to them unless they increased their literacy. Some wanted to get more engaged in community activities or volunteering but felt that literacy problems impeded this. Some felt embarrassed that they had difficulties in reading to their children at night. These mature learners might also have become familiar with a kind of class distinction as they encountered what for Goody (1987, p. 162) was “the ‘high’ culture of the consumers of books and the ‘low’ culture of those confined to the oral register”. New Zealand claims to possess a relatively less class-structured society than some, but even so, anyone feeling themselves confined to so-called low culture is still likely to feel a sense of exclusion and looked down upon by those who are better able to read. Goody further pointed out that as societies instituted compulsory education for children: [t]‌he differentiation into high (derived from the written) and low (primarily oral) was not simply a division of the kind of cultural activity, it was also a matter of the division of labour. Some jobs (the scribal, bureaucratic, academic jobs) needed literacy; for many productive jobs … it was far from essential. The kinds of knowledge involved in the first set of activities was [sic] increasingly valued more highly than the ‘practical’ knowledge, knowledge by experience, the knowledge of the bricoleur, as well as of the craftsman, which was acquired by some form of participation, apprenticeship, family labour, servanthood. But with compulsory schooling there is an increasing tendency at the popular urban level to see proper knowledge as from books alone (Goody, 1987, pp. 162–3).

The apprentices, though, were unlike the literacy tutors’ usual adult learners. Although diagnosed in the workplace as having an extent of literacy that did not sufficiently equip them for their work, they had often not recognised the need to advance their capability further. Or if the apprentices’ self-diagnosis had led



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them to the view that they had to upgrade their skills, often they would feel so disempowered and daunted by what they recalled as their failure at school that they were very resistant to attending anything that reminded them again of the classroom. Apprentices generally tended to think, or at least say that they thought, that their practical on-site abilities enabled them to get by for everyday life purposes. Unlike older literacy learners, they had not elected to attend these lessons (“I don’t need this, I’ve just been sent here”) (reported by Tutor A). Some similarities existed, though, in that apprentices did eventually receive a very positive experience from these lessons. They were greatly relieved that their one-to-one tutoring bore little resemblance to what had invariably been their unhappy classroom experience at school. The data analysis that we undertook of interviews with tutors suggested three major themes: (1) tutors’ role ambiguity; (2) apprentices working in oral and experiential modes rather than in a print-literate mode; and (3) tutors reverting to an instrumental approach to their teaching in response to this. 1. Tutors’ role ambiguity. The literacy tutoring programme that we were evaluating was a new national initiative hence it was unsurprising that some tutors and their managers lacked clarity about what their main priorities were supposed to be: “Are we their minder as far as the apprenticeship is concerned, or are we teaching them or are we helping them with their assignments?” (Tutor H). Tutor D thought that “I was told at the beginning you are really helping him with his literacy, you’re not really helping him with his unit standards, you’re helping him with his literacy so he can complete his unit standards”. Given the newness of the programme some unclear instructions seemed to have been provided to tutors, with a lack of clear information as to where a definitive account of tutoring practices could be found. It seemed though that tutors were supposed to be focusing in the first instance on building the apprentice’s literacy rather than having the tutoring concentrate on the apprentices’ industrial workbook materials. Tutor D commented on how “the thing he was working on was the evaluator sheet so he was trying to answer questions that an evaluator would actually ask of him orally. It just didn’t make any sense”. Misunderstandings about how apprentices were to be helped revealed an absence of a clear direction and planning about how to advance literacy in workplace functioning. Tutor H told us that: “So you know his … [industry training] co-ordinator gave [apprentice] a report which he brought to me, and he said, ‘you’ve got to be doing this, this and this, and you haven’t been doing it’ and I didn’t even know we had to do it … it’s applying what you’ve learnt to the practice so you’ve got to fill in when you use cross-cuts saw, what you used it for … he got told off for not using the book, so now we’re spending a bit of time on that book”.

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Understandably some tutors reverted to what they knew had worked with their previous adult literacy clients, coaching apprentices through the mechanics of literacy: “I’ve been working on just the normal things like spelling, talking to him about what sorts of words he needs to do his unit standards that he’s going to need in his work … proper use of words, letter sounds and we’re just starting from scratch with the alphabet and sounds and initial consonants” (Tutor D). As described further below, tutors felt pressured by the short amount of time available to them to assist apprentices, meaning they quickly had to make hard decisions as to what they could and could not do to assist their learners. They found it was normally not possible to undertake work of revising what their apprentice had written or to reinforce their capability in literacy. Tutors talked of how they soon felt they were part of a conveyor-belt mode of teaching, and quickly their attention in most cases turned to the actual workbooks within which the apprentice had to demonstrate their aptitude. Some tutors found this approach easy to relate to in that it focused them on an explicit task that at least temporarily resolved previous lack of clarity about what should take precedence in their work, as with Tutor J: “What I love about it is that in the general field of adult literacy sometimes the goals that you are trying to achieve are somewhere in the distance you can’t see them. But with this, it’s very tangible you know okay we’ve got these books to do, let’s get into them … the objective is very simple … just get to the end of book four”. Nevertheless, tutors still felt conflicted by the disparate character of what they were aiming to do  – even those who liked the empirical character of just “doing the books” as it were, experienced role ambiguity that did not exist in respect of the work they were more accustomed to with other adult students. Since tutors were highly committed to serving the apprentices, they were relieved that they were not falling by the wayside out of insufficient literacy, and mainly appeared to be on track to complete the requisite written work. Yet tutors felt troubled that their traditional role of creating literate and engaged members of their community could not exist for them in this industrial learning context. From their previous experience in assisting adult learners, tutors knew that successfully getting underway with writing entails unfamiliar skills. Ideas are no longer formulated in interaction with others, usually face to face. Instead what is written must take on a life of its own, to be authored alone and presented in a logical, linear manner that will introduce that piece of writing to the unknown people who might encounter it: There are no live persons facing the writer to clarify his thinking by their reactions. There is no feedback. There are no auditors to look pleased or puzzled. This is a desperate world, a terrifying world, a lonely, unpeopled world, not at all the world of natural oral-aural exchange (Ong, 2002a, p. 470).



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This reality was all the more gut-wrenching for those of liminal literacy who knew that their previous efforts to make the transition into literacy had failed, and who blamed themselves for that failure. Compounding the tutors’ situation was a mismatch between modes of communication. Ong (1982) has pointed to the difficulties that people with good literacy may experience on encountering oral-experiential culture. He stressed the visual character of literacy and contended that the dissociation of words from writing “is psychologically threatening. For literates’ sense of control over language is closely tied to the visual transformations of language” (p.  14) and “without dictionaries, written grammar rules, punctuation and all the rest of the apparatus that makes words into something you can ‘look’ up, how can literates live?” (p. 14). Along similar lines, de Certeau talks of how “our society is characterized by a cancerous growth of vision, measuring everything by its ability to show or be shown and transmuting communication into a visual journey” and how the economy calls for “a hypertrophic development of reading” (p. xxi). Such predominance of visuality and its associated accent on reading is said to be one way in which the more aural and oral world of oral-experiential culture is being dominated and suppressed. 2. Oral and experiential modes. Tutors told us of the apprentices’ abilities in oral communication and in learning via mimesis and by practical hands-on activities in place of learning through printed texts. Tutor D commented, “He knows the jargon and explains things to me … all I can do when I’m trying to help him is write what he says because I don’t know enough about it to even make suggestions about it, but he seems … quite confident when he’s talking about it, it’s just getting down on paper”. Here the tutor is attesting that indeed the apprentice did understand his topic and had a good oral command of it for the benefit of an industry outsider, and so the apprentice’s spoken communication abilities were not in question. Marchand (2008) has pointed to how “[m]‌asonry and carpentry … are communicated, understood and negotiated between practitioners largely without words, and learning is achieved primarily through observation, mimesis and repeated exercise” (p.  247). He noted how ideation occurred in a physical dimension so that “ideas took shape in the coordinated activities of eyes, ears, hands and tools” (p. 248). Tutors realised that they had to consider the apprentices’ history of not doing well at school, which had trained them into shunning literacy-based practices if they were able to. Tutor B: “They obviously have never done well at school and therefore if you’re not very good at it you’re not going to like it. I  mean they don’t like theory; they don’t like writing”. As discussed in the previous chapter, writers such as Luria, Ong, Zevenbergen, and Lee have said how in oral contexts

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there is a strong tendency for people to see little practical relevance in theoretical considerations if there is an evident alternative that is practical in character. Marchand (2008) cited the example of Yemeni builders with whom he worked whose approach to their building of domestic dwellings was intuitive in nature, not using drawings or any evident written measurements, and “nor did they use mathematical ratios to gauge … relational dimensions … Instead the master mason … judged the proportions to be correct when they ‘filled his eye’ [and]… asserted confidently that the knowledge was contained in his head” (p.  253). Similarly, Ong (1967, p. 234) believed that “[a]‌master craftsman could show how to do something, but like almost all craftsmen even today, was quite incapable of explaining in elaborate verbal detail the processes he knew so well”. In our observation, though, even if a craftsperson could provide a narrative describing in fine detail some workplace operation, it is unlikely that they would want to do so. They would know from experience that teaching and learning are better accomplished in such settings by a combination of embodied means including showing, instruction of ‘do what I do’, and allowing an apprentice to practise under observation. The tutors’ observation that “they don’t like theory” is useful for how it illustrates the applied character of apprentices’ thinking and preferred actions. There is an intimate connection between theory and written forms of expression, and both are equally a turn-off for apprentices who in most cases are familiar only with an oral-experiential setting. A particular challenge for the tutors was inherent in what Sanders (1995, p. 219) referred to as the necessity to abide by an absolutely strict set of rules of grammar and syntax and spelling. Rule and regulation serve as the bridge from orality to literacy. To travel to the literate side, a person must accept authority.

The apprentices were certainly open to authority, but the authority that they wanted to accept was that of the (practice-based, male, trade-specialist) workplace, not the (theory-oriented, female, outsider) literacy programme. Tutor E: “Apprentices are not really interested in actually learning to read and write … all they want to do is get through the heap of manuals … although they are looking at the words they are not actually reading”. This remark is revealing in its description of how the apprentice is working with the tutor instrumentally: while to an outside observer it might appear that the apprentice is learning to read, in fact, he seems to be getting the tutor to help him to progress through the workbooks. The aim is to get beyond “the heap of manuals,” as doing so is key to returning to the security of the oral-experiential workplace. Tutors were encountering the contradictions inherent in their role. Apprentices wanted the



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tutors to meet them on their practice-based industrial home ground where problems would be addressed by immediate and instrumental means. However, the tutors knew that learning to read requires objectivity and distance, as suggested by Ong, in that writing and print dissociate the reader from actuality to a degree at the same time that they can make him or her more responsive, indirectly and reflexively, to actuality. To achieve understanding, human beings need distance as well as proximity (Ong, 1977, p. 300).

Apprentices’ difficulties in coping with print were compounded by their anxiety level. Tutor J: “When they see these four great books in front of them and they look at them and they realise I’ve got to work right through the four of them you know they’re just sort of stunned”. For some of the apprentices, it might have been the first time they had ever been confronted with complex writing. If a child is raised in a home with no books, and if their school experience failed to engage them in reading, then the book as artifact is both unfamiliar and threatening. Our literacy research had been entirely with adults rather than children, and we made no specific enquiries about participants’ memories of school, but they consistently wanted to tell us about how difficult and unhappy their experiences had been there. Apprentices normally would leave school at the minimum departure age or sooner, with their literacy and numeracy generally at a low level. As described, tutors were closely oriented to the apprentices’ needs, and were fully familiar with the struggles they had faced: Tutor B: “Most of them have never passed any exams or anything like that”. Tutor D reported how the apprentice “wants to get all the written stuff over and done with so he doesn’t have to do it anymore”. All the apprentices wanted to do was to get back to the refuge of their oral-experiential community and become free of unattainable literacy expectations. While we learned from these young men that they valued their tutors’ support of them, their one-to-one sessions appeared to them typically as a disruption to their real goal of being accepted into the industrial workplace. Notwithstanding this, a proportion of the apprentices did progress in their reading, writing, and numeracy, with evident benefits to their self-assurance and self-respect. Yet the apprentices were never going to become literate in ways or to an extent that those whose experience is in a literate world might think of it. The apprentices were already becoming secure within their industrial communities’ oral-experiential world and this formed an implicit contrast to the world of their literacy tutors. Tutor E: “Mostly you have to remember that apprentices are not interested in learning reading/ writing or spelling. … They do not see the relationship of

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literacy and practical work working together to make a complete unit”. Tutors’ analyses of this kind show the binary nature of workplace practices and literacy. The apprentices were not alone in this view, being reinforced in it by their industry training coordinators and supervisors. Even some literacy tutors came to share this view, perhaps reinforced as tutors built their awareness of apprentices’ practical expertise in hands-on activities: “Where there is diagrams, he’s pretty good on doing that, he actually likes doing that” (Tutor F). Diagrams being mainly in pictorial not alpha-numeric form are recognised as being less threatening to work with, or in Ong’s view, “apprenticeship involved vision but not much conversion of the visualizable into words” (1967, p. 258). Diagrams are also likely to be visual depictions of layouts or artifacts within the workplace context, hence much easier to relate to than printed words. Liminally literate apprentices will be drawn to the use of images in their everyday work such as illustrations in work manuals, flowcharts, YouTube howto-do-it videos, etc., and will be confident in their use of such media. But “by no means should the visual image be confused with the abstract visualism that Ong identifies in print culture” (Strate, 2012b, p. 108). Chapter Seven later returns to questions of visualism in times of transition from high literacy to what Albrecht (2004, p. 396) called “the technological hurricane that stands at the center of our times”. Strate had earlier referred to “the shift from the largely oral/ aural modes of communication, consciousness, and culture associated with scribal culture, and towards an increasingly more dominant visualism” (2006, p. 35). However, liminally literate people have retained important characteristics of the oral/aural, but the turn towards practice-based visualism in their instance has especially featured the acceptance of diagrams and similar visual aids to support their foundational orality, indicating how “oral/aural biases persist in residual form in literate cultures” (Strate, 2006, p. 36). Peter Drucker (1979, p.  270) told an extraordinary story of how advanced forms of learning in a high-technology setting may proceed via non-literate means. He recounted how during World War II General Motors in Detroit won a contract for manufacturing high-precision bombsights, requiring the recruitment of many highly skilled mechanics and machinists. However, the demands of the war meant that no such expertise was available. Accordingly, [t]‌he only labor to be found in Detroit were superannuated Negro prostitutes. To everybody’s horror Nick Dreystadt hired some 2000 of them. ‘But hire their madams too,’ he said. ‘They know how to manage the women.’ Very few of the women could read and the job required following long instructions. ‘We don’t have time to teach them to read,’ said Nick, ‘and few would learn to anyhow.’ So he went to the



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workbench and himself machined a dozen of the bombsights. When he knew how to do it, he had a movie camera take a film of the process. He mounted the film frames separately on a projector and synchronized them with a flow diagram in which a red light went on to show the operator what she had already done, a green light for what she had to do next, and a yellow light to show what to make sure of before taking the next step … Within a few weeks these unskilled illiterates were turning out better work and in larger quantity than highly skilled machinists had done before.

In this example, intensive training using practical visual rather than literate methods achieved high-quality outcomes. Much may be learned from this story about the ingenuity and adaptability of the teacher and the taught. It should be noted however that the manufacture of WWII-era bombsights, while undoubtedly high-tech in that context, was focused on producing a single, standardised output that conformed to exact specifications. Hence creativity, as might have been needed in a situation such as if the bombsights were to be subject to continuous improvement, was not relevant to the context as described. In their interviews, tutors kept returning to the issue of apprentices’ practical capabilities, as Tutor G remarked: “A lot of these people are very practically oriented, they like doing things physically”. Here the tutor was acknowledging the embodied character of the apprentices’ work. Or “He’d like to get all this written and all the reading stuff out of the way so he can just get on and do the practical work”. Explanations of this nature emphasise the dualistic character of theory and practice, each lacking connection with the other. Or “He’s quite passionate about what he’s doing, it’s just getting the paperwork done” (Tutor D). The previous chapter addressed Luria’s finding of how those who live in mainly oral settings demonstrated a continual straining towards the practical and an evasion of the theoretical. As already mentioned, if shown a picture of a circle, even if the speaker knew the word “circle”, their grounding in the practical character and artifacts of everyday life would cause them to prefer “plate” rather than circle, or “door” rather than rectangle. Similarly, in the present study, the evidence seems to be that all involved were aware of the existence of theory as opposed to practice, but the connections between the two seem to have been slender. Some tutors revealed their strategy of trying to shift the discourse frame into a setting that apprentices would find more comfortable. Tutor E expressed the importance of trying to work within their apprentice’s oral-experiential context to help them to build their literacy skills in that more familiar setting: That is why they learn better if we talk the answers through, I write it down then they copy, it is a better option than trying to teach them just to read and write. It is a far more practical solution and these people are practical. Also, many of them lack

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the ability to concentrate on reading and writing for any length of time … this way at least they come back as they see the progress of achieving another few pages done in their books.

The tutor’s observation about apprentices being challenged by the task of concentrating on print evokes Ong’s (1982) view that writing is difficult since constant attention must be paid to the characters shown on page or screen. Chapter Seven returns to this issue with commentary about literacy brain, and how literacy rewires “the functional architecture of thought” (Donald, 2001, p. 302). Tutors showed their adaptability in working with apprentices in modes that they felt able to handle. Tutor H talked about how coaching had shifted from literate to oral mode: “We have a system where he doesn’t read everything, we don’t look at the notes, we sit and discuss the notes, talk about what it’s all about then we look at the questions and I’ll say what the question is about”. Here Tutor H comments on the transition into teaching in a discursive form that the learner could cope with. The literacy tutors voiced their feelings of ambiguity in their roles as teachers and ill-assorted expectations regarding their priorities. As previously signalled in Chapter Two, the tutors felt themselves to be suspended between two worlds and between incompatible assumptions about what they were supposed to be achieving and just how they were supposed to do it. Given the tight restrictions on both funding and time available to them to assist apprentices, were they there to build literacy or to get apprentices through their bookwork? It became evident to us that we needed to understand the nature of this problem in more detail and to see if we could identify ways to reduce the dilemmas that tutors told us they were experiencing (Sligo, Tilley, Murray & Comrie, 2019). The interviews revealed substantial quandaries for the tutors, both in role ambiguity in their teaching role, along with what was for them a novel experience of working with liminally-literate apprentices who understood literacy in highly instrumental ways. Acutely, the limit of 30 hours available to them to help apprentices, as described above, created stark constraints on what tutors might achieve in building conventional literacy. These factors converged to drive tutors into a very instrumental approach to their work with the apprentices. 3. Instrumental approach. We learned from the interviews that tutors quickly became familiar with the stresses and worries that these apprentices had experienced, especially unaddressed failure in (or rather by) their schooling and their problems with literacy. It became evident that tutors sought ways to support their student’s situation, including by becoming their scribe in their tutorial sessions. As already observed, it had been assumed that the apprentices were to be assisted in becoming more literate, and it was certainly not envisaged by the programme’s



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instigators that any tutors would undertake the job of being a scribe. However, the constrained arrangements for both apprentice and tutor in that only a maximum of 30 hours was permitted for the tutoring brought tutors to the understanding that a more instrumental orientation would be needed. In an ideal setting tutors would have been committed to apprentices building their skills in literacy. Their whole previous experience in teaching adult students had confirmed for them that increases in literacy facilitated achievements in self-esteem and abilities in diverse areas. They also accepted that the programme had been designed with the same goal in mind. Tutor C commented, “Yes they do want them to get their books done but at the same time they want them to be able to have that confidence to move on themselves, to know that it’s going to be a huge benefit to their work”. As already reported, though, while some tutors got underway with teaching literacy practices in ways they were familiar with, this did not seem to last very long, as tutoring became more oriented to an instrumental approach to help the apprentices to complete their prescribed bookwork. The perceived demands on tutors to assume responsibility for a proportion of the apprentices’ literacy learning was indicated by Tutor G, in the comment that “there needs to be a combination of skills between ourselves doing the sort of academic stuff from a theoretical point of view and maybe coming off the notes that students have, to the tradesperson who has years of experience of applying that stuff”. This signals an informal division of labour. The literacy tutor here undertakes to create the written outputs in the workbooks that in theory the apprentice is meant to be completing, while the role of the apprentice is to produce concepts and a rough draft that the tutor will turn into more formal script. Tutors talked about what had previously impacted apprentices to justify the approach they felt they had to take. Tutor J: “They have been defeated … a number of times and they don’t like to write because they make spelling mistakes and their handwriting isn’t very good. So my answer to that is, ‘Okay I’m here to help you, you do the thinking, you figure out the answers, we’ll figure out the answers to the questions together and because I’m a faster writer than you then we can get more done by me actually doing the writing’ ”. Note that the tutor is charging the apprentice with the responsibility to “figure out the answers” in the first instance. Then there seems to be a transition to a further stage of determining answers as a joint activity. It could be inferred that the tutor is seeking to operate first on the apprentice’s ground of orality, then is making a shift into a shared process of meaning-making partly through incorporating some literacy practices. Tutor D: “He was struggling so much to get these unit standards done … his time, his contract is running out … so we’ve really got the pressure on … and then I met with him last night at six p.m. and acted as his writer and he dictated

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stuff to me just to make a bit of progress into his units”. Here the tutor is acknowledging that if he did not serve as a scribe then potentially the apprentice would fail in his bookwork. Tutor F: “As we come across a word if it’s difficult and he’s having trouble with it we will break it down bit by bit and then yeah I will as we go I will note them in his notebook”. There seems to be a divide in this instance between reading and writing. At this time the tutor is helping the apprentice to read printed words in the learning materials. Yet when words have to be written down, the tutor accepts responsibility for this dimension, apparently with the act of writing at least certain words accepted as too problematic a task. Tutor D reported, “Once I found out that this timeframe was so short I said well this is what you’ve got to do especially in this economic climate; if he leaves that work without having finished his apprenticeship I don’t know what would happen to him”. From this, it is evident that the tutor is closely aligned to the learner’s needs, adjusting their teaching practices to the apprentice’s situation. Tutor B said, “My first pupil he was a young volunteer fireman and he wanted to get through the professional pre-training. So we got him through the course”. Or Tutor E:  “Some of them are quite happy to just do what is needed to get through and get their work signed off”. That is, the tutor seems to have arrived at the pragmatic place that the apprentice is not about to become more literate, and so has acceded with the reality that the two of them are to collaborate in using the apprentice’s oral-experiential world in order to learn. Similarly, Tutor J reported, “I try to find out where are you through your course of your practical and how much do we have to do to get you to where we are to finish this? And then it becomes a race against time in that the guy has got six or eight months to go, and you’ve got one and a half books to do”. Tutors often pointed out that it was quite unrealistic for them to be expected to create literacy when ten or more years of schooling had failed to do so: “If they have struggled all through school there is no way you are going to fix all their problems in 30 hours” (Tutor E) so that insights of this nature built their realisation that often they had to serve in the role of scribe. Notwithstanding this, there were no indications that tutors were taking over the role of providing answers to save the apprentice from having to do so. The main exception to this observation, as already noted, was that problem-solving not unusually was collective with both the apprentice in oral-experiential mode and the tutor employing literacy practices to jointly make progress through the bookwork. Instead, tutors would often look after the mechanics of literacy, especially annotating the workbooks, while the apprentice seemed to have a reasonable command of the thought processes that would produce a sufficient answer to the set questions.



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In this way, apprentices were bolstered in an educational process through the strong commitment from their tutors. Tutors’ wish to serve apprentices was evident. Tutor J: “You know they’re great guys to work with; I haven’t got one of them that I don’t like. Some of them I would really like to give a boot up the backside so they’d get going. But basically they’re tremendous young men and you know I feel very proud to be helping them”. For some learners, it may have been the first time that they had received consistent, caring, one-to-one tutoring. We heard from both tutors and apprentices about increased confidence and self-efficacy: “We had been working I think two or three sessions … and one comment was how noticeable was the difference in his attitude in the workplace … he was much happier, he was more motivated in what he was doing … he has an awakening awareness of his own worth I think” (Tutor C). Despite their discovery that a pragmatic instrumental approach was needed, tutors did not necessarily feel comfortable with what they had to do: “The major problem though is that we’re not actually teaching literacy or numeracy, we’re getting through the book. Their sole aim is to finish that particular assignment, it’s not to learn how to read or write or do maths … you could try and encourage them to read more or encourage them to write more, you can’t, but they’re not that interested” (Tutor H). This suggests a realisation that the division between standard industrial practice and the assumptions of literacy is so deep that there seemed little point in trying to argue for the benefits of addressing trade and literacy in integrated ways. Apprentices were normally self-conscious about their literacy and Tutor E talked about the process in assisting apprentices who did not wish to disclose their abilities: “You have to be a bit sneaky, so you concentrate on the question making sure they can read what is wanted. Often they will be able to follow the example but if you turn the page and there is another question similar, that is when they get caught out. If you can make it into a joke and make it fun so they are not embarrassed they will come around and admit their reading is ‘not the best’ ”. Here the tutor accounts for how the apprentice has seemed to master a particular question, but their apparent ability probably has resulted from memorising the context and by inferring the subject matter through the tutor’s comments. However, recall alone is not sufficient when a second question, or a more complex version of the first one occurs, as the apprentice has insufficient reading knowledge to grasp that Q.1 is congruent with Q.2. The issue of memory and literacy is taken further in Chapter Seven. Tutor E remarked that “Even if you can read well, finding the answers is not always that simple, sometimes the wording is confusing, since the wording used is not always what is used on site by different workers”. This may stem from poorly-written learning materials but also implied may be the different

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terminologies available to educators the bulk of whose experience is within a literate world. Tutors described the thoroughness needed if the apprentice was to pass their units: “They don’t keep their diaries because you know they don’t have the discipline to sit down and actually write things out … so you’ve got two problems really, you’ve got one problem that the guy hasn’t done his assignments and the second problem is that the guy in a lot of cases hasn’t kept an accurate diary of what he’s been doing” (Tutor J). Tutors noted apprentices’ avoidance of anything related to literacy activities:  Tutor B:  “… there was some concern with any industry that apprentices were not finishing their course. I heard the figure of 50% not getting through … I would put that down to not the vast majority, not the practical side of things, is they weren’t getting through their theory”. One of the interesting issues raised by our finding that tutor and apprentice were collaborating in a more-oral context, since realistically the opportunity did not exist to greatly advance the apprentice’s literacy, is whether an oral world is itself sufficient to permit someone to work at a high level of cognitive complexity. Ong (1982) proposes that in a wholly oral society the answer to this would be no:  “Oral folk … cannot organize elaborate concatenations of causes in the analytic kind of linear sequences which can only be set up with the help of texts” (p. 57). The apprentices in this study do not live in a wholly oral society, and inevitably are highly influenced by the textual world that surrounds them. Yet that scriptural ecosystem unavoidably has less impact on a person who possesses only liminal literacy than it does on those with good literacy. Ong said that “logic itself emerges from the technology of writing. Analytic explicatory thought has grown out of oral wisdom only gradually, and perhaps is still divesting itself of oral residues as we accommodate our conceptualizations to the computer age” (1982, p. 169). Oral residue is considered to be one of the enduring elements in our oral heritage, and comprises “features of thought and expression, even in written discourse, that are designed to help expression sound impressive and memorable” (Farrell, 2002, p. 55). Meyrowitz (1985, p. 222) proposes that [l]‌iterate thinking emphasizes linear arguments, cause and effect relationships, abstractions, and categorizations. For highly literate societies, this is the only proper way to think. The intuitive, holistic, and ‘unsystematic’ thinking of preliterate societies … has been ridiculed as ‘irrational’. The returning importance of nonlinear forms of communication through the use of electronic media, however, may be blurring traditional stereotypical distinctions … and bringing about renewed interest in ‘non-rational’ forms of thought.



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Chapter Seven returns to the matter of cognition and communication via electronic media, but meanwhile, it remains a contested topic as to what extent a given person’s capability in applied analytical cognition in the workplace is dependent on his or her literacy. Cognitive theorists have answered this question to their own satisfaction (Carr, 2010; Donald, 2001; Jones, 1997; Wolf, 2007), but social practice theorists in adult literacy are strongly opposed to this perspective as further addressed in Chapter Five. For Ong, “philosophical thinking cannot be carried on by the unaided human mind but only by the human mind that has familiarized itself with and deeply interiorized the technology of writing” (1982, p. 170). Philosophical thought is here taken to mean abstractions of the pragmatic work done in sites of traditional trade work like building sites. However, there was evidence that a proportion of the apprentices did accept the problem of learning how to handwrite in acceptable ways, and outside the one-to-one tutorial events, they might practise writing the answers. Tutor J: “sometimes with certain guys I don’t write the answers and he doesn’t write the answers … so instead of writing the stuff down which is slow, slow, slow … get the guy into his own time and then next week you’ll arrive back and you know sometimes half the time or more than half the time they’ve actually gone through and put in their answers”. We might infer that tutors paid close attention to the apprentices’ capabilities. Yet while the tutors had decided that they would if necessary, write answers in the apprentices’ workbooks, in instances such as this it appears that some holding back of this service was enough to push the apprentice into practising some handwriting themselves. Also, most apprentices would have been motivated to work on skills including handwriting, to a level that would protect them from humiliation or harassment in their place of work. The apprentices who were prepared to attempt to put their workbook answers into handwriting seemed to be at a somewhat more advanced point on a continuum of orality and literacy compared to apprentices who declined or were unable to do so, and who wanted to delegate this work to their literacy tutor. Ong (1982) identified “contrasts between deeply interiorized literacy and more or less residually oral states of consciousness” (p. 29). In the present study tutors’ comments on apprentices’ literacy progress suggested that a proportion of apprentices were being drawn from a largely oral consciousness into the early stages of an interiorised literacy. Ong (1982, p. 29) went on to describe “shifts from orality to various stages of literacy” and this is a good description of most of the apprentices whom we interviewed. The present study offers some insights into the dimensions of the oral and the textual worlds in which the apprentices lived and the implications for their enterprises.

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Other Issues Facing the Tutors. The tutors’ situation was made more complex by various other matters here designated as: first, apprentices’ low self-confidence; second, lack of support for apprentices’ ongoing learning; third, stresses suffered by apprentices; and fourth, funding pressures on tutors. Apprentices’ low self-confidence. Most of the liminally-literate apprentices felt as though they had failed at (i.e., had been failed by) school and consequently were considered to be in a state of self-doubt and low self-esteem in anything to do with the print-literate sphere. However, they had much more confidence in themselves as hands-on artisans. Apprentices were agreed to typically possess literacies of their body, tools, and materials, and often had developed capabilities in learning from and interacting with others on the job. Lack of support for apprentices’ ongoing learning. Even if the apprentices had sought to become highly print-literate, their aspiration would have been handicapped by minimal backup in their workplace. As has been noted in other contexts, it seemed evident that apprentices’ trade environments were characterised by oral-experiential modes of performance rather than any strong positioning within printed texts as means of learning or knowing (Geiser, 2008; Marchand, 2008). Stresses suffered by apprentices. The apprentices in the present study had encountered teasing and sometimes bullying from their peers, compounded by irritated behaviour from supervisors when apprentices demonstrated at work that they lacked a sufficient level of competence in reading and handwriting. Instances of their difficulties included their having problems in interpreting textual information regarded as standard, while peers on the job site might joke at their poorly-formed handwriting. This resulted in apprentices becoming aware that they had to increase their skills to a stage where they would be freed from criticism. Some familiarity with the basics of literacy was understood to be needed, but in workplaces where literacy was not the prime ground for communication then there were limits to how developed literacy needed to be. It seemed to us that supervisors wanted apprentices to enter the workplace with sufficient reading and writing, but they did not appear to want their new arrivals to be full converts as it were to book-learning. Goody (1987, p.  164) referred to the increasing reach of primary and secondary education within many countries, suggesting that over the previous century determined efforts were made to spread school education throughout the population. The result is to spread the devaluation, including the self-devaluation, of knowledge and tasks that are not gained through the book but by experience.

What we heard from supervisors, training coordinators etc. was their resistance to the social and cultural assumptions they had encountered or thought to be implicit in the textual learning being provided to apprentices.



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Liminally-literate apprentices in the present study had orality as their primary mode of cognition and communication. While all of them possessed abilities in reading and writing to different extents, tutors made it clear that more demanding ways of operating in literacy especially the capability for committed deep reading of printed texts were not yet within their grasp (Sligo, Comrie, Olsson, Culligan & Tilley, 2005). Tutors had no option other than to traverse this trying landscape with little or no prior preparation through their work with their learners. In most cases, it took them a little time to determine how their students would be best served. Tutors commented on how apprentices employed coping and avoidance strategies to disguise difficulties in their trade learning, and this behaviour is predictable given the cognitive dissonance they would have been experiencing. Funding pressures on tutors. Further intensifying the literacy tutors’ task was as earlier reported, that their government-funded literacy programme provided a maximum of only 30 hours per apprentice which was not remotely enough to “get students literate” as literate civil servants might have conceptualised the term. Tutors were thrown into complex forms of emotional dissonance, on the one hand being fully committed to goals of advancing their students to completion of their apprenticeships, but at the same time, they had to accept that their students had no interest in joining an imagined community of proficient readers. For the present the tutors had to disconnect themselves from their imagined confederation of like-minded people, “a republic of letters, a virtual community of scholars, intellectuals, and writers” (Strate, 2014a, p.  64) (emphasis in original) though even more broadly than that, tutors understood their community to be those who loved reading. This community was close to the tutors’ heart and had formed a powerful justification for their work with adult learners to date, but now slowly they had to come to terms with its being of no importance to the apprentices. Tutors’ aspiration to teach critical literacy was likewise not of interest to other industry people, such as the apprentices’ managers, as described in the following chapter. As earlier reported, the programme’s financial limitations formed insoluble ambiguities in the tutors’ work. Their unavoidably instrumental means of assisting apprentices to complete their bookwork contradicted their usual values of helping adults to achieve richer lives in their workplaces and communities and becoming fully participating citizens through advancements in their literacy. This explicitly refuted and complicated how tutors normally saw themselves. Language Codes. Ong (1982, p. 104) talked of how “writing develops codes in a language different from oral codes in the same language”. In his assessment, the less comprehensive and more restricted public language of oral communities has less capability when compared to the more elaborated code of literate

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communities. Despite this, of course, the totality of communication in oral communities may be rich and diverse, given the multiple oral-experiential means available to communicators, even though words are being asked to do less in human interactions. There has been some assessment of the differences between “restricted” and “elaborate” forms of language, such as in language used by working-class English (restricted code) in contrast to that used by upper to middle-class English (elaborate code). Ong (1982, p. 104), for example, had the view that forms of expression within the public language of oral communities “can be at least as expressive and precise as the elaborated code in contexts which are familiar and shared by speaker and hearer”. Instances of this would be workplaces where both those interacting were exploring in depth some complex technical problem with which both were reasonably familiar. In Ong’s view, nonetheless, dealing with unfamiliar settings or issues creates a different set of conditions, for in “dealing with the unfamiliar expressively and precisely, however, the restricted linguistic code will not do; an elaborated linguistic code is absolutely needed” (p. 104). Implications arising from this are that the everyday vocabulary of the building site or factory may suffice to deal with the work as it is currently understood on site. Yet problems are likely to arise when the unfamiliar occurs, or when innovation is needed, for example in instances of rapid social and economic change as are characteristic of many globalising workplace settings. Ong’s argument then is that workplaces that ask for novelty or innovation require an elaborated linguistic code, this typically associated with heightened levels of literacy. In the present study, the apprentices already possessed much of the essential workplace technical language that was necessary for them to perform as capable neophytes in their workplaces. In some cases, they would have apprehended this workplace jargon in less academic and more applied forms than it was represented in their learning materials. Still, the experience of learning to write above the most basic level for the first time was, we perceived, giving them their first exposure to manipulating verbal and numerical symbols in exact and carefully descriptive ways. This form of learning was necessary to put them on a par with others in their workplace who were already sufficiently literate to cope with everyday work demands of reading, handwriting, keyboard use, and the like. Gee (1986, p. 722) refers to “how cultures move from the science of the concrete to the science of the abstract”, which evokes what Ong, McLuhan, Luria, and others saw happening as cultures make a transition from oral to literate forms of discourse. Ong (1982) described “restrictive” (limited) forms of language that are mainly oral both in their origin and use and which operate “contextually, close



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to the human lifeworld” (p.  104). These expressions of language are formulaic in character, like beads on a frame, “recognizably the formulaic and aggregative mode of oral culture” (p. 105). In contrast to the beads on a frame, Ong (1982) argued there is an “elaborated” form of linguistic code (i.e., language) being “one which is formed with the necessary aid of writing, and, for full elaboration, of print” (p. 105). For Gee (1986) in orality the physical world is understood differently: in orality the physical world is contacted by means of an individual’s sensorium while in more-literate settings the world is apprehended through an account of its properties that are formally described. This is a fair description of the starting points of the apprentices (and their supervisors and training coordinators) on the one hand, and the tutors on the other. Rubin, Hafer, and Arata (2000) had the view that “literate behavior enables the ability to separate utterance from intended meaning, and thus fosters greater self-awareness and abstract thinking” (p. 123). They say that reading places more cognitive demands in that “the decoding of orthographic symbols requires more mental effort than listening” (p. 130). This is taken as suggesting “some support for claims for greater cognitive advantage for literate as opposed to oral language use” (p. 130). The same authors went on to report on what may be surmised as differing aptitudes between people who had professional experience in producing textual materials that were well-oriented to the needs of less-able and more oral individuals, in contrast to those who were highly acculturated within literacy discourse practices, and not much accustomed to working outside that framework. As an example, they described research into alternative revisions of textbook materials which indicated that “revisions produced by professional magazine editors were far more effective in improving the comprehensibility of textbook passages than were the revisions of either classroom teachers or literacy researchers” (p. 125). The editors may have derived their success from being well-attuned to everyday use of language, more so than teachers or researchers. Chapter Six returns to issues of listening and its implications. In this description, we might see something of the journey of the tutors as they gradually entered the oral world of the workplace, discovered how things were understood and communicated there, studied what the apprentices had to complete in their workbooks, then figured out how best to work with the apprentices so that their learning could proceed on familiar not strange ground. Marked differences between varying kinds of spoken discourse were noted by Gee (2000) and as briefly mentioned above. He contrasted language used by two young English women, one upper-middle-class from the suburbs (Emily), and the other working-class from the inner city (Sandra). Emily’s

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talk emphasises knowing and claiming; she uses “explanatory claims within an explicit or assumed argumentative structure” (p. 56) and “a form of control or regaining control” (p.  57) in her spoken interactions. In contrast, Sandra’s speech emphasises affect, desire, feeling, and social interaction, demonstrating “a background of dialogue and interactions” (p. 56). This has much more to do with being reactive to the life pressures she encounters, rather than revealing any kind of systematic attempt to influence events, unlike Emily. Further, social group differences in language use are reinforced by accent as defining in-group and out-group. McLuhan was reported as pointing out how “the English even in our time … are unable to realize that they have a class struggle based upon ear culture” (Culkin, 1968, p. 312). In short, although Gee had in mind mainly differences in forms and patterns of spoken language rather than orality and literacy, Emily’s experience appears characteristic of the print-literate discourse familiar to the English upper-middle-class, while Sandra appears immersed in the most pressing exigencies of her immediate lifeworld. We can hear echoes of what Gee was describing in Postman and Weingartner’s (1969, p. 101) observation that the medium (in this case, one’s language) not only structures what one will see and believe, but is, in fact, inseparable from what one sees and believes … what we perceive, and therefore can learn, is a function of our languaging processes.

Observations of this kind are complemented by other literature that portrays quite different outcomes experienced by English children of middle as opposed to working-class backgrounds (e.g., Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999; Gee, 1986). Then Reder and Bynner (2009) have pointed to how “[i]‌n countries such as England, the problem is compounded through an education system that implicitly accepts that a substantial proportion of children will ‘fail’ ” (p. 5). These children are mainly working-class and are failed by their schools especially in not ensuring that they engage with and learn how to use literate and numerate forms of discourse. In our findings, issues of social class were not evident, and while no doubt there would have been some class differences between tutors and apprentices, we discerned that tutors had such a commitment to their learners that they appeared to be highly adaptive in their efforts to work with the apprentices on their ground. They seemed to be good at listening to spoken language as the apprentices used it, and at adopting the assumptions and practices of that language as the basis for their interactions. In this way, tutors turned themselves into a bridge between the workplace world of occupational orality and the literacy which the apprentices were supposed (in theory) to be entering.



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Tutors felt the sensitivities of their situation acutely and did not always find it easy to talk to us openly about it. Yet it was clear that the literacy training consortium had been doing as well as it could in a tricky environment in which it was funded to do only a limited job. In parallel with this, though, the close one-to-one support provided by the literacy tutors often did create stronger self-confidence and a sense of self-efficacy among the apprentices. In some cases, they started to realise that they could demonstrate success in the basic tasks needed at work, such as handwriting in a way that others could read, giving them confidence, for example, to answer the phone at work and write down clients’ messages. We had also learned from interviewing apprentices that the one-to-one support that the literacy tutors were providing was vastly better than what apprentices had experienced in the classroom at school. This encouraged the apprentices to begin re-imagining themselves as different and more successful individuals. Barthes (1970, p. 190) defined the teacher as “on the side of speech” rather than writing. The act of teaching engages someone within a communal ecosystem that is very different from the solitary, print-oriented world of the writer. As shown in this chapter tutors found a variety of ways to support their learners, especially talking through the particular topics, rather than asking the apprentices to engage in the unfamiliarity of the printed page. In this way the tutors helped the apprentices to escape some of the literacy demands on them, though this was, as de Certeau (1984) expressed it, escape without leaving: escape that is, from the most pressing and immediate pressures of literacy achievement without leaving the context of gradually rising assumptions about literate performance. This discussion has noted the paradox for the liminally literate who were expected to learn via printed texts, but who themselves had found from personal experience that the real learning in the workplace is done by oral and experiential means. Thus, there seems a contradiction between what government funders hope for (literate apprentices) and what they are prepared to support (i.e., low preparedness to invest in building apprentices’ literacy). This incongruity helps to illustrate why the tutors for the most part quietly acquiesced in helping the apprentices to ‘do their books’ usually to a sufficient standard to permit these books to be signed off. Ultimately the programme’s lack of focus on actually building literacy meant that most apprentices, while completing their bookwork and being on track to receive their apprentice’s certificate, remained of liminal literacy. In many cases, via literacy support, they certainly built their confidence well beyond the point at which they had come into the programme. Yet they had probably become further reinforced in their little-changed culture of orality in which their everyday work experience continued to sustain them.

chapter four

Supervisors and Communities of Practice

Before this research, the writer knew of Lave and Wenger’s (1991) work in the formation of communities of practice (CoPs). These authors emphasised the social rather than individualistic dimensions of learning, including the importance of collaboration as shaping learning as a person is drawn into a workplace community. However, as our interviews with apprentices, managers, training coordinators, and literacy tutors progressed, factors that we had not seen in the CoP literature to date started to reveal themselves (Sligo, Tilley & Murray, 2011). In this chapter appear findings of how conflicting and incompatible assumptions around literacy development at work complicate CoP functioning, especially for apprentices. Our focus in this study was on apprentices’ literacy and this orientation quickly led us into a consideration of their oral lifeworlds and the workplace communities that they were aspiring to join. We discovered literacy-related tensions within CoP relationships as we were told of conflicting perspectives around how much or what kind of literacy is needed at work. To us, Lave and Wenger’s assumptions about collaborative processes had not considered the situation of learners such as apprentices with liminal literacy who are being forced to span different value sets, some of which are discordant with CoP assumptions. Lave and Wenger stress the importance of “full participation” in workplace community practices. As previous chapters have illustrated, the tensions between different understandings of what



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kind of learning is needed at work within oral-experiential settings mean that for a period apprentices become suspended between two worlds. They are unable to participate fully in either, at least until they have completed their initial workplace certification, at which point they are free to escape from their literacy tutor’s assumptions. The workplace perspective on literacy that revealed itself to us was that literacy is an instrumental means of accessing communities of practice that make sense at work. Literacy had to be sufficient only to enable apprentices to join then maintain their membership of a CoP. This was challenging for the apprentices in how it involved their trying to navigate the literate layer of their industrial practices as a precondition for entry into their sought-after community. In researching the UK Modern Apprentices scheme, Huddleston (1999) similarly cited a dichotomy between practice and learning, quoting a young man who “said he had applied for the apprenticeship because he thought it would enable him to practise and develop practical skills; he saw himself essentially as a ‘practical person’ ” (p. 183). She then notes a complementary comment from a supervisor who “remarked: ‘We don’t want graduates, we want practical people’ ” (p. 184). Lave and Wenger (1991) considered that central to understanding apprentices’ learning is the relational network within which they participate. This in their view is much more important to grasp rather than the pre- and post-learning stages of anyone’s cognitive processes. Then apprentices’ peripheral participation gradually evolves into a fuller involvement in their group, via being accepted into membership of a given discourse community. To date, though, within the CoP literature, relatively little assessment of oppositions and divisions within discourse communities has occurred, compared to the emphasis on collaborative workplace activities. For example, Jewson (2007) found little awareness in the CoP literature of barriers within groups. In particular, if the practice of learning presupposes the creation of a given within-membership persona, little enquiry has occurred into the outcomes for learners who must span various, potentially conflicting value-sets. Such learners may encounter rival claims on their sense of self-definition or identity formation within a given industry. Lave and Wenger (1991) did acknowledge the “conflict between the forces that support processes of learning and those that work against them” (p. 57). But this was framed as part of the competition between newcomers and ‘old-timers’, the latter said to feel anxieties about being displaced, under which conditions they might conceal their knowledge from the new arrivals. However, in the present study, no evidence of tensions or conflicting demands emerged along the lines identified by Lave and Wenger.

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Australian research into the retention of apprentices in the workplace (Gow, Warren, Anthony & Hinschen, 2008)  has commented on the importance of intrinsic motivation, satisfaction, and working circumstances, among other variables. Also, in Australia, Snell and Hart (2007) reported national concern about low apprenticeship completion rates and linked them to poor quality training and a narrowing of training skills. Interestingly, the authors proposed that training quality was being compromised in part by fully on-the-job training. Onstenk and Blokhuis (2007) commented on how both improved forms of workplace and school-based experience are needed to improve the quality of apprentices’ learning. Yet the tensions that were evident as existing between these two spheres of learning, on and off-site, have not been fully addressed. Apprentices have been found to construct their workplace identity through their interactions with others at work (Wackerhausen, 2009), then perform that identity in their everyday behaviours on the job. Knowledge building at work comes about not least by osmotic means, meaning constant engagement in embodied work, learning through listening, observation, and by copying others’ workplace practices. Exactness in replication is unlikely to be the object; instead, understanding how to customise already known ways of undertaking work for the current situation is more to the point. Havelock (1982, p. 12) explained how [t]‌echnological procedures … need not in fact be stored as such, orally that is, with any precision or detail. The reason lies in the material and visible character of their products. An artefact, say a house, a ship, or a pot, once constructed constitutes a model for the artist to reproduce or to modify, and it remains a visible example for the apprentice to follow. The transmission of skills in such a culture can therefore proceed by copying, to which the necessary detailed verbal instructions form an adjunct.

Little of what apprentices observe on the job has to do with seeing others learn via solitary, print-based means. Within a media ecology framework, people’s communities of practice can be seen as encompassing environments within which we make sense of our lives. Media ecology, in essence, is the study of media as environments. Media are understood as permeating our everyday lives and forming the broad context within which we exist, “influencing our behavior, thought, feelings, perceptions, social organization, cultural production, and historical evolution and change” (Strate, 2017a, p. 241). For our purposes, then, communities of practice are places where we address the processes and practices of orality and literacy, attempting to account for some of the significant ways in which such settings variously animate and sustain the practices of literacy and orality.



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The importance for apprentices of relationships for building their at-work identity is further discussed by Harris, Willis, and Simons (1998) who talked of how apprentices construct and negotiate their experience through close interaction with others. In particular, apprentices’ relationship with a workplace mentor was a key factor in successful learning. It is easy to anticipate that one-to-one workplace mentoring would be even more important for apprentices such as in the present study who possessed liminal literacy given their greater difficulty in accessing print materials. We assume that barriers to accessing print information would necessarily lead to greater dependence on others at work for one-to-one spoken advice or else via learning from observation. Other factors might be that a liminally-literate apprentice might well feel a sense of isolation from others at work who had better command of reading and writing than themselves. Such individuals need more intense forms of engagement within the workplace’s oral dimensions. A person’s cultural knowledge is said to derive more from their embodied skills than from any literacy-based propositional knowledge that they may have acquired. Geiser (2008) acknowledged Bourdieu’s view on how “bodily practices, lodged in the habitus, mediate between the individual person and his or her society”, in his contention that “[t]‌he task of the apprentice is to fine-tune his or her perception, or in other words, to undergo an education of attention” (emphasis in original) (p. 300), which he referred to as enskilment. Next, he thought that “guided by verbal [i.e., oral] command and commentary” (p.  300) apprentices increase their workplace awareness through observation then imitation. Here the case is being made that the most important means by which apprentices learn are the study of others followed by testing one’s skills in practice. The learning practices as described here are grounded in orality and physical presence, and though they are supplemented by print and digital trade technical information, any such textual materials would be secondary in their influence on actual embodied learning. In this way, a potential dissociation appears between how actual learning at work operates and what industry educators may assume is needed to advance students’ learning. Print-based forms of learning typically those assumed as normal by high-literate individuals do not figure in this description of how learning occurs. The embodied character of learning and interaction with others on-site will be much greater in an industrial workspace like construction or what used to be known as the manual trades, than in post-industrial settings where learners engage with new knowledge in more isolated fashion such as in front of a computer. It is not straightforward to identify what an embodied understanding comprises, as Farrell (2006) pointed out, since embodied workplace knowledge “is, in large part, tacit, is only ever partly articulated, and when it is articulated it

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rarely makes sense outside the physical context in which knowledge is made and used” (p. 50). Observations of this kind again evoke Ong, de Certeau, Havelock, Strate, and others in respect of the continuing prevalence of oral workplace practices. Highly literate industry course designers are likely to have severe difficulty in conceptualising orality on the job, given its semi-occluded status. For Ong (1977, p. 257) “[t]‌hose reared in a highly literate culture, where literate habits of thought are acquired shortly after infancy, commonly have little if any memory of entry into writing as a cutting loose from oral thought processes”. Since our noetic transitions from orality into a gradually developing literate life are largely hidden from perception, understandably we find it difficult or impossible to chart the steps through which we became increasingly literate. Farrell (2006) assessed the learning implications of what she called action-centred skill, as with Geiser (2008)’s enskilment, similarly based in bodily activity, which reacts to sentient information obtained from physical cues. This is developed in and through physical performance, is grounded in particular localities, and is personalised in the body of whoever is performing the action. All this is familiar territory within the media ecology field, as Albrecht (2004, p. 57) pointed out: Media ecologists place a great importance upon the ways in which technologies affect the sensorium, that is, the way in which a particular medium or set of media restricts or expands the role of one or more of the five senses. The sensorium, therefore, relates to the balance or ratio between the senses … Particular technologies rearrange or rebalance the sensorium by favoring or appealing to particular sense organs and modalities of knowing.

Albrecht (2004, p. 62) referred to changes over time, commenting on how diverse cultures over the eras have featured markedly varying technologies, and therefore “employ the sensorium quite differently, selecting or favoring different perceptions and perceptual organs, experiencing different social relationships, and conceptualizing a different world”. In addition to this, though, subcultures within the same historical period or even within the same organisation in the same place may feature patterns of sensorium engagement that contrast with those appearing within other groups, leading to mutual misunderstanding of others’ ways of seeing and forms of communication. For example, thinking of the apprentices with whom we worked, little of their action-centred skill seemed to derive from learning derived from print or digital means, but all of it appeared to evolve within the context of apprentices’ normal on-the-job lifeworlds. Action-centred skill is fostered and reinforced



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within collective oral-experiential learning rather than being dependent on the solitary state of print-learning. Thus, most of the apprentices’ experience is embodied (other than the lesser amount of time they have to put into “doing the books” i.e., undertaking their written assignments, a kind of accretion upon their “real” learning). The print literate capabilities they are supposed to be learning seem to them, in many ways, to be self-evidently irrelevant, and our interviews indicated that many others in their workplaces had a similar view. Goody (1987, p. 287) illustrated the practical importance of interpersonal communication when compared to written text. Written language loses the continuous grounding that face-to-face communication provides to speech, being “a context that uses multiple channels, not only the purely linguistic one, and which is, therefore, more contextualized, less abstract, less formal, in content as in form”. We found a strong commonality among our interviewees on this dimension of workplace culture. Initially, we had assumed that the industry training coordinators whom we were about to interview would have a commitment to literacy as a good thing in its own right, as with the apprentices’ literacy tutors, but this proved not to be the case. The coordinators’ orientation to workplace culture seemed to be powerfully influential in their attitudes and behaviour. Like the apprentices and managers, the training coordinators whom we met tended to be dismissive of the value of theorised learning and would valorise hands-on forms of learning. Common among participants was a dichotomous mode of thought, comprising ‘real’ versus theorised worlds: allegedly those who do versus those who think. One important exception to the embodied and on-site knowledge-building in which they engage for most of their time at work is the literacy that apprentices know they must achieve to arrive at a level that is not too dissimilar to their peers. They carry an imposition in the form of teasing from their peers, dissatisfaction from customers, and rebuke from their employers if their print and handwriting literacy are well below what is deemed normal for their worksite. Yet our interviews with supervisors and others indicated that once apprentices transit from very low literacy to low or medium literacy, then the pressure is eased, they are less likely to be teased or bullied on account of their lower capability in literacy, and their confidence builds as, other things being equal, they approach equality among their peers. As suggested, the best available insights into apprentices’ knowledge-creation at work is that their understanding comes largely via embodied and mainly tacit means of learning. For us, the focus of enquiry in oral-experiential settings should move away from knowledge perceived as a “thing” such as particular content to be acquired and instead, head in the direction of the knower and their process of knowing, that is, who knows and how they know it. Tacit knowledge cannot be

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spelled out and it is the process of knowing rather than reified or explicit knowledge that underpins action-centred skill. We believe that deeper insights into how people build knowledge and how they act based on that knowledge will come from an analysis of their interactions with one another in oral-experiential settings rather than from the study of explicit textual knowledge. Yet working against the traditional operation of oral-experiential organisations, as Farrell (2006) comments, is that “[i]‌ncreasingly, embodied, embedded, encultured knowledge needs to be turned into texts (words, diagrams, symbols, etc.) in order to move it around the network” (p. 58), the network, that is, being the elements of the increasingly connected enterprise. In other words, organisational knowledge systems while devised within the oral-experiential culture are becoming formalised within the layer of literacy practices in enterprise systems. Access to knowledge and decision-making based upon that knowledge are increasingly dependent on an individual’s command of an array of text-literate knowledge practices. Farrell (2006) claims that the counterpart to this development is that “[e]mbodied and embedded knowledge is becoming almost invisible and inaccessible, and, increasingly, legitimate knowledge is seen as being located in, and generated by, the text” (p. 134). We would question if the first part of this contention is correct as almost certainly embodied knowledge has always been invisible, at least to the scrutiny of the literate observer. Nor is it necessarily inaccessible to those still embedded within an oral-experiential community, though it may well be to the highly literate. Farrell is pointing to how the status of knowledge validated by texts, whether printed or digital, is being enhanced, while oral-experiential forms of knowing are reducing in perceived value. One of the paradoxes around this, nonetheless, as already explained and as is developed further in Chapter Six on managers, is that some workplace activities remain aligned to oral practices when it has been found that via such modalities the best work can be done. Rising stresses may occur in enterprises that find themselves least able to navigate these conflicting tendencies but along with success for entities able to harness, at all levels of their enterprise, both textual and oral forms of the organisation’s work. However, it is not just in the modern era that legitimate knowledge and its attendant power has been associated with texts. For example, regarding the use of written materials in the Carolingian dynasty (800–888) Innis quoted the historian E.A. Lowe: “writing ‘being in itself an instrument of conservatism, it [i.e., the dynasty] was in the nature of things extremely conservative’ ” (Lowe source not provided, Innis (2007, p. 144). This suggests how, when scriptural forms of knowledge preservation reify what is known in a given setting, the “truth value” (Gee, 1986) of knowledge increases with forms of human interaction becoming



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objectified. In addition, such societies show less responsiveness to changing circumstances and more conservativism in their responses to change. Truth value is further discussed in Chapter Seven. Heyer and Crowley (2008) articulate this further with the view that “modern electronic communications … In the guise of giving greater access to, and democratizing information … can entrench modes of domination that in some ways resemble what took place in earlier epochs” (p. xxxv). As held here, liminally literate people find it inherently difficult to access print or digital forms of information, so they are relatively more confined to the state of orality that is normal in their occupational setting. But while possession of good literacy can give access to textual information such as from a company intranet, the information downloaded may assume the status of an edict or set of parameters that may look appropriate to policy-makers at head office yet be less well-oriented to the needs of far-flung regions of the organisation. In a sense, those with liminal literacy, given that their work interactions remain more within an oral-experiential work culture, may to some extent be insulated from the domineering effects that Heyer and Crowley (2008) had in mind. Then when externally imposed modes of domination are perceived to contradict the assumptions and processes of the orally-oriented workplace, some push-back will occur as seen in previous chapters in the form of objections to literacy-oriented forms of learning or workplace processes. Nevertheless, the present study indicates that liminally-literate persons tend to be disempowered in what is becoming an increasingly more-literate work setting and accordingly may lack the skills or the self-confidence to provide a counter-example of work behaviour. Further exploring historical antecedents, Innis (2007) recounted tensions in the late middle ages in European countries and especially in England between Roman law (recorded in written form) and Anglo-Saxon common law (based on human memory and recitation of spoken traditions). He said that in England Roman law had been less influential since in that country oral forms of transmitting what was important to the culture had persisted relatively strongly. This helped to account for the emergence of the “common law (that) was developed from customs which had emerged over a long period and which … were carried in the minds of men” (p. 156). Developing this further, Innis reported that the memory-based common law became important in sustaining certain democratic traditions and practices, including “the jury system and the growth of parliament” (2007, p. 157). Such manifestations of oral-experiential culture formed a living bulwark against the socially conservative outcomes inherent in texts that were being promulgated by those with a social or economic interest in the outcomes of literacy. Innis said that

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“[t]‌he limitations of mechanization of the printed and the spoken word must be emphasized and determined efforts to recapture the vitality of the oral tradition must be made” (p. 195). Innis (2008) also drew attention to the tensions in England in Shakespearian times as the newer written culture competed with the older oral traditions, “the latter persisting in parliament and the common law, and the former in the scriptures” (p. 26). Only within orality could there be “a revival of effective vital discussion” about matters to do with national culture (p.  32). Innis thought that in antiquity there were mitigating and beneficial consequences of orality within the written tradition. In particular, these were that “the religious and ceremonial character of law was weakened, equality was promoted, harshness mitigated, and the factor of intent emphasized” (p. 45). Innis was pointing out how adherence to the letter of the law was being softened and the demands of dogma moderated through interpersonal influence within the human environment in which laws had their application. Along similar lines, Heyer and Crowley (2008) believed that an oral tradition will encourage dialogue among people from different perspectives while at the same time it “inhibits the emergence of monopolies of knowledge leading to overarching political authority, territorial expansion, and the inequitable distribution of power and wealth” (p. xxxiii). The various studies cited in this book identify comparable processes occurring albeit at a more micro level in present-day organisations. An intranet within a highly centralised company may comprise a kind of monopoly of knowledge that disseminates particular standards and outputs regardless of what people in distributed parts of the business may think is appropriate at the local level. The extent to which objections may exist in opposition to centralised knowledge are difficult however to discern given the semi-concealed character of such resistance. Styhre, Josephson, and Knauseder (2006) in their research into learning at work among construction workers and their managers said that “[v]‌erbal and embodied interactions constituted the core of joint learning in the workplace” and “communication based on practices of writing was in general not perceived as a solution … On the contrary, the use of more written documents and computers was regarded as something that would imply more work, not less” (p. 94). When people at work see their use of written documents and computers as additional to their regular workload then we may infer the existence of habitual oral-experiential means of getting the work done and an indication of a new stratum of print compliance laid in unwelcome fashion on top of the older culture. As this book contends, an industry featuring embodied work is a productive setting for investigating tensions between traditional oral and newer incursions



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of print-literate means of undertaking work. One way of seeing these settings is in the form of a layered culture where the formally prescribed means of undertaking work is increasingly print-based, but there operates beneath it as it were, a semi-concealed means of work learning and performance that owes more to orality. Another sign of a layered culture, oral below and print as an accretion on top to which lip-service is paid, is in managers’ resistance to supporting stronger literacy, either for themselves or others. Sagan, Waite, and Cowan (2007) in analysing what was needed to advance apprentices’ literacy at work in UK organisations explained how “[t]‌he training of managers … was identified as an issue” and quotes a respondent who said “ ‘[t]hey (managers) need to show that they need and want to develop their own English, maths and IT [skills]” (which were perceived to be inadequate) and who went on to comment “[t]hat is a massive, massive problem” (p. 7). It is unclear in this account though as to whether these managers did indeed have literacy that was insufficient for their work demands, or whether their oral-experiential means of getting the job done were well matched to the exigencies of their work. This topic is returned to in more detail in Chapter Six on managers’ literacy and orality. Inevitably, managers’ uninterest in upgrading their own literacy capabilities is then mirrored in the attitudes of apprentices towards what in the Sagan, Waite and Cowan study are “key skills” (including literacy and numeracy). Any young staff members take careful note of what are and are not customary workplace practices and model themselves to some extent on what they perceive are the predominant norms: “[a]‌ccording to the project manager, there is some resistance towards key skills on the part of the apprentices … ‘They don’t want to do it … they don’t need to do it for their job … and the employers aren’t fussed either’ ” (p.  13). Here, no formal instance of an imposed layer of textual practices upon local oral norms is evident but rather resistance emerges to industry initiatives to strengthen managers’ and workers’ literacy, numeracy, and IT abilities. Sagan, Waite and Cowan (2007) concluded that “[a]‌whole-organisation belief in literacy, numeracy and the wider key skills as essential underpinning for vocational and technical knowledge was important for the success of provision and learners” (p. 5). The problem appeared to be, nonetheless, that what is said to be a whole-organisation belief is more like an exhortation or a pious hope than anything that appears in practice. Instead, the general response from within the enterprise appeared to be that literacy and numeracy training was an imposed expectation to be resisted to the extent possible since it was an essentially pointless activity possessing little real connection to enterprise reality as locally understood.

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Similar observations came from Atkin and Merchant’s research with small business owners in the UK (2004) which also had explored the extent of support for literacy and numeracy initiatives at work. In their view, “employers tend not to value literacy and numeracy as highly as other skills and qualities and tend not to accept responsibility for improving employees’ literacy and numeracy” (p. 71). Employers were uninterested in upgrading staff literacy ability because they saw little benefit in it for anyone, including themselves, in the workplace. Then Wolf, Aspin, Waite and Ananiadou (2010) reported on a longitudinal UK study that tracked 53 workplaces which had hosted government-subsidised literacy courses. Policy-makers had assumed that employers would be motivated to participate from their concern to raise employees’ literacy levels. Instead, employers were more interested in this subsidised programme to provide general development opportunities for staff, while “far and away the most important motivation was to offer general development as a way of showing that employees were valued” (p. 393). See also Sligo, Culligan, Comrie, Tilley, Vaccarino and Franklin (2006). The lack of perceived benefit in advancing literacy and numeracy standards is inferred to stem from immersion in a workplace culture that operates on a less-literate basis. Lack of familiarity with textually-based practices might be found in Atkin and Merchant’s finding that managers in the workplace had little information on how literate or otherwise their employees might be: “interest in, and concern for, literacy and numeracy among senior personnel … is limited” and “[i]‌t is not possible to assume a standard or sophisticated understanding among senior personnel … of the status of literacy and numeracy” (p.  79). Managers who are unaware of how advanced or otherwise literacy skills might be among their employees are not in a good position to assess how well equipped their staff (or they) are to cope with increasing scriptural requirements in areas such as ISO compliance, and whether any remedial action might be needed. Atkin and Merchant thought the issue was managers’ low interest in literacy, but there may also have been a degree of actual resistance to print incursions into workplace settings. An inability to grasp the possible benefits of heightened literacy capabilities is indicated in Atkin and Merchant’s further (2004) observation that “[l]‌iteracy and numeracy are not seen as having an intrinsic value … are not seen as valuable beyond a particular, practical, applied or appropriate level, in specific fields” (p. 79). These employers may be prepared to talk about literacy so long as they can see a direct connection to the concrete actualities of their workplaces and work activities. As noted elsewhere by de Certeau (1984), Havelock (1963), Ong (1982), and others, the everyday state of being grounded in tangible facts appears more characteristic of oral-experiential practices than of habituation in the complex and more abstract environment of textual practices.



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In pre-computing and pre-Internet times, everyday standard operating procedures in workplaces could feature more autonomy than seen currently. Here local knowledge would prevail in less textually-oriented forms. However, the interconnectedness of locations and alignment of enterprise functioning created by the Internet and globalised business accentuates the configuring of knowledge into textualised format. People of liminal literacy are necessarily excluded to an extent, and tensions will occur between everyday oral means of doing business and mandated forms of workplace scriptural compliance. As in any transference of influence from orality to literate practices, that which is physically documented turns into the norm, eventually subordinating local forms of knowledge. As indigenous autonomy is reduced, a further adverse outcome is the submerging of home-grown diverse understandings and ways of undertaking the work. Along with a reduction in locally-relevant work practices comes a blandness and lessening of ecological diversity in the organisational landscape and a less finely-calibrated approach to local stakeholder needs. Problematically for workers, who are exposed to dual expectations wherein they work mainly within an oral work culture but are asked to behave as if a superimposed print culture is the one that matters, is that their compliance with documentation demands can work against them. Jackson (2000) has pointed out that workers “participate in policing their own work, by providing the evidence that may be used against them by their superiors” (p. 8). If in the rush to respond to the urgency of sending out a given product they do not follow the set documentation, they risk rebuke. Then if errors occur in work output that are caused by the official system being side-stepped, the written records of what happened on site may hand a punitively minded supervisor a way to assign blame. Workplace cultures may be poor at managing these contradictions, in that the shop-floor environment “does not empower (workers) or use their input. Their expertise is not valued … and their competence is questioned” (Follinsbee, 2004, p. 90). Research into adults’ learning in applied rather than classroom settings is rare (Livingston, 2008), though Marchand (2008) identified an increasing interest in craft apprenticeships. Apprentices are a classically difficult group to access, however, in that they are often reluctant to talk about their on-job learning, feeling disempowered by their constrained skills and vulnerable to scrutiny of how well they are learning (Livingston, 2008). Then their sense of exposure to risk is heightened when critical public commentary on their performance has occurred, as described in Chapter Two. Apprentices with liminal literacy will be even more intent than others on avoiding external scrutiny, and employers may be unwilling to have academics assess their workplace practices and staff. Typically, it is easier for employers to object (often accurately) that everyone is too busy to accommodate researchers on the shop floor.

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However, some authors have recently been questioning how linguistic negotiation within a community of shared meanings may generate conflict or tension (in tandem with the more benevolent aspects of collaborative practices in a CoP, with which Lave and Wenger seemed mainly concerned) (Hughes, Jewson & Unwin, 2007). They point to how varying discourses may contend for ascendancy and resources. In this way tensions between opposing CoPs “reflect hierarchies of cultural prestige and moral value that are embedded in modes of talk” (Hughes, Jewson & Unwin, 2007, p. 9). Chapter Two reported how tutors said that apprentices “don’t like theory”, and Ong (1982) believed that an oral culture does not employ discourse deriving from “text-formed thought” (p. 55). For him, cognitive processes in orality lack capability in abstract categorisation, the articulation of formal logic, or “articulated self-analysis” (p. 55). These, he considered, exist only in contexts shared by those who are familiar with thinking processes that are emergent from the everyday use of texts. The apprentices in the present study and others with whom they worked lived in a hybrid form of culture, a layered one, oral-experiential in important ways, employing workplace texts of many kinds, but which was not overly reliant on such texts. Within their workspaces, apprentices would be somewhat familiar with the textual forms of abstract categorisations, formal definitions, etc., employed on site, though their facility in employing such tools would be partly dependent on their literacy levels. Apprentices’ lifeworld in oral-experiential work practices means that the modus operandi most familiar to them would be within pragmatic, hands-on approaches to work. While apprentices will have varying levels of familiarity with abstract forms of reasoning, their first inclination will be to reject any non-pragmatic approach as too academic and insufficiently engaged with workplace realities, and their doing so would be reinforced by colleagues on the job. As Ong (2002a, p. 472) pointed out, within an oral culture, “education consists in identification, participation, getting into the act, feeling affinity with a culture’s heroes, getting ‘with it’ – not in analysis at all”. As earlier reported, the tutors found an absence of analysis disconcerting and not what they were used to. Their new understanding formed a motivator to undertake a transition to forms of teaching and learning that seemed a better fit within the apprentices’ oral community. Becoming print literate is slow, mentally taxing, and prolonged in nature, and it was clear from interviews with tutors and others that apprentices typically encountered many learning obstacles that were new to them, given that their schools had not succeeded in building their literacy. Ong (1982) noted that: “[y]‌ou have to make your language work so as to come clear all by itself, with no existential context. The need for this exquisite circumspection makes



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writing the agonizing work it commonly is” (p. 104). Apprentices had been failed by their previous school experience and had had virtually no prior experience in navigating the individualistic difficulties of learning literacy. Ong (1982) postulated that in primary orality people undertake their learning not in a formal or structured sense but more via “apprenticeships  – hunting with experienced hunters, for ­example – by discipleship, which is a kind of apprenticeship” (p. 9). This mode of learning needs and enhances aural and oral abilities, listening, repeating what is heard, and then by using spoken devices such as proverbs or aphorisms that sum up key messages, retain principles and precepts that are important within that culture. This process Ong (1982) calls “participation in a kind of corporate retrospection” (p. 9) rather than study as it is currently understood in case of the solitary learner who grapples with their own sense-making. Current apprentices no longer belong to Ong’s world of primary orality, but the oral-experiential culture of the modern trade environment means that some characteristics of it persist. Havelock (1963, p.  95) referring to transitions from orality to literacy in Plato’s Greece, said how at that time, “[t]‌he political and moral relations considered proper in society continue to be stated and repeated in aphorisms, proverbs and paragraphs, and in typical situations”. In present-day orally influenced craft settings, it seems to be that it is not so much the political and moral relations that are sustained by aphorisms and the like, but especially that the hands-on craft practices are inculcated and reinforced by such means. In primary orality formulas and maxims used to possess much greater importance than would be familiar to most people today. Havelock observed (1963, p. 140) that in “non-literate cultures the task of education could be described as putting the whole community into a formulaic state of mind”. Contemporary trade settings are not non-literate in the sense that Havelock had in mind, but they may remain sufficiently oral so that maxims and other readily memorable forms of describing workplace activities remain intrinsic to on-site activities. Farrar and Trorey (2008, p. 42) reported on their interviews with those learning the craft of dry stone walling: The respondents often repeated specific phrases or sayings whilst walling. They might be described as ‘maxims’, ‘axioms’ or ‘situational rules’. The importance of these phrases became apparent both in the way they were expressed and in the way they were used … by teacher and learner alike, as ways of communicating, checking understanding, remembering, and sometimes as a chant whilst a waller focused on a particular piece of work. The way of communicating them was distinct, usually laconic, not instructional, sometimes amused or joking and always in short phrases … Maxims were shared by wallers at all levels of expertise. There was no apparent hierarchy … Maxims are important as a way of communication, as a way of

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transmitting and building knowledge. They are freely expressed, but as condensed knowledge, and can be not only codes for the expert, but also vehicles for the learner. They were shown to be a very important part of learning in this study.

This account recalls what Ong (1982, p. 35) had to say about formulaic sayings such as maxims or aphorisms, which is that “in oral cultures they are not occasional. They are incessant. They form the substance of thought itself. Thought in any extended form is impossible without them, for it consists in them”. Ong was talking about an older and “more-oral” culture than that of contemporary dry stone wallers, but it is noteworthy that learning, practising and communicating about modern-day walling still seemed to place so much stress on the adages of applied work. Ong has identified a collection of ways in which communities that are strongly oral manage to retain information that is important to them, creating “knowledge storage and retrieval devices” (Ong, 1971, p. 299). Formulary devices later reappear in secondary orality in the present day as slogans, catchphrases, mottos, jingles or refrains as used in advertising or as sayings ascribed to celebrities or community leaders. Often these devices are part of an attempt to associate some positive attribute to a product, service, or way of undertaking something (or possibly to discredit some rival). However, while slogans seek to be memorable, their main function is less to preserve knowledge within a culture as in primary orality, but instead, by being notable and appealing in some rhetorical way, they aim to persuade or call to action, being “typically action-oriented, fitted to short-term goals” (Ong, 1971, p. 299). Often slogans may be closely associated with mnemonic or musical devices like ditties or jingles, which tend to make them easier to recall, reinforce their amusing or diverting qualities, and potentially increase their attractiveness in the minds of their target audience. Farrar and Trorey’s description of dry stone wallers’ discourse also evokes what Havelock (1963, p, 109) had to say about Greece of pre-literate times, where language was not “merely oral … the speech of transaction must be metrical and formulaic”. In the setting that Havelock had in mind, as in Farrar and Trorey’s situation, an embodied culture is engaged, with words typically uttered in harmony with actions. The physicality associated with maxims, as Strate (1986, p. 243) indicated, means that orally-influenced cultures do not rely “only on oral mnemonics, but in fact employ multisensory mnemonics”. More specifically, “music and speech are never entirely oral … rhythmic vocalizations will produce repetitive body movements, both in the mouth, and in the rest of the body” (p. 237), and “[w]‌hether supplementing or replacing speech, the kinesic element is part of the overall mnemonic system … The sense of touch is not excluded from the mnemonic system”



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(p. 243). The reference above to “a chant whilst a waller focused on a particular piece of work” suggests ways in which a maxim complements the performance of bodily work while at the same time the work movements provide signals to help the individual to recall the maxim, which embodies the maxim within a person’s actions. Inevitably constraints occur on how much knowledge can be preserved via a spoken storehouse of maxims, as Strate (1986, p. 235) points out [i]‌n an oral culture, the simplest form in which knowledge is stored is the saying, e.g., proverbs, maxims, adages, aphorisms, epigrams … The saying is easy to remember, but is limited in the amount of information it contains.

Nevertheless, in a specialised trade like dry stone walling, a quantifiable constraint of this kind may not matter. If a select group of aphorisms serves to sum up the most salient knowledge to be employed and imparted, then presumably its value is self-evident to the trade’s practitioners. Farrar and Trorey do not explicitly address issues of literacy and orality but they do make it clear that written documentation in the form of rules in manuals was less helpful for learning and practising the trade of drywalling than the spoken maxim: In this study, even novices identified very early on that using and applying rules would limit their ability to develop competence, in this case in relation to time factors and the wastage of stone. Rules very quickly gave way to maxims, and these were shown to be an important vehicle for learning, as well as communication between learners (Farrar & Trorey, 2008, p. 47).

Even so, broader modern applications of maxims may still exist in fields unconnected to trade or industrial settings. Strate (2012b, p. 104) suggested that “oral traditions, oral media, and mnemonic systems can survive and possibly thrive in literate media environments” while Crosbie and Guhin (2019, p.  381) gave an instance of how even in relatively complex areas such as sociological theory, scholars’ use of aphorisms nevertheless possessed value in their quality of being memorable. Inevitably they were simplistic, but “that very simplification can provide a point of focus for productive misreading and reinterpretation”. The motivation for the government investment in apprentices’ literacy described here was that apprentices would first ‘become literate’, which would permit them to complete their workbooks. However, we found that this mainly did not happen. The workbooks were largely completed and sometimes this signalled that an individual’s literacy had strengthened, but this was not necessarily the case. Apprentices’ approaches to their work were grounded in orality more

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than print, even though growing up in an industrialised society in the 21st century they had encountered print all their lives and were aware of its salience. They were still aware, nonetheless, that the oral-experiential ecosystem that they inhabited has its own strengths. Apprentices’ Confidence. The present research has been surveying the question of how best to understand the relative affordances of literacy and orality. In the apprentices’ literacy programme that we were contracted to assess, as already explained, ultimately the lack of priority for building literacy as such meant that most apprentices, while completing their bookwork and receiving their apprentice’s certificate, had not advanced far into more developed forms of literacy. Hence their ability to capture or employ explicit knowledge in print form had probably been little advanced by the programme. It was notable notwithstanding that typically via one-to-one literacy support the apprentices built their confidence far beyond where it had been at the point at which they had come into the programme. Their confidence came from realising that they were now succeeding in their bookwork to a level deemed sufficient or almost sufficient by their peers at work. But the literacy programme’s funders might have been taken aback to find out that while the apprentices had become more confident, this was within a hardly altered culture of orality within which their everyday work experience continued to reinforce and sustain them. Our interviews with apprentices, employers, training coordinators, and tutors revealed much about the conditions under which apprentices along with others at work may be able to change how they see and define themselves in new ways. It appeared to us that the apprentices’ identity as budding tradespeople who learn by doing rather than via literate means was robust and not threatened from any assumptions from a print literate world that people learn by solitary, private study. However, a different identity, one that incorporated some learning from print sources, was emerging, through apprentices invariably becoming more confident in themselves and thus more secure and fluent in their work interactions with others. Certainly, their ability to communicate via the tools of literacy was improved to some extent in most instances, but more so was their feeling empowered to speak up as confident members of their work setting. This was a partial modification of each person’s work habitus, being a reworking and enrichment of its communicative dimensions. For Wenger (1998), the nature of one’s identity is an integral part of how people see themselves as learners, and it has a powerful influence on the learning that is done and attempted. For example, Illich and Sanders (1988) have identified ways in which deep forms of education have empowering characteristics and have the potential to transform identities. Our interviews with apprentices and tutors



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indicated that the former were mainly prepared to accept a primary identity as learners when in one-to-one sessions with the literacy tutors, even sometimes reluctantly and temporarily. Yet they would revert to their main self-understanding as trades personnel at work, because of the tensions and contradictions they encountered in trying to juggle two worlds with dissimilar or conflicting cultures but especially because of the sheer strength of the workplace culture in their everyday lives. Nevertheless, the confidence apprentices developed as they found they could engage more successfully with their print learning materials carried over into their everyday work lives. This did start to modify whoever they had been before, forming an altered workplace identity. Apprentices were coming to terms with a different, newly-negotiated self that was balanced between the norms of literacy to which the tutor had been able to introduce them to some extent, and their more predominant ecosystem of embodied competencies of the body and of their trade materials. In line with these findings, Swain (2005) remarks of confidence that it “is the most commonly reported effect” from literacy and numeracy training. It is one of the most fundamental and widespread dividends from learning, and has a series of wider benefits at both an individual and community level. This is likely to have a significant effect on learners’ levels of attainment, their attitudes to learning, aspirations, and their general social interactions (p. 8).

Likewise, Tett (2019) cited evidence from research exploring outcomes from Scottish community and prison-based programmes that adult literacy development assisted participants to achieve “transformative changes in their learning identities, and these changes encompassed cognitive, emotional, and social dimensions” (p.  154). See also Sligo, Tilley, Culligan, Comrie, Vaccarino and Franklin (2006). Ong (1982) had the view that primary orality tended to foster personality types more communal and oriented to externalities, in contrast to the introspection “common among literates” (p. 69). As earlier mentioned, Ong considered that while oral communication connects people, reading and writing are normally solitary activities “that throw the psyche back on itself ” (p. 69). Such preference for shared rather than solitary enterprise is presumably one reason why the apprentices were so appreciative of the one-to-one assistance from their literacy tutors. A preference for the communal helps to account for the cooperative ways in which apprentices’ assignments were completed. This involved one-to-one sharing of their work assignments by apprentices, and collective workgroup undertaking of the problems in apprentices’ learning materials.

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We heard of instances such as on a building site where heavy rainfall had temporarily interrupted work, enabling workers to discuss the questions within the apprentices’ learning materials, debating the pros and cons of the examples provided in the assignment. This took the resolution of the learning problem away from the introverted, individualistic context that those who devised the assignment might have had in mind, and into the communal discourse of the workplace community of practice where issues were normally resolved via interaction. While this was not presumably what the training course providers anticipated would happen, it was fully in line with collective expectations. Then it was evident that advances in literacy flowed on into strengthened practices in other forms of communication at work. Some managers confirmed that apprentices now spoke more confidently and fluently to clients on the phone. In workplace meetings, some apprentices for the first time felt able to advance new ideas and generally to participate more fully in the spoken conversation. Interviewees put this down to increased confidence and it was an important element in apprentices’ greater engagement with workplace communication. As apprentices’ capability in literacy advanced to some extent and as their fear of it declined, they were becoming more empowered in their interactions with co-workers in everyday oral-experiential workplace practices. In this way their stronger presence in workplace activities served to build their self-confidence. It is possible that something along the lines of what Ong (1982) postulated was occurring. He believed that “once the chirographically initiated feel for precision and analytic exactitude is interiorized, it can feed back into speech and does” (p. 103). That is, apprentices who were assisted in their literacy might have found themselves better-equipped to play a stronger part in their workplace interactions. Ong went on to postulate that “writing makes possible increasingly articulate introspectivity” (p. 104). Again, he is referring to how everyday habituation in the routines of literacy accustoms the individual to forms of thought and expression not formerly experienced. This might not have occurred to any great extent for the apprentices we met though it nevertheless depicts a journey that some of them appeared to have started on. For Ong (1982) “knowledge is ultimately not a fractioning but a unifying phenomenon, a striving for harmony” (pp. 71–72). Lave and Wenger (1991, 1998) were influenced by similar thinking in their accounts of workplace communities of practice. Practices are conditioned by the expectations of the communities in which they occur, including consistency and integrity in how things are known and how work is performed. In the present study, the apprentices’ oral world possessed its own culture or expressive harmony that featured collective interactions much more than solitary, individualistic on-site practices.



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Within this context, an introduction of the demands of literacy typically appeared incongruent and disharmonious to them. The apprentices felt conflicted by what they were encountering. On the one hand, they were being told that they would not get the necessary certification unless they completed their bookwork. On the other, they perceived how others at work, especially their managers, were uninterested in and resistant to text-based ways of undertaking work. The apprentices had to tread a difficult line between compliance with the certification requisites of their trade, and behaviour that would demonstrate their incipient membership in their trade community of practice. The oral culture of the workplace has its own integrity and grace, or as Ong says, (1982, p.  14) “oral cultures indeed produce powerful and beautiful verbal performances of high artistic and human worth, which are no longer even possible once writing has taken possession of the psyche”. While the ecosystem of our apprentices in literate liminality is not a fully oral culture, yet it has characteristics of being layered, featuring both oral and literacy elements. A largely tacit anxiety about loss or diminution of the workplace’s oral culture and its forms of expression underlies at least part of the local resistance to “the academics” who produce workplace learning texts as reported on in Chapter Two. Although no-one we spoke to might have used this terminology, as earlier proposed by Styhre, Josephson and Knauseder (2006, p. 94) “verbal and embodied interactions constituted the core of joint learning in the workplace” which respondents knew intuitively, feeling disturbed by the misalignment of text and talk in how apprentices were being told to learn. This observation also suggests a point made by Daniel Bell (1973) who said that there should be no inconsistency between cognitive and aesthetic modes of undertaking workplace practices. He believed instead that knowledge creation, in fact, depends on the cognitive and the aesthetic reinforcing each other: “[t]‌he cognitive makes the variety of experience more intelligible by its reduction to conceptual form; the aesthetic makes experience more vivid by its presentation in an expressive mode” (p. 422). Perhaps the aestheticism of the collective oral-experiential culture is resistant to the encroachments of individualistic analytical practices associated with literacy. The apprentices’ literacies of their body, of the materials with which they work, and of their tools can be seen as a kind of aesthetics. Apprentices are starting to become familiar with the performative modes of expertise inherent in how they perform work on site. Yet we noted evidence of potential occurring for better understanding and better practice of work through more developed use of cognitive-conceptual approaches to the task.

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This research has pointed out how those of liminal literacy show signs of uneasiness at the inconsistencies around the increasing predominance of textual materials at work and want to reject the rising print demands of their work. Nevertheless, we also noted the cautious pleasure expressed by apprentices who had been supported into achieving a new level in their literacy learning. For the first time they started to see their own experience in a new light, now early in the process of starting to theorise in explicit form the embodied knowledge that they had been developing by more tacit means in the past. Current trades have numerous how-to-do-it manuals full of explicit knowledge about how work is to be done, both in traditional printed form and in online modes, typically packaged in modules that seek to meet learners’ needs. This study’s experience though has been that the employers, industry association training coordinators and apprentices tend to regard traditional printed manuals with some scepticism or almost as a necessary evil, seeing them as a kind of accretion on top of the integrated knowledge (both explicit and tacit) that vivifies local practice. The role ambiguity earlier discussed in Chapter Three is not a fault of this particular literacy programme. Instead, it is a general characteristic of the field of adult literacy in workplaces that make much use of embodied practices. Ong (1982) refers to how literate people lack understanding of non-textual worlds in his comment on “the relentless dominance of textuality in the scholarly mind” (p. 10). Yet the interplay between literacy and orality is severely under-theorised in respect to its impact on learning at work. Hence the vagueness of the literacy tutors referred to above as to their priorities arises from the uncertainty in the available theory as to the nature of the ‘problem’ and its solution.

chapter five

Liminal Literacy and Social Practice Views

Much investment has been allocated to research into literacy, as measured by pencil and paper tests (Jones, 1997) but very little has been provided to encourage investigation into adults’ oral lives. In part, this reflects the difficulty of actually arriving at an agreed-upon way to come to an assessment of how oral communities communicate. But in a study separate from the apprentices’ one described so far, we were fortunate to be contracted to undertake research with those who were dissatisfied by their own literacy abilities and who believed that their work and community aspirations were being impeded by insufficient literacy. Given the sensitivity of the subject matter, such individuals are typically problematic to reach and so their voices are seldom heard. Previous chapters have described what was found in interviews with apprentices and their work collaborators. From a different research programme, further strong evidence was obtained for how those with liminal literacy see the place of literacy in their everyday lives. The New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science and Technology had contracted our research group to study the relationship of adult literacy and employment in research based in the city of Whanganui. We undertook three sets of interviews with adult literacy learners, the first with approximately 90 persons enrolled in adult literacy classes, the second with many of the same individuals in the following year, and the third with a further



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selection of adult literacy learners (Murray, Franklin, Comrie, Watson, Shearer, Tilley, Sligo & Vaccarino, 2007). We asked these interviewees what they would think of as their literacy needs and found that their needs are located within a broad matrix of communication, personal and technical attributes. An initial overview of the themes that were emerging from participants’ reasons for engaging with literacy training, were, in particular, literacy’s contribution to communication generally, its place in assisting people to work with computers, the accepted need for reading/ writing ability, literacy’s contribution to enhancing life skills, building confidence, improving one’s English vocabulary, grammar and expression, furnishing a qualification, its contribution to cultural literacy, and how literacy develops work skills (Sligo, Tilley, Murray & Comrie, 2015). These findings were like those of Jones (2018), who also cited evidence for the unhelpful character of defining literacy in narrow and reductionist ways. She discusses how individuals’ literacy practices may be directly supportive in helping people to navigate their everyday lives. Everyday lives find their expression in orality as pointed out by Strate (2012a, p. 450) who stressed the communal character of oral communication, “whether it is the bond formed by dialogue between two individuals, or the fact that the audience for public speaking and oral performance form a unity”. It came through strongly in our interviews that those with liminal literacy see communication not as to, but with; they do not see it as there to transmit some structured point of view, but rather to share experiences with others with whom one is in community. Their sense of the oral affordances in community participation was echoed by Ellul (1985, p. 3) in his observation that [h]‌uman spoken language [permits the] overflowing of limits, going beyond, and destructuring what can be conveyed in tactile or visual language. Its essential aspects are breadth of meaning, ambiguity, and variation in interpretation. A sign in human language does not correspond to a thing. A word calls up echoes, feelings intertwined with thoughts, reasons mingled with irrationality, motives that lead nowhere, and uncoordinated urges.

Our participants wanted to be understood as agentive and tactical users of literacy, employing it in ways that contribute to and comprise an element within an intense human context. These participants’ insights provide a comprehensive account of literacy needs and one that is more balanced than that available via any deficit-oriented approach, as developed further below in this chapter (Tilley, Comrie, Watson, Culligan, Sligo, Franklin & Vaccarino, 2006). Respondents may have in mind multiple dimensions of their work and community lives in which they are prepared to seek more expertise. They see literacy as something to supplement, not to replace, their other forms of learning and

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being. Sometimes they reflected on how, over time, a change has occurred in the discursive construction of the workplace with a rising influx of text into organisational processes. In association, there has been an increasing awareness of how workers’ enhanced writing may strengthen other attributes, especially their oral communication with others, their participation in workplace processes, their confidence at work, and their civic engagement, among other factors (Swain, 2005). Street (1984, 1995) maintained that it is important to try to understand relationships between literacy and orality, and these interviewees provided us with some such instances of how literacy and orality appear to work in tandem. Strate (2006, p. 108) referred to how “[l]‌iteracy renders the oral tradition obsolescent, and oral cultures have difficulty surviving when they are thrust into competition with literate cultures”. The present research supports this contention, but liminally literate people within the present study remain as active participants within their persisting oral forms of cognition and communication, sometimes in ways that are not obvious to the highly literate and which find support within their oral-experiential settings. They also gave us indications of how their perspectives both support and contradict the stances taken by social practice theorists such as Gee, Street, Barton, Cope, and Kalantzis which are further discussed in this book. Functional literacy. “Functional” literacy and literacy itself are both contested terms (e.g., Perry, Shaw, Ivanyuk, & Tham, 2018). For one grouping of scholars who are influenced by cognitive science, functional literacy means the ability to attain a given score in a pen and paper literacy test. For social practice thinkers, it means an account of whether someone appears to be making a beneficial contribution in some workplace, home, or community setting. Conflict exists between literacy viewed as an individual cognitive skill versus literacy as a situated social practice. The two sides of the ideological spectrum remain poles apart in respect of literacy and how best to define it. Then to compound the difficulty, as already noted by Turner (2010) nor does there exist any comprehensive theory of orality that would satisfy diverse fields of scholarship. Reframing issues within the media ecology field has the best prospects of resolving the standoff and this chapter explores ways in which matters of both literacy and orality in the workplace and the community can be understood. Some work has been done to present literacy and orality within a media ecology context (e.g., Carr, 2010; Ramos, 2000; Strate, 2014a) but empirical work in this area especially in workplace contexts is still rare. Social practice researchers stress that knowledge and knowledge practices such as embodied in human interactions are socially constituted. From this collectivist standpoint, they strongly critique cognitive theorists’ conception of knowledge as the property of somebody processing data in their head in a solitary



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manner. However, while research into the social, applied manifestations of knowing is critical if we are to understand how literacy is employed at work, from the present writer’s perspective the individual as a personage who takes and makes meaning from texts or oral exchange is far from irrelevant to the discussion and in many ways should be central to it. This is especially the case for the apprentices studied in this book who, through encountering rising expectations of print usage in the modern, document-driven workplace, have come to realise that they are not well equipped to access the printed or online texts increasingly being used at work. Problematically at present, there are competing paradigms that take no account of each other. In the social practice literature, an unhelpful binary approach has emerged, constructing a dualism between a cognitive or skills orientation versus a social practice understanding of literacy on the job, but not open to considering both. For example, Belfiore (2004) says that “[a]‌skills approach to literacy addresses the mechanical aspects, while a social practice approach focuses on those meanings, contradictory as they may be, that are central” (p. 49). This book holds instead that it makes more sense to begin with the lived reality for the liminally-literate and to use that as the basis to build a better understanding of the meaning and implications of literacy and orality in workplaces and community. Writers such as Belfiore (2004) or Farrell (2006) stress the agency to be seen among workers but do not distinguish the situation of workers with high literacy from those without. For example, Belfiore frames up worker behaviour to do with literacy as essentially a cost-benefit or risk-opportunity analysis that workers perform, independent of their capabilities: Every day the workers gauge the risk versus opportunity factors of literacy use and seem to act in what they see as their and their co-workers’ own best interests. Thus, literacy use is a negotiated act, not a simple execution of skills (Belfiore, 2004, p. 23).

The problem with this analysis for the liminally-literate persons in our study is that they lack the literacy (usually along with the confidence in their self-efficacy) that might permit them to engage in negotiations of this kind. Apprentices often possessed very good oral-experiential abilities of the body, tools, and materials, along with excellent memories, but their liminal status in the use of printed or digital texts meant they were generally unable to weigh up the pros and cons of literacy use and to employ it in the way as suggested above. This stemmed from their lack of agency, given their exclusion from the literacy discourse through their disempowerment by a liminal skill base and their position at a low point of self-confidence.

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Ongoing research needs to acknowledge that while there are different perspectives within the diverse literatures of literacy scholarship it is necessary to build on the work done in diverse relevant fields. This includes both the cognitive specialists who have focused on solitary learning and capability as well as the social practice researchers who see no point in thinking about the individual as consumer of texts but who instead address the collective dimensions of scriptural use. The present book, therefore, attends to both personal and collective dimensions of literacy in the workplace. It assesses textual abilities at the individual level while simultaneously surveying the collective characteristics of how people use texts, accepting that both are relevant to the understanding of skill use within present-day work environments. The discourse of deficit. Gee (1986) studied literacy skills creation among the working classes in 19th century Canada, arguing that “[i]‌lliterates were considered dangerous to the social order” (Gee, 1986, p. 733). One element in social practice literacy research has attempted to determine how individuals with limited literacy are regarded such as in the language of governmental literacy policy. In an analysis of policy texts to identify the nature of what is being implied about the standing of those with limited literacy, Castleton (1999) found that the focus in society’s “literacy problem” generally seems to be only on people at the bottom end of society. This assumption appears to be held by commentators both in the public and private sectors but may even include literacy practitioners. This amounts to a formidable weight of opinion that sees human performance deficit as the normal way to frame the literacy issue. Writers in the field of New Literacy Studies (NLS) strongly object to what they see as latter-day colonialist and racist views associated with the exhortations that workers should become more literate. Gee (1986) thinks that this applies to both popular and scholarly writing, holding the view that the 19th-century dichotomy between “primitive” versus “civilised” has been insidiously reinvented in modern times as illiterate versus literate. He said that “the term literate in the dichotomy literate/ nonliterate came to replace the term civilized in the older dichotomy civilized/primitive” (p. 719, emphasis in original). In this way, authors such as Gee see themselves as correcting a corrupt and inherent supremacist bias in their argument that the exhortations for everyone to become print-literate poorly mask a thinly-disguised contemporary version of systemic bias against whoever is deemed as “the other”. There has been and still is a covert (or even overt) blaming attitude towards those of low literacy (Gee, 1986). Jackson (2004) has pointed to the “inflated claims that blame workers’ alleged ‘skill deficits’ for such broad and complex social problems as poverty, unemployment, workplace accidents, and disease;



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even lagging productivity” (p. 7). Goody (1977) refers to “restricted literacy” (as opposed to highly competent literacy) but he was criticised by Gee (1986) who contended that he was inappropriately privileging literacy. Critical scholars are rightly opposed to literacy being defined in deficit terms, citing evidence of aggressive attitudes towards the liminally literate, including how they are regarded both as having the problem, and being the problem (Brine, 2006) for example in respect of literacy and industrial productivity (Gee, 2000; Street, 1984, 1995, 2017). However, Brandt (2001) takes this to what seems to be an extreme by arguing that it is pointless to view difficulties in literacy as applying to the individual. Instead, she sees such problems as “learning disturbances in reading and writing” that are typical of “the perpetual condition in which all of us are forced to function” (p. 44). Brandt’s notion of a “perpetual condition” of incapability seems a little deterministic, even though in a macro sense perhaps it is true, as presumably everyone on the planet could identify areas of their language understanding and use that have limitations in some shape or form. We might imagine that no-one is perfectly literate so to speak and that anyone could further enhance their skills in literate performance. But using this perspective to avoid seeing the unique situation of any given person does not address the predicament for those with liminal literacy. We might also observe that a self-diagnosed “disturbance” in one’s reading and writing abilities as personally stated to exist by a long-established university researcher is very different in terms of its threat to job tenure security, for example, than that experienced by a liminally-literate shop-floor worker. In an associated commentary on new electronic media, Sanders (1995, p. 137) warned about the pitfalls of highly literate people projecting their particular situation onto the liminally literate. He pointed out that [t]‌he literates … have yet to develop an adequate vocabulary for the new consciousness of illiteracy … Those who celebrate the intensities and discontinuities of postmodern electronic culture in print write from an advanced literacy. That literacy provides them the profound power of choosing their ideational repertoire. No such choice – or power – is available to the illiterate young person subjected to an endless stream of electronic images.

As already explained, both the apprentices described here and liminally-literate people in community felt deprived by their inability to read and write to the same level as their peers. Possessing insufficient literacy at work is to be freighted with a large cargo of social stigma and many with liminal literacy go to great lengths to hide how they are being pressured. If asked to sign some document at work, our interviewees or others with whom they worked revealed how they might make excuses, saying that they were

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currently too busy but would take it home and sign it there. In such an instance typically, there would be a family member who could read the document and counsel them on how to respond to it. We heard about some who said they had mislaid their glasses, or they had hurt their hand and so could not sign the document at present. They felt humiliated by having to engage in deceptive routines of this kind but defensive manoeuvres like this cannot be maintained indefinitely. Their situation was remarked on by Sanders (1995, p. 185) who noted that [t]‌o be illiterate in a literate society is to feel both outside the system and at the same time to be persecuted by it. As schools teach reading and writing today, young people treat literacy both as something irrelevant, and as an insurmountable obstacle. They have a hard time seeing literacy as a playful activity, because most young children have missed their time in orality, a time when a desire for linguistic play begins to develop. Without that experience of delight and joy in language, learning to write looks like learning so many rules – and reading gets reduced to cracking an impossibly difficult code.

Then “[o]‌nce a person faces literacy as an enemy, it is hard to ever give its other side, its ability to empower, a real chance” (p. 223). Liminally literate apprentices will be relieved at the more jesting and relaxed collective climate of the workplace and contrast it with the relatively serious, concentrated site of individual literacy learning, the latter a context to be associated with previous failure and humiliation. Ong (1967, p. 30) pointed out how in an oral culture, verbalized learning takes place quite normally in an atmosphere of celebration or play … Only with the invention of writing and the isolation of the individual from the tribe will verbal learning and understanding itself become ‘work’ as distinct from play.

While current industrial learning for those of liminal literacy may not be celebratory as such, certainly there is an element of play in on-site shared learning, with jokes and mutual kidding-around normalised in everyday life. The everyday and snowballing incursion of texts into the workplace means it is increasingly hard to hide difficulties with reading, writing, or entering digital text into a computer to a level deemed satisfactory in everyday duties. There is further an argument (Walker, 2017) that little systematic research has been done to better understand how pressured and ashamed those of liminal literacy feel about their situation, or the handicap that this constitutes for them (Buddeberg, 2019). Importantly, our research found that people with liminal literacy certainly were not caught in Brandt’s (2001) “perpetual condition” of inability to read texts. Literacy tutors had good insights into how to address the circumstances of each literacy learner and in nearly all cases were able by tailored means to help the



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person they were working with to achieve at least some fruitful results. Even if literacy did not radically improve, tutors found ways to build learners’ self-confidence and self-esteem. Literacy tutors stressed how each learner had different literacy needs. Some were strong in reading though not in writing. Some had a good command of numeracy but had been labelled by themselves or others as a failure in anything to do with reading and writing. No one-size-fits-all was possible for the diagnosis of literacy learners’ major needs for their development or for the kind of tutoring that was needed. Since each learner was unique tutors had to align their support in optimal ways for that individual. With such support, learners felt greatly empowered as they and others at work saw how their skills or other attributes improved. However, Burgess (2004), another writer in the NLS tradition, in her assessment of adult learners and the discourse of deficit in adult literacy education, described how “if a person’s primary discourse differs from the powerful Discourse [sic] of education she will experience failure at school and the resulting loss of self-esteem will spill over into other areas of life” (p. 50). (Here Burgess is using Gee’s (1999) description of a socially predominant “Discourse” as opposed to the more everyday use of the term discourse.) She said that a student’s learning is likely to be impeded by “the acceptance of the ideological aspect of this deficit discourse of literacy” (p. 51). She remarked that one of her research participants’ comments that she was “hopeless at English” and “my spelling was so bad” in fact “reveal strong alignment with the discourse of schooling” (p. 51). No-one would debate Burgess’s observation that if someone accepted a deficit view of themselves this would damage any positive sense of who they were, along with their ability to learn. Problematically, though, the young people whom we worked with, both apprentices and in community, were typically undermined by the teasing and possibly bullying from others that resulted from their liminal literacy. Their situation was worsened by annoyed and frustrated reactions from supervisors when it became evident that they were unable to read basic printed information, and when others could not interpret what their attempts at handwriting might mean. That is, it was not a deficit view of literacy that caused the apprentices to feel demoralised. Rather, it was the pressure of everyday beliefs in the workplace or community that everyone would be able to read and write to whatever level of competence was regarded as sufficient to make them a participant in that domain. In other words, it was precisely when apprentices were introduced to the “discourse of schooling” as defined above and with one-to-one support were able to integrate it with their everyday discourse of the workplace that they were able to start to build their expertise, then their confidence. Only at that point could

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they start to realise the possibility of their succeeding in the basic literacy tasks needed at work. Thus, the apprentices’ carefully guided entry into the discourse of schooling empowered rather than disempowered them, in contrast to their previous experience. We learned that the “schooling” which young liminally-literate persons were receiving in both our apprentices’ study and the Whanganui research in the form of one-to-one support from their literacy tutors was vastly different from what they had faced in the classroom environment at school. Their schools had failed these young people. It was only because the teaching and learning within adult literacy support settings were qualitatively so different from what had gone before that apprentices were able to engage with texts at a higher level and reimagine themselves as different and more successful people. “Mere literacy”. One question that needs to be raised about the NLS position is the extent to which it addresses those with liminal literacy who aspire to strengthen their capability. In response to aggressive and blaming attitudes, such as in the study by Brine (2006) referred to above, social practice theorists have tended to play down the importance of literacy, for example referring to it as “mere literacy” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p.5). When NLS authors ignore the situation of people whose insufficient literacy inevitably excludes them from the labour force or keeps them marginalised in precarious low-wage jobs, they take no account of how such individuals, in our research, are demoralised by how others, like co-workers, supervisors, customers, etc., typically regard their lack of skills in reading and writing texts to a level that was satisfactory for the particular setting. For instance, they face severe penalties associated with liminal literacy as they encounter criticism or bullying at work when they cannot live up to their workmates’, customers’ or supervisors’ norms around literacy on the job. Low literacy is felt as deeply humiliating and it is associated with long-held self-assessments of oneself as “dumb”. By “dumb” our participants meant stupid, though we found self-criticism of this kind to be wholly unfounded. Yet “dumb” which in another sense of the word refers to silence, is not a bad descriptor of liminal literacy. That is, an inability to engage with others via the printed or digital word indeed strips away one’s voice at work and in society more widely, undermining fuller engagement in workplace and community life.

Silence, Avoidance, and Resistance Betts (2003) in reporting on an adult literacy training programme in El Salvador comments how on people ‘vote with their feet’ in rejecting literacy classes that



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were offered to them. Sometimes non-attendance at adult education classes is accounted for using explanations of deficit or deprivation. Deficit assumes that something is lacking in those with inadequate literacy, such as they can’t be bothered to attend classes, while explanations to do with deprivation suggest that such persons are so put upon in their everyday lives that they simply cannot get to the training offered because of other difficulties in their lives. Yet for Betts, rejecting adult literacy classes was not because those involved were too indifferent or lazy to attend (a deficit explanation) and nor was it primarily because of obstacles in their way (an explanation to do with deprivation). Instead, people were saying no to literacy classes since they defined their rationale and modus operandi as being based on terms dictated by the predominant socio-economic system from which they felt shut out. One kind of social exclusion begets what could be seen as an equal and opposite response from the excluded. This evokes Bakhtin’s (1981) description of silence or avoidance as a political act. In a lifeworld in which a person is oppressed, silence and withdrawal become possible or even normal responses to a context in which people feel affronted by their circumstances. A choice not to communicate or participate may feel more empowering than using words and may comprise learned behaviour through generations. If the rhetoric of empowerment through literacy no longer seems persuasive to the dispossessed, then it will be rejected. In this way, non-attendance at events like adult literacy classes could be a customary response to what is seen as pressure from other, dominant voices in society. If those in power are recognised as highly literate in English and are seen to be telling the deprived to become literate, then a silence-based rejection of their demands might be logical and predictable. Although silence may be mistaken for non-communication, it is probably more accurate to say that silence often represents communication by another means. That is, silence may comprise the situated act of a choice to be non-responsive under such conditions where one’s community expects it. Gowen (1992) was one of the earlier literacy researchers to take an interest in the implications of workers’ resistance to change in terms of workplace politics. She found instances when hospital workers’ noncompliance with organisational instructions was assumed to stem from their liminal literacy. Instead, she believed, they should more properly be understood as self-defence and resistance to unsafe workplace practices which included insufficient institutional care mandated for needles used by AIDS patients. For the present writer, though, the debate was clarified through seeing the seriously disadvantaged situation of young people who had literacy that was insufficient to permit them to do well at work. These individuals typically felt

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disempowered and humiliated by their inability to keep up with their more-literate peers. They often had rock-bottom confidence in themselves, might be teased or bullied on account of their lesser performance, and, because of carrying the stigma of insufficient literacy, felt unable to be candid about their literacy developmental needs. It was clear that while they needed strong and persisting support to build their literacy, the industrial community of less-literate practice that they encountered on site actively worked against their being able to build good literacy. Postman and Weingartner (1969, p. 166) observed that “[b]‌eing illiterate in the processes of any medium (language) leaves one at the mercy of those who control it”. While the apprentices we worked with were not “illiterate” nevertheless their less-literate status still puts them at risk. Resistance and workplace innovation. In her reflection on literacy practices, Hunter (2004) told the story of a research participant, a cleaner named Rosa who did not seem to have very advanced literacy. Rosa’s “knowledge and use of English on the job is adequate” (p. 39) but she designed then maintained her own unique, data-rich written systems to record the routines that she maintained in her cleaning spaces. Her actions came from her own initiative and were not sanctioned by workplace managers who might be suspected to be less capable and enterprising than Rosa. Hunter lauded Rosa’s invention of a checklist system as demonstrating her abilities in creative thought, showing initiative and problem solving concerning “a simple document” (p. 258). She proposed that the skills which Rosa displayed “are often considered ‘higher-order’ in character, which supposedly goes hand-inhand only with ‘higher’ literacy levels, that is, use of more complex, linguistically dense texts” (p. 258). Here, Hunter (2004) aligned herself with the NLS position that low achievement in literacy has no bearing at all on someone’s capacity to engage in high-level cognitive practices. However, to this, it could be observed that while Rosa’s creative thinking, initiative, and problem solving are unquestioned, they are particular to her on-the-job workplace cleaning responsibilities. We are given no evidence that this hard-working and thoughtful individual was able to generalise beyond her context; and note that it is precisely an ability to generalise beyond one’s immediate surroundings and perform abstractions that cognitive theorists (Carr, 2010; Dehaene, 2009; Donald, 2001; Wolf, 2018), as well as historians such as Ong (1982) and Innis (2007), suggest as characteristic of the print-literate mind. Hunter (2004) also described the importance of interpreting literacy events from within a social practice framework, with which it is easy to concur. While an interpretation of that kind helps to enhance an understanding of literacy, it is not sufficient; to complete a fuller understanding of how literacy works in diverse



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situations it should be regarded as complementary to cognitive theory. It is quite possible to celebrate Rosa’s achievements in her particular setting, but at the same time, it is indispensable to consider the views of the neuroscience and cognitive theorists who have made advances in literacy brain and mind (Castro-Caldas, 2004; Julayanont & Ruthirago, 2018; Wolf, 2007, 2018) as reported in more detail below. An old joke plays with the juxtaposition of abstractions and practicalities. It seems that Sherlock Holmes and Dr.  Watson went camping in the desert, set up their tent, and fell asleep.  Some hours later, Holmes woke his faithful friend: ‘Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see’. Watson replied, ‘I see millions of stars.’ ‘What does that tell you?’ asked Holmes. Watson pondered for a minute. ‘Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Chronologically, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is all-powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you, Holmes?’ Holmes was silent for a moment, then: ‘Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent’ (source: various Internet joke sites). This nicely illustrates the mutual miscomprehension and gulf between the oral-experiential person and the theoretician. Naturally, in a crisis, anyone would rather be accompanied by a companion who possessed practical nous rather than by one whose mind is programmed to astronomy, astrology, chronology, theology, meteorology, or any other recondite discourse. Yet most of us, most of the time, are not wandering in a desert. Instead, in the postmodernity of most organisational environments, people seek to introduce more innovative, sophisticated products and services that are international best practice. In that world, specialist knowledge is increasingly indispensable. Some accounts of workers’ unofficial and unacknowledged but essential capabilities refer to competencies of the body, tools, or materials. An instance is Belfiore’s (2004) account of machine operator Earl, who “is in sync with his machine. He knows the smooth sounds that make him smile and the rough ones that warn him to be watchful. To me it all sounds like a racket” (p. 25). Belfiore talks of Sergio, a worker who has created an innovative written documentation system in parallel to the one authorised by his enterprise, to make up for its deficiencies and to ensure that the quality of his shop-floor processes was not undermined by the shortcomings of the officially sanctioned documentation systems. Yet Sergio’s manager did not welcome any such initiative and when Belfiore as visiting ethnographic researcher asked Sergio for an example of what he was

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doing, Sergio was uncomfortable at handing over his workings: “… he seemed to have felt at risk if anyone in management or his co-workers saw that he was refining the calculations in the company’s book” (p. 59). Given the pressures of standardized international certification systems, Sergio’s invention of unauthorised record-keeping in place of agreed-upon documentation systems “is not official and could get workers into trouble in audits” (Belfiore, 2004, p. 59). In her assessment, though, the quality of his record-keeping was of better quality than the official version and his system both sustained his job satisfaction and produced a more effective result for the company. Here we see a tension between the formalised institutional systems, presumably imposed from the organisational centre, and the counter-systems devised at the shop-floor level. In a comparable ethnographic study, Hull (2000) described a worker called San, employed in a US circuit-manufacturing company, who took over a meeting designed to build his team’s literacy practices, subverting its purpose, in order “to demonstrate how he had solved a very important literacy-related work problem” (p.  650). She recounted how he refused to provide the documentation needed to calculate quality and productivity scores until the company had supplied him with the data he asked for. Similarly, Follinsbee (2004) reported from her ethnographic research in industrial settings that she had been struck by how the worker-initiated innovations and ideas had “improved both the quality and efficiency of the work process” (p.74). She contrasted her awareness with what she had heard from managers who, however, seemed to lack understanding of their workers’ creativity. Yet Farrell (2006) signalled, comparably to de Certeau’s observations, what the wider picture might entail: “[p]‌eople, very often, resist being tamed; they defy, subvert or co-opt textual practices to their own purposes” (p. 2). Here are instances of workplace tensions as workers try to maintain some autonomy via local determinations of how they wish to do their work, while their managers attempt, sometimes driven by national or international quality requirements, to achieve standardisation across diverse workplace regions. In this jockeying for organisational position literacy may be a ground of contention in which wishes for local autonomy become positioned against the drive for organisation-wide standardisation. Farrell (2006) talks of a participant (whom she called Bill) who seemed to have a fair level of literacy that was sufficient to cope with everyday textual demands. Yet his standard approach was to reject the legitimacy of the print materials arriving in his area of responsibility, commenting repeatedly that “written texts could not capture his knowledge, or any other working knowledge worth having” (p. 114). This perspective appears typical of occupational orality rather than an orientation to literacy.



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Farrell goes on to draw attention to issues of power and contestation for influence in his enterprise since he “well understood that the dominance of the written text was fundamentally about restructuring authority in the workplace and shifting legitimacy from the local site to the remote Head Offices of companies which did not even employ him” (p. 114). Bill is represented here as possessing insights into the company’s centralisation imperative and of providing a thoughtful analysis of the local consequences for himself and others. In tandem with this, Bill discerned that printed texts could not do justice to the subtlety of his knowledge about his work and the simplistic ways in which they render complex realities. Tales of this nature often report local resistance to macro globalised systems that may be a poor fit with particular regional conditions. They serve as an appropriate counterweight to the deficit model of blame often pinned upon those of liminal literacy, as earlier discussed in Chapter Two. Social practice researchers seem to employ accounts of this kind out of a frustration with the implicit ideological bias or blaming attitude against the liminally literate and the insinuation that such people both possessed and embodied “the problem” (Brine, 2006). Any such focus on workers’ limitations has also had the additional dysfunctional effect of distracting attention from “important silences, stories that are not being told about the experience, skills, and abilities” (Gee, 1986, p. 720) possessed by enterprise members without much overt power. Social practice theorists typically make the point that literacy comprises a set of discourse practices and “these discourse practices are tied to the particular world views (beliefs and values) of particular social or cultural groups” (Gee, 1986, p.  720). The NLS-influenced ethnographic research included in the present chapter illustrates disparate and competing world views across different organisational layers and levels, and rightly sets out to contribute a counterbalancing perspective to the discourse of deficit still used to blame those of liminal literacy. New digital literacies. NLS writers have been exploring what they call new digital literacies, arguing that the Internet and other forms of digital technology have reconfigured how the term literacy is to be understood and further arguing that digital technologies enable “immediate, global, and continuous change” to literacies and how they are employed (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu, 2008, p. 5). They advocate for a broader conception of literacy and describe the need for constant adaptation “to the new literacies required by the new technologies” (p. 5). However, it is still important to acknowledge the situation of people such as the apprentices and others in the current study who, with minimal literacy capabilities, are little able to keep adapting to new Internet literacies. This is because new literacies, whether text or visually-based, all to a greater or lesser

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extent necessitate print literacy as a set of precursor competencies. It may be that the tasks of becoming skilled in visual competencies as in downloading and saving music and video files and learning how to manipulate such files in various standard ways, might be relatively less demanding of traditional print competencies. But even here it is difficult to see how those with very low literacy could become highly competent in such 21st-century abilities. Navigating through even the most visually intuitive of them still needs basic competence in writing and some keyboard aptitude. Hence the acquisition of the basics of literacy must be an antecedent step to more sophisticated forms of literacy. A further problematic element in the NLS thinking is that it seems to take for granted the ability to make appropriate choices, even when little choice is realistically available to someone with liminal skills. For example, “literacy will also include knowing how and when to make wise decisions about which technologies and which forms and functions of literacy most support one’s purposes” (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu, 2008, p. 5). Yet any individual’s choice in technology use makes claims on his or her existing knowledge of and familiarity in using the particular technology. For print-reliant activities at work, success in making an informed decision across a variety of possible technologies will be greatly biased in favour of persons strong in the traditions and usages of literacy. New literacies will embrace “judging the credibility of a Web site source or performances such as navigating through a hypertext system” or communication skills such as the abilities to listen and to comprehend during the course of a teleconference as well as to compose short sentences in text messages or listserv discussions as well as extended texts in email correspondence or Web site postings (Kulikowich, 2008, p. 18).

Most of these instances involve complex processes requiring textual literacy and a person’s success in any of them is likely to be impeded by insufficient literacy. It is important to differentiate the employment of sophisticated digital technologies from the use of traditional oral-experiential capabilities as possessed by the apprentices in the present study. These apprentices had fluent literacies of the body, of tools and materials, learned by observational and tactile means, which were somewhat but not mainly dependent on literacy. Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, and Leu (2008) refer to “digital, post-typographic forms of inscribing language” (p. 7) yet such accounts risk assuming that literacy is of little relevance. It seems an overstatement to claim citizens are in a condition of post-typography. First, at the level of basic skills, familiarity in manipulating texts remains as necessary to use digital technology successfully. Second, and more subtly, habituation to the everyday use of texts, including digital and



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visual ones, as a primary and normal means of accessing information and making decisions, is also a legacy from literacy rather than from oral-experiential forms of workplace behaviour. We contend that new literacy forms should not be understood as post-typographic and as replacing typographic means of communication, but instead supplement them. If this is the case, they will not reduce but will magnify the importance of earlier modalities. For example, someone with liminal literacy on a worksite may through observational means have acquired competency in his or her music downloads from the Internet, yet when a customer phones their workplace the staff member still needs to have sufficient chirographic capabilities to be able to write down messages in a legible manner. So “post-typographic” may instead be understood as “typographic-plus” since typography does not exist only in some sedimentary stratum of the past. Rather, good competencies in print-literate performance continue to underpin the ongoing flowering of new digital literacies. New literacies have been called “multiple, multimodal, and multifaceted” (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu, 2008, p.  14) making literacy something beyond a competency that can be measured in the same way across diverse contexts. Multimodal communication calls for a reader or listener to unceasingly be aware of whatever is currently foregrounded in their electronic media. This could be seen to be closer to the interactional ecosystem of orality than the solitary experience of the high-literate reader who is focusing in-depth on some printed or digital information. In educational settings, new cohorts of students now exist who are fluent in multimodal forms of learning literacies that are image and action-oriented. Kress (2000) explored the effect of multimodal forms of communication which he felt had dislodged “written language from the centrality which it has held, or which has been ascribed to it, in public communication” (p. 182). Still, Kress’s implied question is an apposite one – does written language possess the supremacy that scholars seem to assume it has? The question opens the door to a closer examination of how orality, or multi-media forms of communication incorporating oral-experiential forms of interaction, may be threaded through literate communication practice. Certainly, it seems inadequate to assess students’ abilities in the classroom only in respect of their traditional print skills (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu, 2008)  if there is no apparent concern for their digital aptitudes. Culkin (1968) similarly talked of “our current frantic and almost neurotic concern about literacy” (p. 66), a kind of print-literacy panic, which has the risk of deflecting attention from developing the range of skills that are important in everyday life. Schools must resist being re-oriented to a monomania of teaching to the literacy

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examination, inculcating “test literacies” only, at the expense of developing broader powers in diverse abilities. Technology-driven change makes it necessary to constantly rethink and renegotiate what it means to be literate. However, to go to the other extreme and suggest that traditional literacy has now been superseded is as erroneous and as unhelpful to liminally-literate people as the position from the opposite camp, to valorise it as the only literacy to feature in the schools. While remedial action around literacy should take account of the broad capabilities now needed in everyday life experience it is still not acceptable to say that the development of literacy no longer matters. On the one hand, a state-mandated focus on having schools teach traditional literacy alone runs the risk of educators excluding the important new competencies that now thread their way through a person’s participation in social and economic life. Yet downplaying the importance of literacy risks badly serving the student whose literacy is insufficient to obtain or hold employment. Chapter Seven returns to the issue of electronic media, literacy, and social change. “Correct Usage”. NLS writers distance themselves from trying to identify any one form of language use, opposing “the assumption that we can actually discern and describe correct usage” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p. 5). In their view, “there cannot be one set of standards or skills that constitutes the ends of literacy learning” (p. 6). Viewed from a policy level such as in terms of a national programme for literacy, the NLS stance on “the ends of literacy learning” may be quite defensible. This position though appears to be quite irrelevant to the situation of someone confronted at work or in the community with their liminally literate status, and who aspires to strengthen their skills. For such an individual there may indeed be a very particular set of standards on the job that they have to meet if they wish to find advancement at work or even retain their job. The problem is that if from a theoretical point of view “literacy” can mean almost anything that appears to be useful, then it means nothing in a functional sense. Hence the NLS position works against the interests of the apprentices and others in community whom we worked with who possess liminal literacy and whose lives are seriously disadvantaged. The NLS position also is not helpful to such workers’ peers, customers, and managers, who have specific and reasonable norms of textual outputs at work. More pressing for them is the reality that there is indeed a degree of literacy that is not being achieved, and in the absence of which workers are disempowered and undermined. Apprentices understand that they are supposed to be print-literate enough at work to prepare handwritten notes sufficiently well so that others can read them, for example. They are well aware that there are standards of correct usage that are assumed as given within



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their enterprise, which they cannot achieve, but in the absence of which they cannot perform effectively, putting their employment at risk. Black (2004), another researcher in the NLS tradition, commented approvingly on how among the liminally-literate there may be “a group reading of a letter” or how “assistance with literacy-related tasks can be exchanged for other services” or how, “within informal communities of practice, workers engage collaboratively with literacy practices” (p. 9). Certainly, we found instances of people at work engaging collaboratively with literacy practices but there was little or no evidence of positive outcomes resulting. One form of collaboration occurred when apprentices shared workbooks so that one apprentice with somewhat better skills would complete the answers and others would copy them. In such arrangements no-one benefits. No-one’s literacy is strengthened, the disempowerment of apprentices with liminal literacy persists, while employers remain misinformed about their workers’ actual capabilities and are not alerted to how their staff need support. If the person providing answers to others is mistaken in any of their material, all are in error. It is difficult to see how in the wake of such collaborative practices apprentices have much chance of building their abilities in print-based communication at work, their self-confidence or their self-esteem. The NLS position is paradoxical. Clearly, it has a strong orientation to promoting social justice and to fighting further disempowerment of the least well-educated at work. For example, the New London Group stresses people’s “full and equitable social participation” (New London Group, 2000, p.  9). Yet though literacy in an increasingly document-driven environment is a requisite for workplace participation, by its own account the NLS appears to have little to offer those whose literacy is such that they cannot engage with their co-workers or customers via standard textual means. We found that this category includes being so stricken with anxiety about an inability to create a legible handwritten note that some were too frightened to answer the phone in their workplace and would find reasons not to do so. This had immediate detrimental consequences. Quite often their supervisors and peers did not realise that they feared the act of handwriting. Instead, they would assume that the phone-shy persons were lazy, unreliable, of low intelligence or other such blaming accusation. Thus, the rather studied stance of the NLS in referring to literacy as “mere” does nothing to address the plight of those who are so demoralised by their limitations in reading or preparing basic organisational texts that, for example, they strongly resist workplace participation like speaking up in a shop-floor meeting. A retreat to silence may be to ensure that they are not asked to join a working group on some shop floor issue since this might call for them to try to read or possibly write organisational texts. Such persons’ inability to participate in the

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communicative norms of their enterprise exposes them to mockery and excludes them from the everyday textual discourse of their peers. As already reported, their condition is made more acute by the rising extent of documentation inherent in the new digital, Internet-enabled workplace. Problematically, the NLS’s failure to engage with the situation of those with liminal literacy at work is deeply unsupportive of a group whose prospects in society are limited, who often have a great deal to contribute to their communities and could do much more with the right support. In effect, the NLS position provides little alternative other than to consign such individuals to their current unenviable and unacceptable anomie, second-class citizenship, and low sense of efficacy in their work and lives. From a high-level perspective, the NLS position is valuable in its analysis of power imbalances in society, its stress upon the importance of diversity, its awareness of the necessity of appreciating the richness of traditions other than one’s own, and of the need to communicate with others in disparate ways. It has been observed that “[g]‌one are the days when learning a single, standard version of the language was sufficient” and “[e]ffective citizenship and productive work now require that we interact effectively using multiple languages, multiple Englishes, and communication patterns that more frequently cross cultural, community and national boundaries” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000, p. 6). Yet liminally-literate apprentices’ struggle to communicate such as via their handwritten versions of workplace messages that no-one could read did nothing to help them to achieve or to hold their workplace citizenship, serving those around them poorly and themselves worst of all. Cope and Kalantzis (2000) call for “an open-ended and flexible functional grammar which assists language learners to describe language differences (cultural, subcultural, regional/ national, technical, context-specific, and so on)” (p.  6). From an elevated national or international policy standpoint this is no doubt desirable. Yet this recommendation ignores site-specific realities faced by the liminally literate who do not have an extent of command of reading and writing that is acceptable in any workplace. Cope and Kalantzis’s proposal needs a level of language sophistication that while certainly desirable, is quite beyond the reach of the apprentices with whom we were working. They possess no effectual text-based command of a single English let alone multiple “Englishes”. NLS will best serve the dispossessed in society when it champions the right of all language learners to acquire textual command of a single first language to a sound level of competence. This forms the critical groundwork for learners to build sufficient groundwork, shaping the capability and the confidence to acquire further language forms on top. Cadzen (2000) points to “the international evidence



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that a second language is learned best if students are both fluent and literate in their first language” (p. 331). Gee (2000) has acknowledged the importance for children to be competent in standard genres of discourses in the community, including academic ones. For Gee, young people “should also know how to transform them, break them, and innovate new ones for their own social, cultural and political purposes” (p. 68). This last proposal is certainly desirable as a means to empower the deprived and to redress historical imbalances of power and resources. Yet it is more like a long-term aspiration than something which any participants in our research programmes could achieve, and transforming, breaking, and innovating discourses can proceed only when someone has amassed enough confidence to be certain of their ground in their first language. The orientation of the NLS writers is to macro policy and political issues, which does not address the needs of those with liminal literacy whose social and economic prospects remain parlous so long as they are unable to display scriptural competence in the standard discourses of their workplace and community.

Literacy, Abstractions, and Cognitive Ability As noted above, Gee by 2000 had identified distinct differences in abstract versus empirical language use (and therefore thought practices) following differences in class-based children’s schooling. However, in his earlier (1986) writings he had disputed the contention advanced by scholars from diverse disciplines (e.g., Goody, Havelock, Innis, Lévi-Strauss, Ong) that those in a condition of orality tend to be habituated to their immediate practical setting, and further that they were mainly unable, or they chose not, to use language in a decontextualized manner. Gee (1986) had attempted to rebut the idea that “literacy leads to higher order cognitive skills” (p. 728) and the claim that “major differences exist between literate and nonliterate subjects in their use of abstract reasoning processes” (p. 728). While Gee’s later (2000) findings did refer to the rising use of abstractions associated with class and schooling, his earlier writing, in common with commentary from other pundits in the NLS tradition, had strongly objected to the idea that people with greater literacy have more effective means of reasoning compared to those with less developed literacy. There remains a major disagreement among cognitive theorists, anthropologists, and historians on the one hand, and social practice-influenced literacy and education scholars on the other. This has to do with whether being able to reason abstractly is closely associated with training in literacy (or literacy-related

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experience at school), and whether it is or is not available to those who operate primarily within oral forms of discourse. Gee (1986) claimed that “[a]‌large amount of anthropological and linguistic work has shown that (so-called primitive) societies often had classification systems as complex as that of the modern biologist” (p. 721). One example of categorising in an oral society was reported by Anderson (1954), quoting an instance of the botanist Baron Karl von Hügel who in 1834, at an early stage in European contact with the indigenous peoples of New Zealand, collected 300 native New Zealand plants that he had not seen before and asked one Māori of his acquaintance to name them. This individual was able to do so, then the next day another Māori set to undertake the same task gave all but one plant the same names. By present-day standards this would constitute exceptional levels of observational powers, memory, and of being able to classify disparate entities. Gee takes instances of outstanding classificatory competence as demonstrating the ability to theorise and work in abstractions. Ong (1982) comes at the issue from a different perspective, agreeing with Gee that classification skills were undoubtedly very good in orality and that the processes of precise observation are certainly not confined to modern science. Instead, excellent capabilities in observation have been the basis for survival among groups as diverse as hunter-gatherers and people working in craft roles. He argued though that science as we understand it today was not possible in an oral culture, and in fact that it emerged from “the new exactly repeatable visual statement” (p. 127) in the form of visible text. He said that “[w]‌hat is distinctive of modern science is the conjuncture of exact observation and exact verbalization: exactly worded descriptions of carefully observed complex objects and processes” (p. 127). He believed that societies using the discourses of orality lacked the ability “to produce exactly worded descriptions of complex objects at all approximating the descriptions that appear after print” (p. 127). Ong went on to note, along with others such as Luria, de Certeau, and McLuhan, that “[o]‌ral and residually oral verbalization directs its attention to action, not the visual appearance of objects or persons” (p. 127). Certainly, in the current study, our interviewees often pointed out that apprentices and others with liminal literacy are highly geared to action and practice rather than to reflection and abstraction. It became evident to us that the apprentices at the centre of our investigation already were able to provide clear spoken descriptions of work practices. This they already had on account of their close orientation to the detailed empirical practices of workplace functioning. However, what was new to them was the precise textual account of workplace process and workplace learning to which their



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literacy tutors were introducing them. The tension between the oral-experiential world of spoken description and mimesis, and the apprentices’ printed learning materials that they were being forced to engage with, was the subject of comments by the managers and industry training coordinators whom we interviewed, as earlier reported: “academics have written these [learning] units”. Nevertheless, one of the most important insights within the debates among scholars on this issue is an apparent agreement that (regardless of whether or not literacy is needed to create abstract reasoning) individuals’ capacity to vocalise their abstract reasoning seems better within literate discourse than within oral forms of interaction. For example, Gee (1986) has maintained that while “schooled, English-literate subjects” did not differ from non-literate subjects “in their actual performance on categorization and abstract reasoning tasks … they simply talked about them better, providing informative verbal descriptions and justifications of their task activity” (p. 730). The import of this in our 21st century globalised, text-driven workplace and communities, is that being able to provide quality informative verbal descriptions and justifications of tasks, in association with abstract reasoning, is exactly what the modern workplace requires of increasingly all its members and is what societies seek for their citizens. Conversely, lack of an ability to account for and justify one’s tasks at work along with reasoning for actions taken introduces risk to their employment and reduces their efficacy in their social settings. Goody (1977) suggested that another factor possibly associated with greater use of abstractions in mental processing and argument was an increasing extent of individualism in society. This tends to create the conditions under which individuals both wish to provide their own accounts of their everyday life events and are expected by others to do so. Goody also identified that the rising influence of government and local bureaucracy was creating more depersonalized and abstract social systems, pushing citizens to employ the discourse of constructs and intellections more than the person-oriented discourse of orality. Warschauer and Ware (2008) similarly contend that literacies comprise multiple competencies and practices, each needing to be understood within their variant contexts and aims. However, any such ability seems to call on (and possibly foster) a person’s aptitude in inferring and creating meaning in their minds, including “the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that enable complex ways of getting and making meaning from multiple textual and symbolic sources” (p. 215). This definition draws attention to the subtleties inherent in how we construct meaning. Chapter Seven provides a more detailed account of cognitive ability and literacy. Textualisation of knowledge. Within predominantly oral-experiential cultures, people create their meaning and share their learning by a complementary

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combination of modes involving oral communication, observation and copying of others’ performance, and trial and error within a mainly collective setting. Within a more-literate culture, these modes of learning and communication have not vanished but are supplemented by scriptural sources of information. All three modes of learning and communication (oral communication, observation and copying, trial and error) still exist yet are regarded as relatively inefficient and have become less evident in workplaces because of changes in how knowledge is transmitted via new technology, especially that associated with work globalisation. Textualisation of knowledge in the West has been proceeding since the days of Gutenberg, though new technology and globalising trends have accelerated textualising processes. Reder and Bynner (2009) say that developments from the 1970s have strengthened the view that employees should possess literacy, numeracy, and IT skills. They observed that “[o]‌verall, the effect is increasing polarization of the labor force, in which opportunities and good prospects are available to those who have the resources to take advantage of them” (p. 4). Conversely those with less literacy, numeracy, and IT abilities become economically and socially marginalised. However, the new texts that have been sweeping into organisations over recent times are said not to create greater diversity within the scope of workplace documentation, but rather are generating a narrowed, homogenised end product. Somewhat paradoxically, even though more texts are appearing in the workplace, the internationalising nature of organisational practices is resulting in less diversity and greater standardisation in textual forms used at work. Young (2008) points out how the increasing globalisation and localisation of products and services are part of an attempt to make them accessible to international buyers who are often purchasing via Web sources. One key element in this has been to reduce to the extent possible the cultural artefacts or indications of symbolic content associated with a workplace product or service that might distract buyers or interfere with their procurement decision. Arriving at whatever universal design might be possible for products, services, and linked documentation then requires cultural neutrality and cross-cultural acceptability. (Nevertheless, some minor tweaking of such products, services, or documentation via relevant cultural variations or add-ons, as it were, might be permitted to localise them with the objective of better market acceptance.) Therefore, globalisation has a homogenising effect on certification, reducing variety in acceptable documentary forms and workplace processes. As textual products reduce in diversity, what is normal practice in the workplace and how it is to be undertaken become more limited and narrowly-defined for the staff of the enterprise worldwide. While diversity of community-based and socially-based literacy forms is increasing with the onset of the Internet, such as in the fast uptake



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of social media, in many distributed, globally-organised enterprises, a contraction in textual forms is reflecting a forced uniformity of intra-organisational practice. In tension with this, though, as earlier described, is the oral nature of how those at work prefer to learn and interact. It has long been demonstrated that people learn on the job far more via co-workers, by informal means, rather than as an outcome of print-based courses, seminars, textbooks, or training in how to use software packages (Hopkins & Maglen, 2000). Less well researched to date is the situation of those with liminal literacy who have been told to learn via printed texts and to undertake their everyday work in ways that are regulated by texts, but who have much less chance than those of more advanced capability of accessing knowledge via formal means like printed materials. The workplace relies on people of liminal literacy undertaking their learning by informal, oral mechanisms since for them the formally mandated textual media for learning are relatively impeded. An inconsistency appears between what is hoped for (literate personnel) and what is supported (i.e., low readiness to build literacy in ways that make sense on-site). This incongruity helps to illustrate why as reported in Chapter Three, the tutors whom we interviewed for the most part quietly acquiesced in helping the apprentices to ‘do their books’ usually to not much more than the minimum standard necessary to permit these learning materials to be accepted as complete. None of the literacy tutors wanted to facilitate such minimal compliance but felt they had little choice given the very tight funding, the time constraints under which they had to work, and the norms of the workplace with which they were confronted. Situations like this show a general organisational uninterest in investing in the development of literacy at work (further described in Chapter Six) and a lack of commitment to lifelong learning. This lack of commitment stems not least from the discrepancy between how learning and organisational behaviour are formally mandated to occur (via textual means) and how everyday interactions at work including among managers typically operate (importantly, via oral-experiential means). Hilton (2008) refers to the bar-bell economy in which employees become polarised across a continuum that features a growing bulge at each end and an attenuating number of people in the middle. The group at one end of the scale comprises knowledge workers in professional positions that demand tertiary education before entry, which pay relatively high salaries and feature complex and abstract work mandating advanced literacy. At the other end are jobs in the service sector (e.g., food preparation and healthcare support) that involve minimal training and provide only minimum

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wages. In work such as in healthcare support, sophisticated employee capabilities may well be appreciated for instance in performing emotional labour, but employers do not have any particular need for and will not remunerate high-level functional literacy. A shrinking proportion of jobs, especially managerial roles, remain in the middle of the spectrum and still provide the incomes historically received by the middle class but are in decline (Hilton, 2008). This is a scenario of both economic and social schism. A polarised community with widening wage disparities and an increasing division between service and knowledge segments will over time greatly impair its social cohesion. Systemic limits to upward mobility create enduring disaffection and anomie among those who increasingly find that their prospects for work are confined to mundane work in the service sector (Hilton, 2008). If diverging trends of this nature persist, then progressively first world economies will become differentially characterised by knowledge and service. Workers’ literacy that is of only low to medium level may be almost sufficient for work done in the service economy, yet the rise of the knowledge economy seeks increased levels of literacy, given the advancing complexity of what is sought of knowledge workers across a variety of levels and functions within the enterprise (National Research Council, 2006). In line with this, Farrell (2006) identified “accelerating time and diminishing space” (p. 8) within the global economy and these factors in particular “exert pressures towards the standardization and homogenization of products, of services, of cultures, and of the ways people do their work” (pp. 8–9). She went on to say that radical changes in the operation of the global economy are remaking nearly all work as “ ‘knowledge work’ in the sense that the active production and application of knowledge keeps all businesses operating in IT-enabled global networks of production” (p. 13). As Belfiore (2004) identified, the increasingly document-driven nature of organisations has been reshaping work processes internationally so that all workers now must adapt to the prescriptions of policy and procedural documentation. What remains uncertain is the extent to which traditional oral-experiential means of getting the job done can adjust to accommodate themselves to the global imperative of print sources.

chapter six

Managers’ Orality and Literacy

This chapter assesses how managers are tactical more than strategic, how the nature of their work makes them more collective than solitary in their work habits, and how those factors enlarge the oral rather than literate dimensions of their lives. It also considers how the pressures on them require their work to be done in a ‘satisficing’ (Simon, 1997) rather than optimising manner, necessarily being oriented to short-term tactical rather than long-term strategic outcomes. The increasing demand for staff and managers’ literacy capabilities in the workplace has been little addressed in the management literature (Sligo, 2011). Although authors who have undertaken ethnographic studies of managerial work (e.g., Kotter, 1977, 1982; Mintzberg, 1973, 2009; or Stewart, 1967, 1984) have noted the predominant place in managerial work of oral interactions, their observations have been little developed in management studies or indeed in any other field. Their insights have not been built on effectively and remain largely untheorised, so that current awareness of the oral-experiential nature of managers’ work lacks systematic and rigorous insights. From his ethnographic research Kotter (1982) identified a tension within management theory as recounted in the standard textbooks of the field. The theory portrays managers’ work as being principally to do with planning, organising,



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leading and controlling (most of which is assumed to be carried out in scriptural modalities). But Kotter reports the actual behaviour of managers whom he studied as “less systematic, more informal, less reflective, more reactive, less well-organized, and more frivolous” (p.  156) than management theorists realised. What he had to say about the sometimes “frivolous” character of managers’ work was not intended to be critical since he gave good reasons why managers were behaving in ways that even they, when interviewed, said to be purposeless. Such activities include idle chit-chat with subordinates and others, though the managers interviewed did not themselves seem to have a good grasp of the valid organisational reasons supporting what they were doing. Kotter concluded, though, that what at first looks like meaningless interactions and gossip was in reality the never-ending process of constructing and maintaining the web of face-to-face friendship and influence networks that managers needed. Managers had to ensure they had access to a flow of high quality, nuanced, and current flow of information, along with ongoing relationships with significant decision-makers and influencers within their organisation and beyond. Ong (1967, p. 54) had noted how [w]‌riting and print created the isolated thinker, the man [sic] with the book, and downgraded the network of personal loyalties which oral cultures favor as matrices of communication and as principles of social unity.

Managers have not of course rejected the book as such, but all the evidence suggests that the demands of their work embed them within their matrices of interpersonal communication, alert to the subtle insights best obtained directly from their contacts. Much less interest among managers for print sources of information has been evident given how they “rely more on discussions with others than on books, magazines, or reports” (Kotter, 1982, p. 161). His research was pre-Internet, but much of managers’ current intensive use of online tools of interaction like email could be described as secondary orality (Ong, 1982), returned to in Chapter Seven. Although this form of interaction relies on reasonably good literacy capabilities, it is still better defined as an oral-experiential form of interaction rather than one that is textually-based. Although Kotter does not use the lens of a mismatch between literacy and orality, that framework usefully provides some theoretical underpinning for what he had been observing. For him, “the formal planning systems within which many GMs (general managers) must operate probably hinder effective performance” (1982, p. 166). In this way, tools and templates taken from and reliant on textual systems are of little use for those whose on-site efficacy has them working mainly

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within an oral-experiential context. De Certeau, Ong, Mintzberg, Drucker, and others have identified how people in oral-experiential cultures are more tactical than strategic in their orientation. Kotter (1982) did not seem to be aware of the work of Ong, Innis, McLuhan, Havelock and others, but from his observations of managers he independently arrived at a similar position, such as in his observation that managers are skilled at winning whatever advantage they can derive from “the random succession of time and issue fragments” that they encounter each day (1982, p. 165). He signalled the tactical character of general managers’ work in his (1982) observation that “hit or miss is precisely how planning and organizing manifest themselves in the daily behavior of effective executives, and for perfectly understandable reasons” (p. 160), these reasons being the short-term exigencies of their work. Kotter did provide a slightly different take on the tactical versus strategic issue. Although general managers were bound by the formally-expressed agendas in the scriptural records of their enterprises, at the same time they would establish their own informal and unwritten agendas, so that “major agenda-setting decisions are often invisible; they occur in the GM’s mind” (1982, p. 164). Then Kotter found that managers would balance the formal (textual) and informal (unspoken or oral) agendas against each other in an ongoing way, with executives trying to achieve the formal goals set for them but at the same time trying to attain their more complex yet unspoken objectives. Kotter drew a compelling picture of oral-experiential processes in his description of how general managers employ “symbolic methods. That is, they use meetings, architecture, language, stories about the organization, time, and space as symbols in order to get some message across” (1982, p. 163). Combined, these artefacts, forms of interpersonal interchange, familiar and iconic tales, create a dense array of oral-experiential elements in managers’ work lives. Then within an oral-aural society heroic or larger than life figures are not merely characters from ancient times or fiction, but are “a social and cultural necessity, since the tribal encyclopedia of an oral culture cannot handle abstractions but must deal with persons and events” (Ong, 2002b, p. 310). What is here described as the persisting orality of managers’ lifeworlds may shed some light on the ongoing popularity of biographies penned by current corporate CEOs or their ghost-writers that purport to account for their fiscal triumphs on the battleground of business. Ong (1982) had celebrated the ability of oral cultures to show originality in their unique ways. In his view, “[n]‌arrative originality lodges not in making up new stories but in managing a particular interaction with this audience at this time – at every telling the story has to be introduced uniquely into a unique



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situation” (p. 41). Stewart, Kotter, Mintzberg and others included in this chapter demonstrate how in their everyday leadership and supervisory roles, managers engage closely and constantly with many others within and beyond work, aiming to lift performance, exhort, use vivid forms of expression, stories, etc., to achieve immediate goals through other people. The use of narrative originality and story-telling skills in managers’ interpersonal work evoke Ong’s description and are oral-experiential capabilities more than literate ones. Ellul (1985, p. 221) said how [t]‌he [spoken] word … through its very imprecision, involves the freedom of both partners … it respects the freedom of the listener, but it expresses and even produces the freedom of the speaker when he [sic] chooses to say what he finally says, and chooses to eliminate other things he could have said. The word creates a free space between two people, through the possibility of understanding and misunderstanding.

Here Ellul is stressing the individual’s agency, but free speech is impeded by more constraints than Ellul acknowledges at this point (e.g., unequal power relations, or the shaping influence of the prior interpersonal history of their discourse that exists between the two individuals, or unequal capability in vocabulary or rhetorical skill). Nevertheless, as managers are aware, there remains the possibility of forms of oral interaction occurring that are not afforded within print contexts. The literature of memory (as further commented on in Chapter Seven) also refers to orality’s salience with researchers Trinh and Mitchell (2009) describing in their experimental study how task performance is improved most when participants can talk about things with colleagues, then draw on their own knowledge. Reading textual sources in undertaking tasks was found to be very much a last resort, so that “books offer benefits only if people lack colleagues and/ or personal knowledge” (2009, p. 29). As noted in Chapter Seven, those with more advanced forms of literacy (e.g., professional knowledge workers other than managers) become accustomed to the continual use of textual sources, while managers, somewhat less print-literate, are much more attuned to interpersonal interactions as ways to obtain knowledge, come to a point of view, and make decisions. These interactions are facilitated via bodily motion, gesturing, tone or volume of voice (or silence), facial expressions, eye contact or its absence, which Meyrowitz (1985) calls expressions. These he contrasts with communication which he regards as “the use of language, or language-like symbols” (p. 94) that evoke meaning in the mind. Meyrowitz suggests that most important decisions concerning relationships rely much more on expressions than on communications. Few companies will hire new executives without meeting

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them first, and it is a rare person who chooses to marry someone merely on the basis of a resume or a writing sample (1985, p. 94).

Even though Mintzberg was consistent in describing the oral character of managerial work in his textbook writings from 1973 to 2009, to date little systematic investigation has occurred into the implications for orality and literacy in modern, complex workplaces. One of the paradoxes of the newly emerging, document-driven worksite is that managers appear to remain reliant for their everyday accomplishments on the local oral-experiential practices in which they have become habituated, but the Internet-enabled, digitised, ISO-compliant workspace increasingly needs managers and an increasing majority of other workers as well to build then maintain their literacy. Mintzberg (2009) found that one manager’s comment was typical: “I try to write as few letters as possible. I happen to be immeasurably better with the spoken word than with the written word” (p. 26). Individuals like this are grounded in orality, and the quotation further indicates the strains that exist between locally-based oral work practices and globalised text-based demands of national and international quality compliance designed to serve customers’ needs. Ong (1967, pp. 174–175) observed that [s]‌ince voice manifests the person at a kind of maximum, hearing puts us in contact with the personal grounds of actuality of reality in a specially intense way. Verbomotor man [sic] is on this score in fact better attuned to reality or actuality than is visualist man. He is also more attuned to reality or actuality of process. … today’s actual managers … [may be] more verbomotor than is commonly thought. They certainly attend more conferences, engage in more brainstorming, are more sensitive to the word in many of its public aspects than nineteenth-century industrialists commonly were. The recent step-up of the auditory in our culture … has given managers, like others in our technological society, a sense of greater participation in actuality than man had before the advent of telephone, radio, and television. Tensions exist in our awareness of the state of affairs here because in this world of aural activity our speculative frames of reference remain so largely visual-tactile.

McLuhan (1972) proposed that “civilization is a precarious balance between written and oral structures of social organization” (p. viii) and the same observation might be made about any social system that features both orality and literacy. McLuhan and Ong explained how orality tended to permit and reinforce individuality, whereas the advance of literacy gradually became associated with social and organisational norms of control such as increased use of policies, standard operating procedures, or rules and templates governing how work is to be performed. Precedents once in written form can be referred back to and cited as



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establishing the boundaries and scope for decisions and action. In this way precedents in written form acquire greater power than in orality (which necessarily uses the more uncertain platform of human memory to recall precedents in the attempt to define how work is to be carried out). McLuhan (1972) wrote of how organisations have a “natural inclination to spread out in space by means of writing and paper and bureaucracy” (p.  viii). Building on Innis’ analysis, McLuhan’s comments derived from observations of the historical record and he had in mind macro-entities like empires or civilisations. Yet similar outcomes of the shaping power of textual records are now being seen at the level of individual (especially globalised) businesses, as the Internet and company intranets increasingly enable enterprises of all kinds to extend their standard operating procedures across time and space. Nevertheless, McLuhan’s statement about the “precarious balance” between textual and oral practices remains germane in the present day as scriptural and oral means of organisation continue to adapt to each other, most particularly as oral practices try to adjust to the textual practices that are becoming more predominant. Strate (2017b, p.  248) refers to how, as literacy practices gained ground in societies, “the balanced sensorium was disrupted by literacy and typography, with their emphasis on visualism”. The present study notes the sometimes tense and oppositional balance of literate and oral workplace practices occurring in workplaces. Yet arguably, managers’ work may encourage a balance of both oral-experiential and literate practices, as shaped by the nature of what they have to achieve. The opportunistic rather than strategic nature of workplace behaviour has been identified (de Certeau, 1984) in that “[t]‌he weak must turn to their own ends forces alien to them”, so that the less-powerful need ever to be “on the watch for opportunities that must be seized ‘on the wing’ ” (p. xix). Here in a variety of ways an oral-experiential culture maintains itself using tactical moves in the face of the literate ecology of current society. Similarly branch managers or supervisors within some large national or international institution are likely to get their job done in oral ways not mandated or even understood at head office. De Certeau also comments on how Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish explores the micro means by which the functioning of power is “surreptitiously reorganized” and refers to “the innumerable practices by means of which users re-appropriate the space organized by techniques of sociocultural production” (p. xiv). Writers such as Follinsbee (2004), Lynch (2002) or Traweek (1988) have provided examples both of how workers attempt to re-configure the communication spaces within their enterprise in ways to enable them to perform their jobs

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more effectively, or of how workers like scientists have never relinquished their sophisticated oral-experiential networks that enable them to get the job done. In its final chapter this book returns to implications arising from how Internetenabled textual practices are intensifying pressures on locally grounded work cultures. Ong (1982) has said that in orality knowing has to do with being able to recall something, whereas in literacy the emphasis is much more on discovering information potentially from many sources, interpreting and being able to use it. Literacy practices are associated with greater truth value and belief in the necessity of accurate descriptions of events in everyday discourse (Gee, 1986) and Chapter Seven returns to truth value. Yet in contrast oral-experiential cultures are less interested in ‘facts’ as a discrete body of knowledge and are more attuned to the regulation of human relationships and how best to achieve needed outcomes in a pragmatically conceived world. Because managers’ jobs are intensively interpersonal and directed towards getting things done via others, their work is necessarily political in character. As in any other form of politics, managers’ work reflects the art of the possible and achieving compromises. Thus, undertaking satisficing activities (Simon, 1997) through working with and through other people, is more typical of managers’ work than the intellectual pursuit of any ‘right’ answer to be achieved through mainly solitary analysis of scriptural materials. Later this chapter addresses satisficing and cognitive demands on managers. It seems clear that oral discourse remains central to managers’ work and it is physically embodied, as illustrated by Strate (2012b, p. 98): The oral is our ideal for human communication, and we measure all other interactions by how closely they resemble oral dialogue, the face-to-face encounter that allows for a meeting of the minds, a heart to heart exchange, that hopefully will enable us to see eye to eye.

Managers’ reservations about the value inherent in sources of information that are print or digital can be understood in terms of such sources being self-evidently less useful than face to face interactions; but also, sources of this nature lack the personified character that feels normal in the workplace. Building further on Chapter Two, our interviews with apprentices’ managers provided strong support for the prevalence of an oral-experiential perspective as opposed to one imbued in literacy, as suggested in the following quotations from the interviews we undertook with apprentices, their managers, literacy tutors and training coordinators. Managers’ remarks reported below were evoked by questions probing how apprentices should be learning most effectively at work.



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Table 4.  Managers’ Comments Relevant to Oral-experiential Culture Managers’ comments

Relevance to oral-experiential culture

There are no other areas in the industry that I think can be conveyed through the classroom, it’s practical experience is what counts on the job stuff … and then we usually give them [the apprentices] oral questions about the various papers … and when they give me the paper to sign … I get them back about a month later and ask them orals and see how they have retained it (Manager B). If we have wet time for instance at work we encourage them to bring their books to work, we encourage them to write their books up if they are sitting in the shed while it’s raining … they get a bit of feedback from their fellow workers that way (Manager B).

This manager demonstrates wariness about classroom-based learning approaches, assumed to be quintessentially literate in their orientation, and has taken the initiative to convert textual learning materials into an orally-based system.

They [the apprentices] have to realise that … there is only one way to do it and I tell my apprentices it’s the way I do it and that’s the way you’re going to do it. I don’t want to see you doing it a different way until you’ve finished your apprenticeship (Manager C). I noticed the other day this other kid we were doing jib ceilings he had never done the back blocking between the joists and then he watched what I was doing and I actually didn’t think about even telling, because we were just sort of rushing through and getting it done … and when I came back in he was doing what I was doing on the first sheet. So, he was doing all the back blocking straight away and he didn’t even ask he just did it (Manager C).

Here collective action is mobilised to help apprentices to learn. It is a good illustration of how study is seen as meaningful when it is undertaken on the job. It is not seen as the preserve of solitary learners isolated with their collection of textual information. Rather, on-site learning may employ both textual and oral forms of learning. The statement illustrates a very directive approach characteristic of an oralexperiential setting where a leader possesses the knowledge sought by others and passes it on via one-to-one or one-togroup sessions. No private literate study is implied here. The experiential culture of the building site is revealed here, indicating how learning progresses via observation and mimesis. The local culture permits informal learning via observation of expertise in practice and provides an implicit permission for the learner to practise their skills without overt supervision.

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Table 4.  Continued Managers’ comments

Relevance to oral-experiential culture

What you find is the apprentices are just overwhelmed with actually doing the job and then they’ve got all this theory to go with it which we didn’t have when we were boys … these days you’ve got to not only learn as you go but you’ve also got to document that you know what you’re doing (Manager E). You know you get some bloody good apprentices that are just fantastic with their hands and they struggle with putting it down, you know … these days everybody wants everybody to do everything (Manager E).

The manager describes a form of adjustment to the changing nature of demands on industry learners. There is an acknowledgement that change exists along with comment on how former oral-experiential forms of learning are evolving to include some extent of literate practices. Here the manager enthuses about apprentices’ excellent embodied skills, talks of a division between doing the job and writing about it, then makes an implicit plea for recognition of specialisms. This suggests an opposition to the assumption that everyone both needs to be and can be literate. The qualification for a tradesman now is a lot Students at high school and perhaps their of writing. A lot of kids go into doing a trade families and careers advisers as well do because they think they’re not going to do not seem to have recognised the nature any writing (Manager H). of the increasing literacy pressures in workplaces of all kinds.

In respect of “I tell my apprentices” above, Ong (1967, p. 231) observed how [a]‌n oral-aural economy of knowledge is necessarily authoritarian to an extent intolerable in a more visualist culture. This is not simply because someone at the top is peremptorily imposing his views on those below. Such will be the later caricature of authority when it is under attack. The actuality is more complex. A personality structure built up in an oral society, feeling knowledge as essentially something communicated, will be relatively more concerned that this knowledge tie in with what others say and relatively less concerned with its relationship to observation … [and] an oral culture inhibits solitary original speculation.

That is, in their oral-experiential worlds managers and supervisors such as those cited above feel affirmed in the rightness of the more-oral system in which they have been trained and in which they are instructing their new employees. An ethnographic study of oral processes in the workplace (Follinsbee, 2004) identified the interrelationships of text-based and oral practices. One manager reported, “I’m not a good one for writing and emails and stuff like that” (p. 93)



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and who apparently was not alone in this context as “he tells me about a manager who would much rather go to a person and discuss something with them than write something, and that he tends to be the same way” (p. 93). The organisation being researched was being told to demonstrate its compliance with the textual specifications of the International Standards Organization. ISO standards lay out comprehensive quality assurance processes requiring a written evidential basis to prove compliance with international best workplace practices (American Society for Quality, 2019). These specifications have to be documented in scriptural form and as such signal a clear departure from more traditional oral ways of getting the job done and assuring quality. Follinsbee (2004) told of how since “the requirements of ISO 9001 make documentation critical, the company has been transitioning from an oral culture to a written one” (p. 69). She had been present in the company long enough to recognise the strength of oral-experiential practices but was also seeing the rise of new print demands. She noted that even though workplace practices at the shop-floor level were being restructured by textual means, workers being told to record in printed form everything they did to comply with ISO, managers seemed able to find a way around what was being asked of them: “I am curious about the contradiction here. It seems to be OK for staff people and managers to prefer an oral way of working, but it is not OK for workers” (p. 93) and “I sense there are still deeper contradictions around managers’ expectations” (p. 86). In Follinsbee’s view, this company was making a transition from an oral to a written culture, yet the actuality may not be quite so straightforward. A more nuanced account may be that the culture is becoming layered, where managers remain largely successful in following their usual oral-experiential practices, as reshaped to some extent by new scriptural pressures, but the workers who possess less on-site power must perform the documentation routines as if they express their reality. Yet as already recorded by Kotter and others, managers in particular carry out their work in oral modes because the character of their work mandates it. Through oral workplace practices managers with their needs for comprehensive, real-time information, obtain up-to-date and finely differentiated insights, superior to anything available from print or digital sources. It may be that both supervisors and managers react instinctively along lines identified by Postman (1979, p. 35) in his differentiation between “[t]‌he spoken word – rhythmic, aural, subjective, resonant, always in the present – versus the written word – cold, visual, abstract, objective, timeless”. It was interesting to note in Follinsbee’s (2004) study that when managers or supervisors were being hard-pressed to achieve certain outputs or outcomes, their customary oral and interpersonal modes of doing work were reinforced, to

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whatever extent possible side-lining the new formalised print-based ISO directions:  “supervisors will get on the bandwagon about paperwork until someone needs something right away. Then supervisors … want to cut 500 meters (of fabric) without a finishing order – that is, without the proper paperwork required under ISO” (Follinsbee, 2004, p. 87). So as nation-wide and globalised markets grow in strength, enterprises have to show that they are transiting to scriptural forms of documentation to validate their work processes. While enterprises must comply in this way, it seems that oral work cultures do not vanish but will realign themselves into whatever desirable departures from prescribed literate practices that they may. Follinsbee described staff push-back against the new ethos of documentation, presumably after seeing their managers finding ways around textual demands: “people do not sign off on the R&D work and do not want to fill in the paperwork” (p. 88). One person said, “[p]‌eople are frustrated and fed up that their paperwork is not valued. So not signing it or not doing it is a quiet sign of resistance” (p. 88). Managers are unlikely to value their staff’s compliance with paperwork if the managers themselves understand that their jobs depend on informal processes to be done well. Then at least in that workplace, managers’ oral work culture may be able to resist change more successfully than that of the workers who are particularly exposed to the pressures of textual practices. Follinsbee was recounting what happened when managers felt under pressure to perform, that is, the practice of side-stepping what ISO compliance mandates if in their view the pragmatic operations of the workplace appeared to call for such manoeuvres. Yet there might be avoidance or even undermining of the culture of documentation when managers did not feel much under stress. A preference for informal, oral-experiential ways of getting the job done rather than any meticulous compliance with the demands of documentation might almost resemble normal practice in a busy work environment, given the “subtle and not-so-subtle messages (from managers) that getting the product done and out the door is more important than paperwork” (Follinsbee, 2004, p.  75). Therefore, “workers and managers short-circuit the paperwork to quickly get the product to customers” (p. 75). In this way documentation appears to be included as part of the organisation’s satisficing routines, as something that is to be complied with only to the extent that is perceived necessary, and just to the degree that can be negotiated within the culture of the predominant oral-experiential ways of getting the job done. Jackson (2000) identified a tension between documentation processes and pragmatic oral-experiential ways of undertaking work as “workers (and some supervisors of the old school) continue to avoid the paperwork. The work that



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‘counts’ for them is ‘getting the product out the door’ ” (p. 17). However, following Mintzberg and others not just “old school” personnel but any managers for pragmatic reasons may participate in the fiction that the entailments of documentation resonate as strongly with them as achieving the outputs that they are contracted to obtain. This suggests the notion of layering within cultures, orality somewhat veiled below and an imposed and more recognisable literacy on top. Goody (1987, p. xv) said how [a]‌ll over the world, the techniques of writing have been used to acquire, that is, to alienate, the land of ‘oral’ peoples … it is a most powerful instrument, the use of which is rarely devoid of social, economic and political significance, especially since its introduction usually involves the domination of the non-literate segment of the population by the literate one, or even the less literate by the more. Where writing is, ‘class’ cannot be far away.

However, de Certeau provides a perspective on tensions between overt documentation and pragmatic oral-experiential ways of doing work with his observations around cultural layering. He noted that when in colonised societies a foreign culture is imposed on an indigenous one, the native culture seeks to make its own use of the imposed laws, values and norms, etc., “they subverted them not by rejecting or altering them, but by using them with respect to ends and references foreign to the system they had no choice but to accept” (1984, p. xiii). In this way, de Certeau points to an extent of agency exercised by people in orality in which they put their own stamp on what has been foisted upon them. He saw a similar ambiguity in contemporary society when non-elites make their own uses of the culture imposed by elites, and, referring to how an exhortation is responded to and re-worked by the less powerful, “we must first analyze its manipulation by users who are not its makers” (1984, p.  xiii) which also seems relevant to how managers maintain some extent of self-direction in their work. An assumption that documentation is as important as the older, informal means of quality assurance and job completion however may foster the kind of workplace tensions and contradictions that Follinsbee (2004) identified. Frustrations occur when both workers and managers operate to a large extent in orality but come under pressure from quality systems such as ISO which oblige workers to act as if they are now operating within a literate culture rather than one that is still oral-experiential in important ways. Meanwhile, as already noted in Chapter Three and as de Certeau said, the dispossessed’s “use of the dominant social order deflected its power, which they lacked the means to challenge; they escaped it without leaving it” (1984, p.  xiii). In various ways oral-experiential

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cultures react to and to some extent reshape the precepts and practices of literacy as imposed by elites. From an information-use perspective, Mutch (2000) explained how information employed within a specific context seemed to have relevance particularly within that setting, rather than possessing much value or purpose outside it. Interpersonal sources were important for Taylor (1991) in being able to provide access to information that was considered to be reliable and relevant. Comparably, Daft and Lengel (1986) identified the importance of in-depth, nuanced forms of information exchange in the workplace, pointing out that face to face interactions provided instant feedback, the multi-channels of voice, intonation, gestures, etc., the use of natural rather than bureaucratic language, and all providing “media richness” (p. 7). Meyrowitz (1985, p. 16) in describing the diverse array of media through which we communicate, including our comprehensive set of interpersonal communication practices, said that “media are not simply channels for conveying information between two or more environments, but rather environments in and of themselves”. Or as Strate (2017b, p. 252) observed, media are more than just doors of perception, letting in or shutting out the outer environment. They are also tools by which we manipulate the outer environment, attempting to change the outer environment.

Observations about the internally-focused character of information are reminiscent of the explanation of face to face interactions provided by Ong (1982) who emphasised the specificity and practical character of one-to-one talk. Wilkinson (2001) reported how lawyers made use of informal, interpersonal sources of information when they needed to solve immediate problems. All these perspectives align well with Mintzberg’s commentary on the importance of oral contacts for managers (1973, 2009). Meehan’s (2000) research into police culture indicated that officers reacted against the written records they had to fill in as being authoritarian and controlling. Consequently, they preferred oral interactions to retain local flexibility and some degree of autonomy in their activities. This was very much along the lines referred to in Chapter One by de Certeau in his (1984) “dispersed, tactical, and make-shift creativity of groups or individuals already caught in the nets of ‘discipline’ ” (pp. xiv–xv). It may be that the more “disciplined” the official culture (e.g., in a quasi-military institution like the police) the stronger becomes the unofficial oral-experiential culture within which everyday decisions are made and locally validated. The term clandestine as used by de Certeau (1984) in Chapter One does not necessarily imply, though, that oral-experiential cultures are necessarily trying to



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avoid discovery in any planned way. Rather, their operations are relatively below the radar as it were in the experience of an elite within an organisation’s literate ecology. The most influential individuals may have little access to or awareness of subcultures with which they have few or no meaningful interactions, especially those that do not rely on print communication modes, which in this sense is clandestine. As already mentioned in Chapter One, since Walter Ong (1982) believed that modern digital interchange had characteristics of pre-Gutenberg orality he devised the term secondary orality, further described in Chapter Seven. Turner (2010) says that “[i]‌nformation behavior studies have acknowledged, but not vigorously investigated, orally-based information” (p. 381) and she asks for research into this as a new field of study. Turner (2010) also calls for better-theorised understanding in that her research into orality at work “emphasizes the need to increase our theoretical understanding of orally-based information”. This she names as “a new research area” (p. 371) but as discussed here, orality is far from a wholly new research area. Historians Havelock, Innis, Ong and McLuhan have surveyed orality in human interaction especially from a historical standpoint, cultural theorists like de Certeau have noted the current significance of orality in the community, while management scholars such as Drucker, Stewart, Kotter and Mintzberg have identified orality’s central place in respect of present-day management behaviour. Our position is not so much that orality is a new field of study. Turner (2010) is correct in that research into orality has not been systematised, even in her field of information studies which just in quite recent times has been recognising the salience of orality in information-getting and sharing. Rather, the diverse perspectives on orality already identified should be brought into focused treatment within just one overarching discipline, rather than many, in systematic and theoretically unified research. Mintzberg (1973) in his influential ethnographic study stated that “managers demonstrate very strong attraction to the verbal media” (p.  38). By verbal he meant spoken or oral media, via meetings both scheduled and unscheduled, telephone calls, and inspections of work facilities, with spoken interaction of some form amounting to 78% of managers’ time (p. 38). It is easy to surmise that if something like four-fifths of a person’s time is spent working in an intense, hands-on, oral-experiential context, this will have a powerful shaping impact on their understanding about how people in organisations get their work done and how they are supposed to achieve their goals. Ellul (1985, p. 204) contended that “Western people no longer hear; everything is grasped by sight. They no longer speak; they show”. But managers still listen and talk, with the vocal still preferred

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to the visual in many ways, for example, for reasons of immediacy and nuance inherent in what is to be learned. Mintzberg’s study was of top executives and comparably Rosemary Stewart in her (1967) account of middle and upper-level managers found that they spent only 34% of their time alone, with nearly all their remaining time in interaction with others. Ong (1977, p. 21) believed that “[o]‌ral utterance thus encourages a sense of continuity with life, a sense of participation, because it is itself participatory”. Managers’ work requires engagement, so not only is it the case that oral communication inspires a sense of participation but also participation fosters oral utterance, each facilitating the other. Stewart talked of incessant attention-switching in managers’ work, driven by the fire-fighting character of their work, and their felt need to respond almost immediately rather than in any reflective or scheduled way to their subordinates, customers, suppliers, colleagues, superiors, and others within or beyond their hierarchical structure who have the right to request their attention. She pointed out that anyone whose attention is being deflected continuously during the day tends to have a knee-jerk reaction to situations they encounter so that someone who has only a few minutes or in some cases only a few moments to allow to a given task or decision, “has little opportunity during that time to consider what to do or to plan ahead. Managing must therefore often be a responsive rather than an analytical activity” (Stewart, 1984, p. 326). In this way, she draws attention to the all-consuming character of the quotidian demands upon managers. As well as being highly reactive, managers’ style of work is necessarily quite intuitive and experience-based since the pressures of their work permit them little time to be analytical. Stewart’s (1967) distinction between managers’ firefighting orientation causing a fragmented approach to work, versus a more studied undertaking of analytical activities such as planning, is also worth noting. Her observation foreshadowed how later Ong (1982) and de Certeau (1984) in different and unconnected fields of scholarship would similarly draw attention to how oral practices are highly grounded in everyday activities, being more tactical than strategic, while literacy-based practices are associated with analytical and planned behaviours. She went on to point out how “managers spend the large majority of their time talking and listening. Management is predominantly a verbal [i.e., oral] activity” (1984, p. 326). Another benefit of oral interaction is “that one can assess reactions and modify one’s communication as one goes along in conversations but cannot do so easily in written communication” (pp.  326–327). Kotter’s general managers spent most of their time at work interacting with others, so that “the average GM spends only 25% of his [sic] working time alone … Few spend less



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than 70% of their time with others, and some spend up to 90% of their work time this way” (1982, p. 158). The highly oral character of Mintzberg’s, Kotter’s and Stewart’s managers’ lived environments from the 1960s and 1970s showed a relatively lesser association with document-based work. Then as Postman and Weingartner (1969, p. 17) pointed out, the most important impressions made on a human nervous system come from the character and structure of the environment within which the nervous system functions; that the environment itself conveys the critical and dominant messages by controlling the perceptions and attitudes of those who participate in it.

Although the textual load of emails and the necessity to read texts from Web sources have entered managers’ lives since these authors published their findings, nevertheless in important ways the oral nature of managers’ workplace practices appears to have changed little. In later commentaries Mintzberg (2005, 2009) supported this observation, reporting that in his long research career he had found little evidence that managers are oriented to analytically-based planning, long-term thinking, or that they possess any substantial strategic orientation. Instead, he consistently described how the nature of managers’ work orients them to short-term tactical questions – which are nonetheless complexly interwoven. Commentary of this kind illustrates that managers have discovered in the course of their working lives what Drucker (1993, p. 328) pointed out, coming from what he named as a social ecology perspective: The requirements of effective information are the opposite of those for effective communication … The fewer data needed, the better the information. And an overload of information, that is, anything much beyond what is truly needed, leads to a complete information blackout. It does not enrich, but impoverishes.

Managers spend much of their time trying to find whatever insights that help them to make sense of their cognitively crowded situations, seeking to cut through to the gist of what matters to them. This, they have discovered, comes primarily from other people, not from scriptural data sources, and in the process, they have learned to shun any information that they discern to be too theorised or less immediately relevant to them. Drucker thought (1993, p. 332) that “the test of an information system will increasingly be the degree to which it frees human beings from concern with information and allows them to work on communications”. By communications, he meant human interactions with others, as illustrated by his observation that the value of the computer is to be assessed by how much “time it gives executives

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and professionals on all levels for direct, personal, face-to-face relationships with other people” (p. 333). Mintzberg and others have noted that the unrelenting pace at which managers work causes them to favour informal, oral forms of communication. For them, “significant activity is interspersed with the trivial in no particular pattern” (Mintzberg, 1973, p. 31), this not permitting them to engage in structured, sequenced forms of work so that “their activities are typically characterized by brevity, variety, fragmentation, and discontinuity” (Mintzberg, 2009, p.  19). Moreover, managers themselves characteristically prefer and seek out a discontinuous, fire-fighting work-style that involves almost constant oral communication with others (Stewart, 1967; Mintzberg, 2009). This permits them to stay in touch with and maintain some control over their disjointed and multifaceted management roles. Mintzberg (2009) said that “unlike other workers, the manager does not leave the telephone, the meeting, or the email to get back to work. These contacts are the work” (p. 26, emphasis in the original) and as already pointed out by Kotter, “[g]‌ossip, hearsay, and speculation form a good part of the manager’s information diet” (p. 26). This tendency to engage in almost continuous oral communication forces managers into a world that is more oral than print-based. This contrasts with evidence to do with how knowledge workers other than managers undertake their workplace activities, which is relatively more oriented to processing of printed and digital texts than is the case for managers. Managers’ greater orientation to tactical behaviours is called for by the everyday pressures competing for their attention. In this tactical mode of work, they depend on face-to-face and phone-mediated rather than text-based interactions. The information they can obtain from interpersonal modalities is more up-todate, more nuanced, and more highly-grounded in local exigencies than anything normally available in the (necessarily more dated) digital and print forms of communication. Information from oral sources can be quickly tested for relevance, immediacy and salience, whereas print sources typically do not have this advantage. It might be objected though that the print media that managers do use, such as email, SMS messaging, etc., are not oral, hence are exceptions to managers’ oral-experiential work practices. To investigate this dimension of managers’ work Chapter Seven addresses Ong’s (1982) secondary orality, a form of orality that exists alongside competence in literacy, in which print modalities like email are recognised as being partly oral-experiential in nature. As described so far in this chapter, “[b]‌ooks provide vast areas of knowledge, but the isolated information-systems of print also often foster insularity of



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thought and experience” (Meyrowitz, 1985, p. 151) and consequently have less to offer managers in their generalist roles. However, “[e]lectronic media’s homogenized information networks, in contrast, lead to a less selective diet of information and therefore to less distinct sets of knowledge and perspective at different life stages” (Meyrowitz, 1985, p. 151). As electronic media continue to become more pervasive in everyday working and community life, it becomes important to assess how managers’ uptake of new media technologies and practices changes their habituation to non-textual media. As indicated, Mintzberg was not the only writer to identify managers’ oral worlds (e.g., Drucker, 1993; Kotter, 1977, 1982; Stewart, 1967, 1984), but his work in this area has probably been the most influential. Nonetheless, as noted above, the main limitation of research into orality among managers which Stewart and Mintzberg mainly initiated is that it has never been properly theorised or contextualised in a social practice sense. Since 1973, Mintzberg has pointed out that managers’ lifeworld is more oral than text-oriented. Yet from a social practice perspective, interpretation of what this might imply (especially in the current swiftly-emerging digitised, textualised, document-driven workplace) has not, to our understanding, been rendered much deeper or more nuanced than it was over 40 years ago. For example, in his 2005 work, Mintzberg says that “study after study has demonstrated that managers of every sort rely primarily on oral forms of communication, on the order of about 80% of their time” (p.  120). The reason for their doing so, Mintzberg suggests, is the relative lack of utility of “hard” (e.g., financial) data, as compared to the more immediate and subtle insights potentially to be won from the so-called soft information provided by interpersonal sources. In other words, Mintzberg, coming here from a management information perspective, is aware that managers need excellent, real-time information to achieve their goals. Yet the awareness of Mintzberg and others of the greater power and salience of managers’ occupational orality when compared with organisationally-supplied “hard” data has to date not been well theorised and provides no indicators of how social practice-related investigation into managers’ orality might be further developed. Satisficing and cognitive demands. The notion of satisficing emerged from Simon’s (1997) study of bounded rationality at work, the term satisficing combining “satisfy” and “suffice”. He contrasted “economic man” [sic] that somewhat fictional entity from classical economics who (at least in theory) was motivated to pursue optimal individual outcomes, with “administrative man” [sic] who in decision-making sought what appeared to be good enough rather than optimal outcomes:

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Administrators … take into account just a few of the factors of the situation regarded as most relevant and crucial. In particular they deal with one or a few problems at a time, because the limits on attention simply don’t permit everything to be attended to at once (Simon, 1997, p. 119).

To clarify, Simon’s “limits on attention” referred to the existential context within which managers work. The fractured and fire-fighting obligations of managers’ realities mean that they simply do not have the opportunity to attend to all the variables and all the plausible interactions among the variables that may be affecting their decision-making. Simon was thus describing the deliberate oversimplification of complex realities that managers were forced to engage in when embroiled in the everyday pressures of their work lives. The Executive MBA. The influences of managers’ work on their literacy and analytical capabilities have not been comprehensively explored in the literature to date, though a general tacit acceptance exists that managers’ abilities do not have to be as in-depth as within some other professional groups. Deresiewicz (2015) for example, comments that [b]‌usiness, broadly speaking, does not require you to be as smart as possible or to think as hard as possible. It’s good to be smart, and it’s good to think hard, but you needn’t be extremely smart or think extremely hard. Instead, you need a different set of skills: organizational skills, interpersonal skills (p. 30).

In line with this, managers’ training reflects the lesser cognitive conditions of managerial work. The Executive Master of Business Administration worldwide (or at least the ones on which the present author has taught, in nine cities and three countries, China, New Zealand and the USA) make a virtue of how they introduce new managers ab initio to the basics of a variety of relevant disciplinary areas but up to a work-appropriate rather than advanced level. Often MBA classes are advertised as “Accounting for Non-accountants”, “Marketing for Non-marketers” etc. The concept is that these introductory classes are taught at a level that would permit the graduate to gain a pragmatic grasp of textbook-level knowledge in the field and from this be equipped to interact sufficiently with specialists in the various fields, in accounting, or marketing, etc. But there is no claim that MBA graduates would themselves be equivalent to or operating at the level of specialist accountants, professional marketers or human resources staff, or other such business experts. The approach to decision-making and everyday work forced upon managers by the necessities of their everyday work contrasts with the kind of problem-solving encountered by a professional specialist. The latter are trained to undertake detailed and searching, often longitudinal, analysis of complex issues. Their success is measured by their ability to resolve difficulties in ways that make sense within the context of a particular professional body of knowledge.



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Executive MBA teachers will be familiar with managers’ preference for simple, memorable, and evocative ways to engage in teaching and learning. MBA students are often described as intrinsically difficult to teach. This observation usually comes from those already employed within an intensively literate university-based setting. Many university teachers (most of whom will have been highly conditioned by the world of higher-order print literacies) also reputedly find Executive MBA students not easy to relate to. Not untypically the feeling is mutual. Swann (2002) refers to how “Teaching MBA students brings many tough challenges, and there is a steep learning curve … A proportion of excellent undergraduate teachers, and perhaps an even higher proportion of excellent MSc and PhD teachers has not been able to make the transition to [MBA] teaching” (par. 4). This indicates the difference between the more academic and research-oriented pathway of MSc/ PhD and the applied orientation of the MBA. Swann (2002) reported that “[i]‌t is said that at least one business school employs a psychotherapist to help shell-shocked academics cope with the trauma of feedback from MBA students!” (par. 7). In our own experience Executive MBA students’ preference for simple and memorable ways in which to learn, including aphorisms, slogans, catchphrases, repetitions, and use of synonyms, jars with the convolutions of academic language in which university teachers have been trained. Ong (1971) wrote of the usefulness of formulary devices and slogans in oral settings though he says that “[a]‌literate culture – and our secondary oral culture remains literate even in its orality  – does not mobilize itself around sayings as permanently as an oral culture does” (p. 299). Ong stressed that in primary orality knowledge needs to be repeated out loud if it is to be remembered. This means that “oral societies must invest great energy in saying over and over again what has been learned arduously over the ages” (p. 41). In Ong’s view, the predominance of such repetition “establishes a highly traditionalist or conservative set of mind that with good reason inhibits intellectual experimentation” (p. 41). Yet if a state of orality means some degree of orientation to formulary devices, then managers in their occupational orality as earlier reported in Chapter One are likely to be oriented to slogans as part of their everyday lives. So far research has not been discovered that systematically tests ways in which managers as a group may be relatively more attracted to slogans than others who are more grounded in literacy. Meyrowitz (1985, p. 326) has pointed out that the more highly trained and educated a person is in a print society, the more ensconced they usually become in a given body of literature, and, therefore, the more they are trained out of awareness of other fields of knowledge. Many of the traditional disciplines are, in this sense, not only bodies of structured knowledge, but also systems of organized ignorance. [emphasis in original]

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Many participants whom we spoke to in this research, whether tradespeople, supervisors or managers, would have concurred that any such recession into the limited context of a given knowledge silo would be most undesirable in their contexts. Undue focus on any given subfield is dysfunctional, they would say, if it means ignorance of the broader environment. MBA teaching comprises one important nexus between businesspeople and academia. Yet the culture of the Executive MBA classroom seems closer to the workplace than the regular university classroom environment. That is, the MBA classroom even across very different national cultures seems to possess its own strong ethos of “tell us what we can use”. This may derive from habitual organisationally oriented oral-experiential ways of learning and work performance. Here the stage is set for misunderstandings and mismatches between the cultures of orality (in which MBA-enrolled managers have been conditioned at work and in which they tacitly assume they will learn) and literacy (within which university personnel have been trained to teach). In the classroom I have found that MBA students, regardless of their country, reinforce one another in an impatience with theory, persistently seeking grounded accounts of what works in applied settings. Hence the immediate, taxing, fragmented, and ceaselessly grounded character of managers’ everyday existence orients them towards what they think will achieve their goals in an empirical and immediate sense. Commonly MBA programmes try to leverage off this assumption by devising marketing slogans such as “What you learn in the classroom on the weekend you can apply at work on Monday”. As Swann (2002) points out, MBA students “pay high fees, and they are very sensitive to the high opportunity cost of their time” (par 10). As practising managers, Executive MBA students are normally time-poor, and this condition of time poverty also tends to characterise their study lives. They seek to ensure that everything they engage in will contribute directly to their work aims. Managers who are well-trained in literate practices are presumably capable of complex analytical thought. Still, for the most part, the everyday tasks inherent in managers’ work give them fewer opportunities to practise focused and longitudinal concentration on a single multifaceted issue, on account of the tactical exigencies of their day to day work. The implications of this are addressed again in the section on PIAAC and managers’ test scores in literacy in this chapter. One issue is that what Simon (1997) saw as managers’ deliberate but necessary over-simplification will have consequences for their cognitive capability. We do better at what we practise. Research into adult literacy demonstrates that competence in reading is improved by consistent reading and writing by writing. Literacy classes are not the answer to improving adult literacy since good evidence exists that literacy training alone does little to improve literacy (Beder, 1999; Reder & Bynner, 2009; Wolf, Aspin, Waite & Ananiadou, 2010). Strate (2017b,



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p.  252) pointed out that “our use of media feeds back directly into ourselves, affecting us in a variety of ways, for example, as the use of a particular tool will strengthen the muscles needed to utilize it”. However as one ability increases, others may decline, so arguably the relative dearth of managers’ solitary reading of textual materials, compared to other professionals, could tend to strengthen their interpersonal skills including knowing how to obtain nuanced impressions from one-to-one contact. A recent Norwegian study (Billington, Nissinen & Gabrielsen, 2017) suggests that despite major continuing investment in adult literacy training in that country, paradoxically the proportion of low-performing adults increased over the period 2003–2012. The authors propose “that adult education programs and the education system more generally may not be in concord with the goal of including all in the communities of the literate” (p. 136). Yet it may be equally likely that this is just a further indication that literacy training as such does not necessarily result in more literate adults. What literacy training may do, however, is to create an initial step of building confidence, getting individuals used to and prepared to practise their literacy. Then people develop their literacy only by employing it, so following any workplace-based literacy training it is incumbent upon employers to make opportunities for new skills to be practised. Chapter Seven returns to this in more detail. Referring to the increasing salience of literacy within workplaces, Farrell (2006) stated that “[a]‌bsolute compliance with … regulations (e.g., quality assurance standards) is critical if the company is to sustain its place in a global supply chain” (p. 10). Yet it is possible to question whether such compliance will ever be absolute. The examples provided in this book of managers’ dependence on oral-experiential ways to achieve their goals imply that classic managerial satisficing rather than optimising workplace practices will continue to make unlikely any absolute compliance with print-based regulations. As Kotter (1982) and others have explained, managers and others follow informal and not necessarily authorised means of getting their work done for good reasons such as the immediacy of the data they can access, and richness of information obtained face to face. Nevertheless, the necessary compliance with standards like ISO is demanding that virtually all workers have sufficient competence in literacy to make sense of the increasing volume of documentation that regulates their work lives. People at work have to build the skills of conceptualising the print or digital workplace texts in order to apprehend underlying principles, including adherence to health and safety standards. Beyond being able to grasp the underlying rationale for what a head office has promulgated as policy or procedures, workers are increasingly expected to build their ability to engage in analytical and critical ways with

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what they encounter on the job, ‘working smarter not harder’ as the cliché has it, attempting “to ‘make knowledge’ on the run, to collaborate with people they may never have met face to face” (Farrell, 2006, p. 15). The competencies of being able to read texts derived from elsewhere, then engage in sensemaking, problem-solving, and creative engagement with local co-workers, customers and supervisors, using such texts as a basis, together comprise sophisticated forms of inferential literacy. These still must be integrated with traditional oral-experiential means of getting the job done but guidelines on how this might be achieved have not so far been developed. Farrell (2006) commented on how global workplaces are “textual phenomena” but “it is not clear how texts are inserted into specific physical locations, how they change work practices and how existing work practices change them” (p. 27). This leads to an interesting paradox, what Farrell (2006) calls “the challenge of improvisation” (p.  10). Because of the inevitable nature of local differences across varying sites within a company, the new Internet-enabled corporation relies upon the goodwill and creativity of staff in its various sites to adapt and customise centrally-mandated products and services, so they meet local expectations. Internationally-based enterprises are continuing to insinuate their way into virtually every country across the globe and in so doing have been creating tightly-defined textualised frameworks for their products and services. Yet the local exigencies that they encounter, along with the fast-moving nature of competitive businesses, mean that while frameworks for reporting, quality, and product or service design or service delivery can be and are being mandated centrally, a company’s global HQ cannot specify with any precision just how to respond well to local customer demands – that depends on local knowledge and judgement. In many industrial nations, a substantial proportion of adults have been identified (at least from an economics-based position) as possessing functional literacy levels below that needed to perform competently within modern enterprises. In New Zealand for example and quite typically of English-speaking industrialised countries, over 40% of working-aged adults (16–65) have been assessed as being at levels one or two (very poor or poor literacy) or lower, on a five-point scale of literacy competence (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2016). Literacy achievement at a level below three on this scale is considered to equip people insufficiently to cope with text-based information of either print or numerical form that they find in the workplace or other community settings. Those at levels one and two on the OECD literacy scale are at a stage of “learning to read” while only those at levels three to five are capable of consistently “reading to learn” (Culligan, Arnold, Noble & Sligo, 2004; Windisch, 2015).



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Before the growth in globalisation and textualisation of knowledge, managers or others in the workplace who were at a literacy level depicted as “learning to read” were at less of a disadvantage than they are at present compared to those capable of “reading to learn”. In earlier times, those with lower literacy levels could hold their own in a context of discourse at work which was more strongly oral than scriptural in nature. Tertiary education has generally been seen as the normal or at least the fastest pathway to attain recognised expertise in a given field. Then, in turn, advanced literacy closely correlates with higher education (Education Counts: Survey of Adult Skills, 2017). Higher education is not the only way to build literacy and many citizens historically and to the present day have become highly print literate through their own efforts rather than through university degrees, especially through incessant reading and writing. That is, we get better at whatever we do a lot of, so that the frequent reading of demanding texts will build literacy and the ability to think in analytically complex ways. Yet managers’ style of workplace behaviour contrasts with the individualistic demand of becoming highly literate. Improving one’s literacy whether through tertiary study or by oneself necessitates slow and painstaking work. But the incremental nature of building better functional literacy may be resisted or found impossible to cope with by managers who have never been used to any such persisting activity, and who as already described are generally time-poor. The perspective advanced here is that managers’ oral-experiential culture is an important part of what they need to succeed in a fast-changing tactical environment. However, Jung’s (1971) observation is relevant, that a weakness is not the opposite of a strength but instead is better understood as a strength taken too far. A Jungian perspective permits the interpretation that an oral-experiential culture may well assist in the functioning of a given organisation, but such a culture is not sufficient for an enterprise to achieve its full potential if managers are insufficiently in command of literacy to understand, process and act on difficult textual materials. Strength in the oral dimension becomes weakness when it results in a low understanding of or preparedness to engage in complex scriptural literacy practices. Increasingly the pressures of swift globalised changes at work mean that a sophisticated capability in literacy needs to emerge. It is not straightforward to portray an oral-experiential culture, alluded to by de Certeau in his account of everyday behaviour to be found in quotidian settings, describing “creativity that flourishes at the very point where practice ceases to have its own language” (1984, p.  xvii). The very nature of oral-experiential practices at work means that learning is acquired more by observation, imitation, and participation than by formal explanation and depends relatively little on what is spoken, written or printed. Any attempts to describe oral-experiential forms

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of discourse should acknowledge that these traditions exist in forms other than the language of digital or print literacy. At their heart is oral communication and embodied and language-less forms of performance that may never be accounted for in spoken let alone written words. This recalls from ancient Greek drama the distinction between mimesis, showing, more than diegesis, telling. The enacted forms of learning and performance at work may not need words since observation and nonverbal communication are traditional and customary. However, in the transition to textualised knowledge and the digital world, those who lack abilities in reading printed texts are at a disadvantage in the workplaces that are increasingly dependent on digital and print information. People operating in oral-experiential ways generally show some resistance to theorised accounts within their workplace if a practice-based interpretation is available. In the present study our interviews of industry training coordinators and apprentices’ managers, along with apprentices, provided instances of this resistance. Managers as seen by Stewart, Mintzberg, Kotter and others realise that texts have a presence in the workplace and their requirements have to be met, or sometimes paid lip-service to. Examples might be forms to be filled out for cost or time allocation, stock or equipment resupply, or creating a paper-trail to demonstrate compliance to auditors. Kotter (1982) reported how managers create their own unofficial goals and agendas, and how these agendas exist in a sometimes uneasy relationship with the official organisational agendas that managers are overtly measured by. Yet the move to textualisation of workplace processes means it is difficult to avoid texts having increasingly stronger forms of influence on managers’ tactical understanding of how the work is to be done. It could be speculated that advances in technology such as more sophisticated voice and facial recognition systems may to some extent redress the balance in favour of those more imbued in orality and with lesser reading and writing abilities. Nevertheless further developed in Chapter Seven is that readers’ minds are trained in more analytical and critical ways compared to listeners’. The evidence of Kotter, Mintzberg and others is that managers will usually have sophisticated oral aptitudes, though it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are likely to become ill-equipped as the textualisation of knowledge starts to leave them behind. While textualising trends have not eliminated traditional and non-literate means of learning and perhaps will never do so, they appear to be undermining and marginalising oral-experiential approaches and are rendering them less significant in organisational operations. Organisational downsizing has been an important feature of the incessant workplace drive for ongoing efficiencies (Wyse & Casarotto, 2004) but changes to literacy requisites are also implied. An unending removal of middle management



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has resulted in a consequent reallocation of their responsibility to shop-floor level workers of workplace functioning formerly largely unknown to them. This includes a diverse array of planning and organising work, the routines of quality assurance, assessing levels of customer service and ways to strengthen services, new control and compliance systems, and allocations of accountability for work processes that sheet responsibility home at shop-floor level. All of these areas need strengthened literacy and communicative capabilities for the lower-level staff who are being made to take on such responsibilities. Increased pressures of literacy of this nature seem to fall into two categories (Wyse & Casarotto, 2004). First is an increased level of literacy needed to perform functions like planning, reporting, and quality assurance at a new and more exacting level. Second is what Jackson (2000) has named the relations of literacy. This refers to the wider and more exacting expectations held of workers in the new-style fast capitalism (Gee, 2000), with demands on them for much greater initiative-taking, personal investment in work, including emotional labour and a greater sense of individual and workgroup responsibility for enterprise success. Jackson (2000) comments on how additional workplace responsibility with greater requirements of literacy may feature rhetoric that workers are now participating in institutional decision-making. Yet “often the experience of front-line workers is that these same literate practices actually strip them of their own power by positioning them as accountable to levels of decision-making from which they are excluded” (p. 16). However, it is probably not print-literate practices as such that strip workers of power. Rather, workers are disadvantaged when they are told to undertake difficult organisational tasks without being given appropriate information or authority around systems, quality assurance processes, or risk management, exposing them to blame when things go wrong. In any event, as organisations become more multifaceted and subject to more rigor in quality, safety, and adhering to approved systems, jobs are gradually advancing up the scale of complexity (Reder, 2009) and asking more advanced literacy of employees. In this environment workers at all levels will be asked to gain further literacy skills as more extensive and more in-depth compliance with the culture of documentation is needed, along with associated needs for more sophisticated work, further flexibility in coping with fast capitalism’s incessant organisational change and increasing innovativeness in the face of competitive demands. Then especially with extensive and habitual use by many people of Internet sources, it is normal now to have much more access to information than in previous generations. Yet along with relatively easy access to information for many, comes the need to build greater capabilities in assessing and interpreting information (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999).

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Abrassart (2013) similarly clarified how those with relatively little education are disadvantaged in their employment prospects, in referring to “the importance of cognitive skills for the employment opportunities of the low-educated workers” (p. 707). An avoidance of theory and analysis and a strong orientation towards what works in some grounded context are characteristic of more-oral cultures, albeit not in the same category as primary orality. It is to be expected that even those who have been shaped by their work experience into oral-experiential forms of functioning will still employ analytical thought to use in contexts where they are seen to be necessary or useful in some way. Map, tour, and register. An instance of how people in some settings may be able to work across different forms of description, or different layers of literacy and orality, is provided by de Certeau (1984). He comments on how Linde and Labov (1975) distinguished between “map” and “tour” in their report of how apartment dwellers talked about their living spaces. The map provides a systematic account of how the apartment is organised, for example, “the girls’ room is next to the kitchen”. In contrast, the tour is personalised: “you turn right and come into the living room”. It was found that just 3% of descriptions could be called map so that nearly the entirety of people’s accounts comprised instances of tour. Whereas map is an analytical depiction of how an apartment is laid out, tour is an individualised narrative of somebody grounded in that space. Map and tour can be differentiated as follows: Table 5.  Map and Tour Map is diagnostic and literacy-oriented Tour is oral-experiential in character Is objective, analytical and neutral

Relates to people, “you walk … you go … next you turn” Is based on seeing or observation Is based on doing in an embodied sense Delivers a descriptive outline or tableau Displays how you engage physically Is as if providing an overview Is based at floor level Shows an awareness of orderliness Talks in a spatial and personalised way Shows a tableau Organises movement within the space Is formed by scientific language Employs everyday oral culture

De Certeau talks of how through different eras maps evolved from descriptive itineraries that identified key points along pilgrimage routes. Initially, they advised wayfarers how long they might expect a given journey to take on foot, but then they morphed to a “formal ensemble of abstract places” (p. 121). This



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adjustment is explained as happening “in the course of the period marked by the birth of modern scientific discourse (i.e., from the fifteenth to the seventeenth century)” (p. 120) so that the map “remains alone on the stage. The tour describers have disappeared” (p. 121). As such, printed maps illustrate one form of transition from orality to literacy. Yet despite the evident ascendancy of the map as online or printed artifact and the current pervasiveness of scientific terminology, the human element does not vanish, with colloquial forms of description preferred in spoken accounts such as descriptions of one’s apartment. What is said to be tour rather than map still retains a leading role in ordinary spoken language so that narrative persists in everyday human interactions, spoken discourse retaining a veiled and untextualised presence. This observation seems to reinforce the idea noted earlier in this chapter of layered forms of discourse. When interviewees are asked to provide a formal account of their living space, they may prefer to use a more prescribed form of explanation. However, when they talk about how they live in an everyday manner, personalised forms of description emerge, and people think and talk in embodied ways. While de Certeau proposes that we can quite readily transfer between more and less formal registers of describing a particular space, it is also quite plausible that increasing strength in one register may signal diminution in another. Carr (2010, p. 211) suggests how the introduction of maps may have had a “numbing effect” on the human sensorium and cognitive processes. Even as a newly available map permitted people to explore places they had not previously seen, at the same time their “native ability to comprehend a landscape, to create a richly detailed mental map of their surroundings” would have weakened. For Carr, “[w]‌hen people came to rely on maps rather than their own bearings, they would have experienced a diminishment of the area of their hippocampus devoted to spatial representation”. His observation aligns with neurological research in recent years that demonstrates brain development or its reduction in capability in response to patterns of use over time, as further surveyed in Chapter Seven (e.g., Dehaene, 2009; Julayanont & Ruthirago, 2018; Wolf, 2007). Nevertheless, probably all the apartment-dwellers interviewed would have been able to select terminology of either map or tour, depending on the account they needed to provide. Linde and Labov used everyday language in speaking with their respondents, so that people were led informally to talk to them similarly. It seems likely though that if the participants were asked to depict their apartment in a manner that a letting agency could use, what they had to say would have been relatively formal in its tone, hence more map than tour. We could say, that is, people may be quite accustomed to employing different registers in language use.

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Register has to do with how much formality is employed in communication, described by Fromkin and Rodman (1998) as a language modality, being “a stylistic variant of a language appropriate to a particular social setting, also called style” (p. 535). As somebody builds experience in their use of their own or another language, they learn how to respond using diverse registers depending on their situation. Forms of language use vary depending on a speaker’s social class, ethnic group, age, and sex (Gee, 2000). Blom and Gumperz (1972) drew attention to how in bilingual and multilingual communities speakers employed different languages or language varieties, calling this situational switching. This refers to how people display varying responses to the communication context they are in, some responses stemming from learned reactions to different exigencies of communication in a particular setting, others influenced by habitual forms of communicating with others. In describing the scriptural economy already referred to in Chapter One, de Certeau writes, “I am trying to hear these fragile ways in which the body makes itself heard in the language” (1984, p. 131). He is referring to the barriers that he as a highly literate person identifies which block him from accessing deeply embodied forms of communication. Our culture is so much affected by literacy and its practices that it is difficult to find meaningful words to express the functioning of oral-experiential forms of culture, as already stated above by Innis, Ong and McLuhan. The paradox here, however, is that although de Certeau employs aural language in “I am trying to hear” and “makes itself heard”, in reality he is writing about trying to write. This instance demonstrates orality’s existence within the fissures of literate culture: as he says, there is “a disjunction between writing and orality” and “orality insinuates itself, like one of the threads of which it is composed, into the network … of a scriptural economy” (p. 132). Like Ong, de Certeau was adamant that there is no “great divide” and that “in referring to writing and orality I  am not postulating two opposed terms” (1984, p.  133). Yet “orality is defined by (or as) that from which a ‘legitimate’ practice – whether in science, politics, or the classroom, etc. – must differentiate itself ” (p. 134). Again, the notion of layering emerges: the legitimised discourse, the map of the territory taken as definitive, decision-makers’ forms of literacy, all assert their predominance, but still partially unseen within society oral-experiential forms of expression persist. De Certeau proposes that “[t]‌he ‘oral’ is that which does not contribute to progress; reciprocally, the ‘scriptural’ is that which separates itself from the magical world of voices and tradition” (p. 134). He connects this with Western modernity: “one can read above the portals of modernity such inscriptions as … ‘Here only what is written is understood’ ” (p. 134). The basis for de Certeau’s scriptural economy is the blank page onto which a text is inserted, “a place where the ambiguities of the world have been exorcised”



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(1984, p. 134). Ambiguities possess their own power, though, and our research with managers and others at work indicated to us that their orality and their discomfort with print information stemmed in particular from the unremitting complexities in what they were trying to achieve. The circumstances of their lives sought an unceasing flow of information, especially from interpersonal sources. This information, on account of its time-sensitivity, confidential nature, or inherent ambiguity, could not be replaced by written or digital textual data. Jackson (2004) has said how new electronic technologies and management methods oriented to greater efficiency have combined to usher a vast array of new “texts” into the functioning of the workplace. These include online “manuals and records of Standard Operating Procedures; software programs providing a script for employees interacting with the public; and intensified use of visuals like charts, table, graphs, symbols and photos” (p. 3). This is not a new development, for as Innis (2007) pointed out from an economic historian’s perspective, even from ancient times, “the effective government of large areas depends to a very important extent on the efficiency of communication” (p. 26). What is new, though, is the speed, reach and volume of new forms of communication and the employment of literate practices much more broadly than just at the governmental level. Widespread uptake of literacy has served to promulgate a reorientation of life at work to textual data. So all of this surge of print, whether digital or hard-copy, into the workplace, reshaping its key operating assumptions and procedures, has suddenly brought to the fore the issue of how well workplace personnel are able and prepared to cope with “the culture of documentation that demands data, analysis, written verifications, and seemingly limitless explosion of paperwork” (Belfiore, 2004, p. 50). Being able to cope depends on an ability in literacy and being prepared to cope is strongly influenced by what the immediate workplace culture or local community of practice accepts as normal practice. Listening, reading and understanding. Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) explored the role of listening in comprehending messages, along with the problems inherent in studying this topic, commenting on an absence of research and a failure “to develop a distinctive theory of listening” (p. 122). They pointed to the substantial international resources available for research into reading, in contrast to the scarcity of listening studies, remarking that “scholarship on listening has languished” (p. 122). In their view, insufficient research into how listening adds to comprehension has comprised a void in communication studies. Havelock, Innis, Ong, and McLuhan would have explained this as predictable, given their argument already cited that literate researchers have been psychologically and socially conditioned to orient themselves primarily to the modality of reading

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that is needed for media which employ print. This refers especially to traditional print media like books but also includes modern electronic social media. Then the reading-focused orientation of the literate will predominate in their everyday assumptions about what is important, resulting in lesser research concern for non-literate forms of interaction such as listening. Cognitive processes in readers and listeners appear to differ for readers engaging with text in a literate context compared to listeners in oral-experiential interactions. For Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000), “[i]‌t is easier for readers than for listeners to process information selectively and to direct their attentional processes” (p. 121). This is particularly because readers possess more agency than listeners. Hence it is much more straightforward for readers to halt or insert gaps in the process of taking in new data than listeners (who are generally less overtly in charge of the information flow) can usually contrive. Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) went on to say that “listeners, in contrast, are less able to direct their own information retrieval strategies” (p.  121) which draws attention to the relative difficulty for someone operating in an oral-experiential mode to retrieve data that they have heard. Information received by aural means typically is freighted with relational dynamics particular to those involved and relevant to the subject of the communication. These include the relative status of speakers and listeners, the relationship-based duties and expectations between the speakers and an array of other interpersonal communication factors. All of these the speakers and listeners try to bear in mind concurrently with their attempts to interpret the fact-value of whatever they have just heard, and also at the same time as they are thinking about what they want to say next. Ong (1967, p. 33) pointed out that For oral-aural man [sic], utterance remains always of a piece with his life situation. Thus it provides a kind of raw, if circumscribed contact with actuality and with truth, which literacy and even literature alone can never give.

Hence for the liminally-literate, there is none of the distanced and mediated information-getting assumed as normal in high literacy. In this way, listening is oriented to people who want to derive pragmatic and tactical inferences from what they have heard said, the gist or substance of the matter, which contrasts with how people derive propositional, strategic or longer-term inferences from what they read. Rubin, Hafer and Arata’s (2000) assessment of earlier research brought them to the perspective that “listening facilitates uptake of gist and the pragmatic inferences that follow from gist; reading, in contrast, facilitates attentiveness to language structures and the propositional inferences that follow” (p. 121). This finding from an area of scholarship



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unrelated to what has already been cited reinforces arguments already made that an oral ecosystem is connected to tactical behaviour while literacy implies a strong alignment to strategy. In other words, habitual listening has the outcome of training the listener to focus on the essence or gist of what they have understood has been spoken and to consider the import of who has been speaking in the given context to determine any pragmatic inferences to be drawn that may follow. An emphasis on the essence of a message then enables the receiver to choose what action they might take in response to their new knowledge. This is pragmatic and tactical behaviour that is closely aligned to and meets needs as understood within the listener’s present-day situation. In contrast, the authors found that reading is associated with a more analytical assessment of the content of a given message. This affords an awareness of the nuances inherent within the message and enables the possibility of a staged reflection on what might be inferred within the strategic framework of a particular context. The relevance of this for the present chapter is that managers, given the tactical work that normally preoccupies them, carefully attend to the essence of the spoken messages that they hear, trying to mine from that material the most informed insights possible into the pragmatic implications for their workplace aims. This gets managers and others at work who closely monitor everyday events to pay focused attention to their interpersonal interactions. Typically, this includes taking mainly intuitive and immediate tactical decisions about who should be listened to, who might be ignored or taken less into account, and which issues they might attend to or discount. Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) however, point out that, by contrast, the exercise of habitual reading sets message receivers off on a different path. A reader of text is enabled to reflect on what they see there in more theoretical or wide-ranging ways than is available to many listeners since reading provides opportunities to think about the subtleties of who has said what to whom, when, and why. Sufficient time for this kind of scrutiny and assessment is more difficult to find for managers and others who are highly pressured in their everyday lives. Insights from reading allow the drawing of propositional inferences (which in organisational frameworks may often be to do with substantive strategic issues) rather than pragmatic inferences (to do with close-at-hand, urgent tactical questions). In this way, Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) think, habitual reading builds cognitive complexity and orients the reader to larger strategic matters that they can infer as important for the future. The research into what the practices of listening and reading respectively do, intimates that those whose everyday work practices need them to be habitual

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listeners, such as managers and others embroiled in the incessant pressures of the workplace, are less cognitively challenged by their quotidian on-site activities than others whose work asks for constant habituation in reading, especially reading of difficult texts. This latter group includes professionals working in specialist occupations, whose ongoing needs to study complicated and technical information relevant to their work call on them to operate in a print-literate space more intensively. Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) went on to report that “oral-based prose was easier to comprehend than was literate-based prose” (p.  130). The reasons for this were specifically that oral discourse “contained less dense syntax, greater frequency of personal pronouns, more verb-based rather than nominal constructions, and less lexical diversity than literate-based style” (p. 130). This description of oral discourse reveals how grounded it is in a here-and-now everyday lifeworld. The less-dense syntax reflects the everyday realities of one-to-one talk, which employs personal pronouns, where simpler turns of phrase rather than complex or declamatory phrasing are featured and as such are typical of interpersonal interactions. Verb-based (‘doing words’) more than noun-based constructions imply an orientation to action on the part of both the speaker and the listener. Then a lesser extent of lexical diversity indicates habitual use of a more limited phraseology, which reinforces the examples given by Ong (1982) and others about the use of formulary devices in everyday spoken interactions. In reflecting on how literacy shows different characteristics to orality, Ong (1982) referred to a dissociation process: “[t]‌he distancing which writing effects develops a new kind of precision in verbalization by removing it from the rich but chaotic existential context of much oral utterance” (pp. 103–4). The exactitude in language employed by the highly literate might seem rather arcane and pointlessly obscure to those fully engaged in oral settings. Differences in comprehension were also evident. Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) found that “listening comprehension lagged behind reading comprehension” (p. 131). That is, habituation in the relatively simpler modalities of listening to speech built a lesser capability in detailed comprehension of ideas and explanations heard, in contrast to what reading encourages. They believed that this was because listeners when compared to readers, “failed to invest mental effort in their listening” (p. 131). For these authors, “one can be lulled by the seeming effortlessness of listening, but effective listening requires disciplined investment of mental activity” (p. 131, emphasis in original). People who undertake in-depth reading of printed or long-form digital texts are, in contrast, aware that reading such prose is challenging, calling for painstaking attention to both what is written and implied. Meyrowitz (1985, p. 84) talks of how difficult reading is, even for



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the very literate, in how it demands proactive behaviour rather than a reactive acceptance of what turns up on your screen: The black shapes on this page, for example, must be scanned, word after word, line after line, paragraph after paragraph. You are working hard to receive this message … Electronic images and sound, however, thrust themselves into people’ environments, and the messages are received with little effort. In a sense, people must go after print messages, but electronic messages reach out and touch people. People will expose themselves to information in electronic media that they would never bother to read about in a book.

Rubin, Hafer and Arata’s (2000) research suggests that the lesser cognitive workout that applies in oral interactions results in habitually less successful comprehension among managers and others whose job has them constantly employing spoken more than written discourse. Chapter Seven returns to how reading linear text compares to browsing online sources. In the 21st century pressures of specialisation and globalisation are advancing a global trend for work to evolve into more complex and conceptually sophisticated forms. Jobs are migrating up literacy scales as promulgated by the OECD including from level two to three, or from three to four or five (Reder & Bynner, 2009)  calling for more advanced levels of literacy (see the later discussion of PIAAC in this chapter). Then even for those not employed, everyday life in community is now expecting higher literacy in order to navigate challenging online banking processes, online interactions with local and national government authorities, and web-based forms of interpersonal interaction such as via social media. This means that people at work are obliged to strengthen their grasp of textualised information. But since their employment involves getting things done with and through others, managers in particular (along with many others at work) cannot eschew their oral worlds. Instead, managers and others have to maintain their capability in orality, then as an additional layer, add literacy competencies. These layers of oral and print exist in tension with each other. Balancing the demands of each is not straightforward, not least because managers among others are habituated in their workplace oral culture to privilege and trust the spoken in preference to the written word. At the same time as described in Chapter One, how “literacy” is being understood and is to be appraised has been evolving so that now its measurement is designed to take stock of a fuller array of attributes that depend on aptitudes in print and numeracy. Literacy is now seen as involving abilities in problem-solving that are logically sequenced. Important in this is being able to take an analytical approach to a conceptual or empirical question, to obtain relevant evidence, to know how to sift through what is valid and what is not, or less so,

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in understanding the nature of the matter involved, to screen out distracting or irrelevant details, then come to a reasoned conclusion as to what is to be done in a particular circumstance. PIAAC and measuring adult skills. The best-known international measures of adult literacy over recent decades have been a series of OECD-based assessments beginning with the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) in the mid-1990s, about 10 years later followed by the Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey. ALL was led by Canadian and US national statistics bureaux in combination with the OECD and undertaken by a collection of European countries along with Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand (OECD, 2013). About ten years after that a follow-up study was instituted, known as PIAAC, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Countries undertaking PIAAC were Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russian Federation, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States, with further countries still to engage in it at the date of writing. PIAAC was designed to evaluate adults’ cognitive and literacy competencies that are considered necessary for successful involvement in 21st-century societies globally. It assesses performance across four subject areas: literacy, numeracy, problem-solving in technology-rich settings, and reading abilities at a basic level, specifically reading vocabulary, sentence comprehension, and written passage comprehension (National Center for Educational Statistics, n.d.). PIAAC has been called “the most comprehensive survey of adult skills ever undertaken” in its 33 participating countries (Education Counts, 2017: par. 2). PIAAC and its two precursors employ in-depth, one-to-one home-based interviews with representative samples of persons aged 16–65 within each country to arrive at an assessment of their literacy and numeracy along with their capability in solving problems in technology-rich environments (PIAAC, 2015). Respondents completed activities showing they could undertake information-matching, create inferences from their reading, demonstrate they can ignore erroneous distractions, and complete multiple-step calculations and estimations. They further undertook complex reasoning and problem-solving, used mathematical symbols and showed to what extent they could employ abstract analytical reasoning. All three surveys culminate in participants being assigned to one of five levels: Level 1, scoring 0–225: the ability to read simple documents, accomplish literal information matching, perform simple one-step calculations.



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Level 2, scoring 226–275: the ability to search a document and ignore simple distracting information, achieve low-level inferences, execute one- or twostep calculations and estimations. Level 3, scoring 276–325: more complex information filtering, some use of inference, use of mathematical symbols, sometimes in several stages. Level 4, scoring 326–375:  can integrate information from a long passage, employ relatively complex inferences, and use reasoning to undertake multiple-step calculations. Level 5, scoring 376–500: can make high-level inferences or syntheses, correctly employ specialized knowledge, disregard multiple distractors, justify abstract mathematical ideas (PIAAC, 2015). Level one is said to designate very low literacy while levels one and two indicate low literacy. Together these two levels suggest that a person is learning to read which, as explained earlier, points to aptitude below that needed for normal functioning within complex economies (Reder & Bynner 2009; Windisch, 2015). Level three is thought to be the lowest level at which they can cope successfully within contemporary society (though an undue focus on level three in the standard adult literacy surveys (IALS, ALL and PIAAC) has been criticised by researchers such as Black and Yasukawa (2014)). Levels four and five are high to very high literacy (PIAAC, 2015). Taken together levels three to five are reported to show a graduated capability in reading to learn (Reder & Bynner, 2009; Windisch, 2015). Literacy is characterised in a way that addresses both cognitive abilities and the uses that are made of literacy in applied settings:  “[l]‌iteracy is understanding, evaluating, using and engaging with written text to participate in the society, to achieve one’s goals and to develop one’s knowledge and potential” (National Center for Educational Statistics, n.d., par. 2). This is comparable with the definition of inferential literacy described earlier in Chapter One in its focus on effective action facilitated by literacy. Given managers’ pressured work lives, along with what Mintzberg and others have said about the oral-experiential character of managers’ everyday activities, it seemed desirable to find out how managers’ literacy might compare against other professional workers’, thus to explore some of the implications for orally-oriented work. In the PIAAC survey undertaken in New Zealand (total N = 6177), each respondent’s self-report on his or her work responsibilities was coded to one of the following eight categories from the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019): Managers; Professionals; Technicians and trades workers; Community and personal service workers; Clerical and administrative workers; Sales workers; Machinery operators and drivers; and Labourers.

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Of these eight just two seemed relevant: Managers (N=684) and Professionals (N=1061). Managers were designated as those who “[p]‌lan, organize, direct, control, coordinate and review the operations of government, commercial, agricultural, industrial, non-profit and other organisations, and departments. Will normally have at least a bachelor’s degree and five years or more of relevant experience” (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019). Professionals “[p]‌erform analytical, conceptual and creative tasks through the application of theoretical knowledge and experience in the fields of the arts, media, business, design, engineering, the physical and life sciences, transport, education, health, information and communication technology, the law, social sciences and social welfare. Will normally have at least a bachelor’s degree and five years or more of relevant experience” (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2019). The PIAAC New Zealand data demonstrate that of the eight occupational categories professionals possess the highest literacy abilities (80% at level 3 or better), followed by managers and clerical and administrative workers at about the same level of capability (each showing 67% at level 3 or better). Of the managers more specifically: Table 6.  PIAAC Levels and Percentages of Managers Levels One Two Three Four and Five

Percentages of Managers 7% 26% 45% 22%

One-third of managers in the New Zealand survey were reported as at PIAAC levels one or two, meaning they were considered as still “learning to read”. In all, around 78% of managers appeared to be at what is said to be the minimum necessary level of literacy suited for work in a modern 21st-century environment (i.e., PIAAC level 3)  or lower (Education Counts:  Survey of Adult Skills, 2017). Just over a fifth of managers were scoring at levels four and five, high to very high literacy. This is further discussed in Sligo (2020). At present, it is unknown how internationally representative these findings might be. However, PIAAC provides some potentially relevant data for adults aged 16–65. In “average literacy skills … New Zealand ranks fourth highest in the OECD behind Japan, Finland and the Netherlands” (Skills at work, 2016, p.6). Then in problem-solving, 45% of New Zealand adults have moderate to high problem-solving skills, putting them at the top of the OECD table along with Sweden (Skills at work, 2016, p.7).



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From comparisons of this nature and until inter-country managers’ studies are done, we could infer that the results for New Zealand managers and professionals may be somewhat comparable to the findings from similarly developed economies. Still to the best of the writer’s knowledge, no publications to date record the literacy results for managers in the other OECD countries that have undertaken PIAAC surveys. As discussed, according to Mintzberg and others, the orientation to orality of managers and many others is conditioned by the nature of their daily responsibilities. The tactical pressures of constant action inherent in their work influence managers towards an occupational orality, as already described. Unsurprisingly then the New Zealand PIAAC results demonstrate that managers’ literacy scores were lower than other professionals’, in line with how such professionals in the workplace necessarily build their ability to understand and create difficult print texts as part of their more distanced, theorised forms of interactions with texts (OECD, 2013). Professional specialists like engineers might undertake sophisticated assessments of proposed urban infrastructure, web entrepreneurs may take weeks or months to test and launch a new app, or lawyers could allocate hundreds of hours to assemble necessary legal documentation. In doing so these professionals would seldom be working alone but much of their work requires them to undertake an independent analysis of complex specialist materials. Intellectual endeavours of this kind over time mould a professional person into an enhanced practice of their specialist forms of literacy. The character of the professional conditioning for work involving much reading and perhaps writing as well, differs from managers’ typical experience, since “[a]‌ll the social habits of uniformity, specialization, and fragmentation were encouraged by the uniform, repeatable, and specialized medium of print” (Culkin, 1968, p. 65). Havelock (1963, p. ix) proposed that “the crux of the matter lies in the transition from the oral to the written and from the concrete to the abstract”. But as already pointed out, managers retain a preference for the concrete over the abstract since the swirling exigencies of their work lives do not permit them to ignore the particulars of a situation as may happen when abstractions start to gloss over the details. Earlier it was noted how Brine’s (2006) study of European Union documents relating to low adult literacy found that workers (not managers or business systems) were said both to have the problem of insufficient literacy and also to be “the problem”. Accordingly, the responsibility for a country’s lack of international competitiveness or shortcomings in industrial productivity (New Zealand, Australia, Britain, USA, etc.) is assumed to stem from its workers’ limitations and

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deficits. This assumption ignores ways in which the community of practice within an organisation along with managers’ work practices affects how people make decisions, select their sources of information, and interact at work. The importance of the community of practice in reinforcing learning was emphasised in Crowther, Maclachlan, and Tett’s (2010) investigation of Scottish literacy education:  “[h]‌olistic provision that creates a supportive community of practice was found to be the most effective in bringing about the positive changes that learners identified they wished to make in their lives” (p. 651). The sticking point as earlier described in Chapter Four is when learners’ community of practice is not only not supportive but is actively opposed to book-based learning. Critiquing PIAAC. As reported in Chapter Five, a strong New Literacy Studies (NLS) critique exists of individual assessments of literacy, for example, in social practice or situated learning studies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Druine & Wildemeersch, 2000; Hamilton, 2012; Hamilton & Barton, 2000; Street, 2017). Particular concerns have been stated about PIAAC and its precursor IALS/ ALL surveys, NLS authors objecting that “more than two decades of critical, empirical and theoretical work … is neither acknowledged nor allowed to influence the [IALS] study’s design, conduct, or reported conclusions” (Graff, 1997, p. 4). In the 20-plus years since this concern with IALS was articulated, an impasse still exists between the cognitive science-based assumptions of the IALS/ALL/ PIAAC proponents and the situated learning researchers who stress the grounded nature of literacy (or in their view, literacies), believing that communication competencies at work or in the community can be understood only in the specific contexts within which skills are employed. Possibly the condition of stasis in the adult literacy field may be part of the reason why, despite ongoing concerns about insufficient literacy in developed economies, “there remains a paucity of research focused on adult learners to inform remediation efforts” (Miller, McCardle & Hernandez, 2010, p. 101). Likewise, there has been little scholarly interest in managers’ or other professionals’ literacy. Certainly, quantitative analyses of managers’ or professionals’ literacy do not seem to have made their way into the management or organisational studies literature in English (Earle, 2015). Although there has been much public discourse about upskilling the workforce, the commentary has been almost entirely around workers’ (rather than managers’) inadequate skills. In opposition to the social practice perspective, scholars of human cognition such as Jones (1997) advance the view that capabilities in literacy and numeracy are not situation-specific and can realistically be regarded as a general skill. It is perfectly meaningful, in their view, to use as a literacy research instrument a measure of an overall facility in reading and comprehension. In this perspective



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“none of the research … has to my knowledge shown that the cognitive processes involved in literacy are different when used for different purposes” (Jones, 1997, p. 22). The evidence from the various literatures on adult literacy traversed so far suggests that the social practice position on adult literacy is necessary but not sufficient to an understanding of adult literacy in grounded settings and of ways to support those of liminal literacy. Such writings contain important insights into the situation-specific character of literacies and demonstrate laudable intentions in seeking to address “what people do in their everyday lives enabling them to be agentive and capable of change” (Appleby & Barton, 2009, p. 355). However, as noted the NLS tradition lacks a genuinely supportive focus on or any answer to the great difficulties faced by those with only liminal literacy who struggle to cope in a document-driven workplace. Thus, it needs to be supplemented by insights from research into human cognition, media ecology and learning from other disciplines, to ensure that support for the liminally literate is validated from every relevant field. In terms of cross-field pollination, it is worth mentioning that while it is rare for government policy around adult literacy to show influence from a social practice stance, in recent years there have been hopes in Scotland that some such cross-pollination may be occurring. The Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy Strategy while demonstrating, (as is normal in such policy documents) an orientation to individuals’ abilities, does define literacy and numeracy as “skills for which sufficiency may only be judged within a specific social, cultural, economic or political context” (Maclachlan, Tett & Hall, 2009, p. 329). If a form of middle ground position is in fact occurring, this would be a welcome development in governmental policy on adult literacy. An apparent acknowledgement of the salience of social environment in the Scots instance, though, has been questioned by Ackland (2014) who believes that “[d]‌espite Scottish [adult literacy] practitioners’ claims to ‘do social practices’ there is, however, little evidence of such practice” (p.  192). An overwhelming influence is said to remain from more powerful neoliberal discourses: Ironically, the effect of the discourse of ‘the social practice approach’ may have been to contribute to the effective mobilisation of Scottish practitioners to the role assigned to them in the government human capital project and to obviate resistance (p. 192).

Nevertheless, the more empirical, “non-social practice” researchers in the field (e.g., Reder and Bynner, 2009) would object to being labelled as interested only in “mechanical” (Belfiore, 2004, p. 49) aspects of adult literacy that are deemed

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to be neither meaningful nor useful in any context where literacy practices are employed. A dysfunctional binary perspective is also evident in Nicoli, Gherardi and Yanow (2003) who say that “organizational knowledge and learning cannot be conceived as mental processes residing in members’ heads; rather, they must be viewed as forms of social expertise” (p. 3). The issue with this is that knowledge is by such authors defined as having no connection with cognitive process at all but is held to exist only on a social plane. Standpoints of this kind comprise an unhelpful disregard of potentially useful insights that have arisen from various fields of scholarship as in cognitive science that address human learning and capabilities. These are returned to in more detail in the following chapter.

chapter seven

Literacy, Cognition, and Knowledge

Literacy, school, and social class. It is often maintained that young people belong to communities other than that of school and that the orally based forms of discourse operating there possess sophisticated aspects of their own. This book does not address school-age children’s disparate oral and print cultures but this section briefly identifies some of the instances given in the literature that are relevant to the interplay between orality and literacy for apprentices and others at work. For Bransford, Brown and Cocking (1999), the teaching undertaken at school attempts to inculcate and then constantly reinforce ways of expressing oneself that are “impersonal and expository” (p. 123). Yet these are detached and measured in character and do not necessarily refer to anyone’s situation, experience or goals. This, they say, “privileges middle-class, mainstream ways of knowing and constitutes a barrier for students from other backgrounds” (p. 123) who do not arrive at school familiar with this kind of discourse. Reflecting again on the apprentices reported on in Chapter Two, it should be recalled that apprentices’ transition into the demands of literacy was far from costfree for them, given that previously they had had little contact with the discourse of literacy. Therefore, the textual pressures of their apprenticeship felt shocking to them, since they mainly appeared to be unaware that intensive reading and some writing would be entailed in preparing for the trade that they aspired to enter. Further, in the view of some employers and industry training coordinators whom



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we spoke to, high school teachers often little realised that modern-day trades now had rising assumptions about newcomers’ inferential literacy. School teachers were still saying to low-achieving pupils that they are recommended to go into a trade as little reading or writing was needed there. As explained in Chapter Two, apprentices were faced with the very complex task of trying to work within two worlds simultaneously, being the oral-experiential culture of their workplace and the literate assumptions inherent in their set learning materials. Despite challenges of this nature, though, apprentices’ experience of literacy learning in the current study was powerful for them, since as literacy advances in a warm, supportive, one-to-one setting, personal confidence and self-esteem build too. Gee (1986) commented that schools “tend to be good places to practice mainstream literacy once you have its foundations, but they are not good places to acquire those foundations” (p.  741). His argument is that prior to school age, students are strongly socialised into cognitive practices and forms of interaction with parents and others in their immediate community which either tend to set the stage for literacy or fail to do so. Note though that it is difficult if not impossible to disentangle the outcomes of literacy training from what is inculcated by formal schooling, given that nearly always students undergo both simultaneously. The present study, however, is agnostic about whether a formal school or literacy achievement creates the cognitive functioning characteristic of literacy practice. In either event, the evidence is clear that it is practising the literacy skills of reading and writing that strengthens such capabilities (Reder & Bynner, 2009). For our purposes, it was enough that apprentices’ schools had failed them, and so both their experience of school and their literacy attainment were uniformly and unhappily low. Early in the 1970s, Daniel Bell discussed issues of knowledge from a perspective of the then-emerging post-industrial society. In elaborating “the increasing technical requirements of knowledge (professionalization, meritocracy)” (p. 8) he accepted that the effective employment of knowledge is, naturally, necessary in any society’s survival. Nevertheless, the most distinctive feature of post-industrial society is “the change in the character of knowledge itself ” (p. 20) and of particular importance “is the centrality of theoretical knowledge – the primacy of theory over empiricism and the codification of knowledge into abstract systems of symbols that … can be used to illuminate many different and varied areas of experience” (Bell, 1973, p. 20, emphasis in original). The importance of this from our perspective is with reference to how knowledge is expressed and employed, particularly in workplace settings.

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Bell noted this trend in knowledge generation and use that favoured the use of abstractions well before the Internet was ever conceived. However, he had no means of predicting the sudden emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web and the consequential ways in which digitised and textualised explicit knowledge would increasingly dominate enterprises and the performance of work at all levels within the enterprise. Since he wrote his perspective has been strongly reinforced by the writers in media ecology and cognitive neuroscience cited in this book, including Carr, Dehaene, Ong, Strate, and Wolf among others. What Bell called “the primacy of theory over empiricism” (1973, p. 20) foreshadowed what Gee about a quarter century later was to identify in his study of young women’s use of language. Specifically, the middle to upper-class approach to language employed “explanatory claims within an explicit or assumed argumentative structure” (Gee, 2000, p.  56) grounded upon a base of theorised abstractions and thus differing from the empirically linked language use of working-class girls. This difference could, therefore, be seen rightly as an issue of social class as much as literacy, though commentators like Gee have reported how literacy education historically has not been a high priority in schooling provided for working-class children. But differential education is not the only causal factor in the greater use of abstractions associated with higher levels of literacy. In addition, social group norms (including at work) affect how language is used, shaping and maintaining community expectations around greater or lesser use of theorised constructs or empirical language forms. Gee (1986) further commented that “changes in a person’s discourse patterns  – for example, in acquiring a new form of literacy  – may involve change in identity” (p. 734). He went on to say that for many, adoption of the discourse practices of literacy and an associated change in identity demand “the adoption of a reality set at odds with their own at various points” (p. 742). In this way, Gee alerts us to potentially dysfunctional and certainly difficult outcomes of transition into literacy. McLuhan (1964) saw a longer history to such trends than Bell, arguing that it is only “alphabetical cultures” that have ever employed “connected lineal sequences as pervasive forms of psychic and social organization” (p. 95). He said, “[t]‌he breaking up of every kind of experience into uniform units in order to produce faster action and change of form (applied knowledge) has been the secret of Western power over man and nature alike” (p. 95). Bell (1973) had observed that “[t]he concept ‘post-industrial society’ emphasizes the centrality of theoretical knowledge as the axis around which new technology, economic growth and the stratification of society will be organized” (p. 112). However, what the present



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book has been discussing was not within evidently post-industrial settings as such but rather within traditional industrial job sites, since for our purposes such places provide the clearest ways of understanding how orality and literacy practices may interact. Yet because of unremitting economic and societal change, even in traditional workplaces the apprentices whom we studied along with their co-workers and supervisors were finding increasing pressure on them to use abstract systems of symbols as an underpinning for their own work practices that otherwise tended to be tacit and embodied in nature. A more radical, practice-based approach to learning at work came from Illich (1970) who put the case that those who practise industry training in formalised ways are essentially in the business of providing or undertaking workplace certification, but that “certification constitutes a form of market manipulation and is plausible only to a schooled mind” (p.  22). Illich was using the notion of a “schooled mind” pejoratively, and he meant an intellect confined by the limitations of the schooling system rather than one that is open to the possibilities of learning from whole-of-life experiences. He went on to state that “[m]‌ost teachers of arts and trades are less skilful, less inventive and less communicative than the best craftsmen and tradesmen” (p. 22). He was saying, in other words, that craftspeople not only possess better insights into the character of their work than industry trainers are capable of but in addition, craftspeople are better at communicating their knowledge than trainers, presumably because that communication takes place in oral-experiential ways that are more resonant to the learners. Illich (1970) went on to say that “if schools are the wrong places for learning a skill, they are even worse places for getting an education” (p.  24). The managers and ITO coordinators whom we interviewed generally had similar perspectives. Our interviewees had strong reservations about the efficacy of learning from books and other texts and this may have been connected to a fairly common account of the limitations of school for “practical people”, including themselves. Goody (1987, p.  165) suggested that “ ‘knowledge’ and ‘science’ have become almost synonymous with book-learning, to be distinguished from most productive activities which are largely learned by apprenticeship, by imitation, by participation”. But while the managers to whom we talked would have agreed with Goody about how productive activities were to be learned, they might have felt unease at the claim that other forms of knowledge must come about through book-learning. Their habituation to learning is as described in the previous chapter, very grounded in interpersonal settings, and book-learning options for them would normally be intrinsically limited. Karl Marx was said to have opposed a proposal to outlaw child labour in industry, his opposition to this being “in the interest of the education of the young,

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which could happen only at work” (Illich, 1970, p. 30). It could be inferred that schools in early 19th century Europe were probably not much available for working-class children but in any event, considering the harsh if not brutal conditions experienced at the time by children working in agriculture, mines and factories, this is a challenging observation. Illich in his objection to the subordinated, schooled mind may have been stating his opposition to schooling when all it did was to inculcate a form of rigid, recipe-book learning. This is in contrast to what schooling at all levels, but especially tertiary education should achieve, in helping learners to become engaged with conflicting paradigms, to weigh up competing claims, to learn how to navigate among them, and to arrive at a well-reasoned personal standpoint on contested ground. Yet both the kind of limited training that Illich may have had in mind and a university degree may be poor forms of preparation for what our participants understood as problem-solving in the workplace. Employees tend to be necessarily more oriented to approaches that define the essence of a practical matter rather than anything more theorised, and to identify a particular solution for it. In fast-changing times, however, innovation is needed in addition to practical problem-solving. Innovation calls for different capabilities, possibly to be compared with higher-level prose literacy in the sense of being able to follow (or advance) a complex and extended argument. As already argued, literacy is a necessary condition to foster innovative practices given the ways in which strongly oral-experiential cultures tend to be closely oriented to the past, to tradition, and lack the linguistic and cognitive tools for inventive practice. None of our contracted research projects charged us with producing an assessment of the quality or otherwise of the primary and secondary schooling system. Yet despite our posing no questions concerned with school experience or satisfaction with the job that schools are doing, invariably respondents wanted to tell us of their unhappiness with schools. They talked of how school was female-dominated, it was not right for boys, it was especially not right for boys who were ‘not academic’, it was too theoretical, teachers often were dismissive of work in the trades, and teachers did not understand the reality of trades or industry work. Schools were said to be overly concerned about the relatively small proportion of pupils who would go on to university, paid much less attention to the middle grouping who would not, and had basically written off the least-able 20% or so of the school population. The issue for schools is whether they can help learners to maximise their potential but not in a way that creates minds that are “schooled” only to conform to limited and outmoded ways of understanding. Illich (1970) believed that



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[i]‌ncidental education cannot any longer return to the forms which learning took in the village or medieval town. Traditional society was more like a set of concentric circles of meaningful structures, while modern man [sic] must learn how to find meaning in many structures to which he is only marginally related (p. 29).

In the modern environment, each of the structures in which we undertake our lives has its own presence and significance, and demand differing competencies for success within them. The issue for workers in a textualising and globalising world, though, is how to do their meaning-finding and meaning-making within multifarious national or globalised structures they now are required to connect to, more by print than oral means. Literacy as life-supporting. In the Whanganui study described above, a particularly strong finding for us was how our interviewees saw literacy as embedded within and contributing to their other life activities. This reminded us of scholarship investigating interconnections of orality and texts. Chapter One cited Gibson (2011) on “a continuum of expressive forms … (including) oral traditions that endure together and in interaction with literate forms” (p. 74). Our research participants seemed in tune with such connections, identifying in their assessments of literacy needs what they understood to be the ways in which literacy was threaded through their oral-experiential domain. They saw in their own lives how literacy and orality interact with each other within a multifaceted nexus. Participants accepted that the written word is integrated within its social setting in their emphasising to us that the purpose of writing as they understood it is to support (more than replace) current oral usages at work (Comrie, Tilley, Neilson, Culligan, Sligo & Vaccarino, 2006). In this way, they reinforced the idea quoted in Chapter One, that writing’s “usages are culturally mediated” (Klaassen, 2011, p. 219). The respondents told us of the importance for them of developing the whole person within their oral-experiential places and how this occurred as in tandem with building scriptural competencies. They did not see skills as reified as though such competencies could be addressed in isolation. Abilities and practices involved in literacy do not exist in a vacuum but rely on diverse other forms of knowledge and experience. This may be recognised as a kind of counterargument to the terminology used sometimes by managers, business consultants and training experts as they talk of a “skill-set”. In their terminology this is almost like some concretised object that can be plugged into a person as a modular unit so that once inserted, the individual possessing it will be equipped to do the job. A mechanistic style of thinking along these lines runs counter to a wide-ranging understanding of capability at work or in the community. In fact, interviewees appeared certain that the literacy-related skills for undertaking particular tasks

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in their workplaces and communities had to be integrated within a framework of needed aptitudes and attributes, many of which may never appear in a job description. We came to see that our liminally literate respondents had a more organic and nuanced understanding than that evident in reductionist accounts of adult skills development. As part of the same research programme in Whanganui, we interviewed a series of managers who had had experience in employing individuals with literacy difficulties, and these revealed that they were also quite attuned to oral-experiential perspectives. The (albeit typically few) remedial programmes in literacy that these employers had offered tended to be promoted as communication classes rather than anything that employs the term literacy. The word literacy tends to be considered as depreciatory and actually or potentially a source of embarrassment (Comrie, Olsson, Sligo, Culligan, Tilley, Vaccarino & Franklin, 2005). Employers often call their literacy programmes communication classes partly for this reason, because they are nearly always aware that the word literacy is loaded with negative connotations and to be avoided. Havelock (1982, p. 40) noted how it is typical for those of liminal literacy to feel humiliated and exposed to disrespect given that they are likely to encounter prejudice, observing that [i]‌n a modern Western society, “illiterate” is used to identify that proportion of the population which, because they cannot read or write, are presumed to be devoid of average intelligence, or else underprivileged … signifying those who have been left behind in the battle of life, mainly because they are not bright enough.

The liminally literate people we were working with are not “illiterate” in the sense of having no capability in reading or writing, but their scriptural aptitude put them at occupational and social risk. Nevertheless, still accurate is Havelock’s (1982, p.  44) observation that “a conception which identifies cultural sophistication with a degree of literacy must be discarded” and “[i]‌t is a curious kind of cultural arrogance which presumes to identify human intelligence with literacy”. We could also note Stewart and Yap’s (2020) comment on the ways in which “stigma and attribution operate as underlying mechanisms for influencing how low-literate consumers behave in the marketplace” (p. 343). The authors set out to problematise assumptions that all low-literate consumers are necessarily vulnerable. They contended that universal policy actions may be too broad-brush, fail to recognise the nuanced capacity and performance among the liminally literate, and unintentionally further marginalise them. However, Whanganui employers recognised the ways in which staff with augmented literacy are enabled to make a stronger contribution in many kinds of



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communication at work, including speaking up in meetings or offering suggestions on workplace questions or decisions. That is, their contribution refers not just to text-related interactions in the workplace, but also a broader array of other forms of work collaboration including oral ones that have benefitted from associated reading and writing activities (Franklin, Olsson, Comrie, Sligo, Culligan, Tilley & Vaccarino, 2005). Similarly, liminally-literate interviewees’ comments demonstrated that they understood how their literacy needs were integrated with face to face communication with others, citing the forms of interaction and the work done collectively that depend on interpersonal communication. They identified the ability to discuss matters with others as a major factor in their successful engagement with workplace or community activities. They often had in mind issues such as how best to resolve different views at work or elsewhere. They made it clear, though, that neither interpersonal communication as such nor heightened literacy were really goals in their own right. Rather, more important were all the facets of work and outcomes that they lead to, especially fuller forms of participation and contribution in the workplace and in their community. This study suggests that those with liminal literacy possess unique and acute insights into the orality-text nexus that are worthy of research by scholars who are attempting to create a comprehensive theory of orality (Turner, 2010). It is precisely because such individuals necessarily live their lives more within oral than literate frameworks that they are well-positioned to remark on the interplay of text and orality in work or community settings. The perspectives of the Whanganui respondents (notwithstanding their relative youth, with around 70% less than 30 years) provided a comprehensive account of text literacy development needs and one that is more balanced than that available just from analysis of international literacy surveys. Participants’ main focus was clearly on communication within the orality-text nexuses of workplace and community, and on computing skills and other competencies that would enable them to achieve their aspirations. Yet respondents did not discount the value of more mechanical aspects such as learning English or reading and writing. Rather, they saw command of such competencies as a means to broader ends.

Memory Soukup (2007) in retrospective commentary on Ong’s work, says that in cultures where people have no or very limited access to written records, knowledge depends largely on what they can remember. Therefore, learning techniques like

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mnemonics that assist in retaining memories are very important, as are memorable ways of recall, for example, repetitive forms of expression, habitual use of adjectives to accompany significant nouns, or other formulary devices as in the discussion of maxims in Chapter Four. Ong (1977, p. 285) referred to how “the need for constant mnemonic activity does more than develop memory. It creates what can be called a mimetic culture, a culture of imitation, a state of mind that values copying” so that observation in the oral-experiential setting of the workplace is one of the important means whereby the neophyte learns the basics of his or her trade. Ong (1971) had pointed out the power of formulaic devices such as repetition of familiar descriptors to provide structure and noteworthy character in the work of memorising. Instances from the oral world of ancient Greece are wily Odysseus or the wine-dark sea. From the primary orality of Māori in pre-European Aotearoa New Zealand and other Pacific societies is the description of mischievous Maui as a term used for this ancestral figure celebrated for his trickster-like and opportunistic capabilities of making the best of whatever circumstances he was in. For Ong, in primary orality “dependence on formulas gives not only a special kind of surface but also a special kind of content to messages sent in oral cultures. The highly analytical thought structures we take for granted … are quite simply unthinkable” (p. 290). The situation for those of liminal literacy in modern-day society is more complex than this, given that quite typically in their everyday lives they would have access at work or at home to others who do possess the skills to obtain needed information from print or digital sources. However, noted here has been orally-influenced work culture that is resistant to accessing information from print or digital sources, within which culture such persons find a natural home. Lévi-Strauss (1976) considered that cultures with writing are much better able to identify future goals and systematically work towards them. In his view, though, cultures that lacked writing, since “being incapable of remembering the past beyond the narrow margin of individual memory” (p.  391) found it much harder to see themselves as in development from one stage of being to another. In effect, they were becalmed in a kind of stasis with little planned progression open to them. Individual memory is dependent on our normal practices of classifying and interpreting what we encounter. Goody (1987, p. 205) believed that when an individual comes to master writing, the basic system underlying the nature of his [sic] mental processes is changed fundamentally as the external symbol system comes to mediate the organization of all his basic intellectual operations. Thus, for example, knowledge of a writing system would alter the very structure of memory,



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classification and problem-solving by altering the way in which these elementary processes are organized to include an external (written) symbol system.

Nevertheless, Goody was at pains to emphasise that citizens in preliterate societies should not be assumed to be short of logical abilities: “oral [pre-literate] man lacked not logical reasoning but certain tools of intellectual operation that defined the Greek notion of ‘logic’ ” (p. 220). Research into how well the liminally literate fare within literate present-day cultures is not well developed. However, the present book has discussed ways in which contemporary oral-experiential workplace cultures show evidence of being less oriented to analytical practices and more oriented to action based on habitual work practices. The historian of communication and economics Harold Innis (2007) styled writing as providing memory that was transpersonal in character, creating an artificial extension of what we recall that enabled verification of what we think happened in the past. The use of symbols in writing permitted recall of events and things that could not be seen in the immediate memory and that were beyond anyone’s recollection. A  focus on symbols rather than objects enabled communication to go beyond “concrete experience into the world of conceptual relations created within an enlarged time and space universe. … Writing enormously enhanced a capacity for abstract thinking” (p.  30). No unambiguous transition occurred though from orality to literacy given that there existed both “a partnership between the oral and the written” (Havelock, 1982, p.  9) as well as a “dynamic tension” between the oral and the literate (p. 82). At transitional stages in history when a society’s primary orality was being eroded by the onset of literacy, thoughtful observers showed an understanding that capability in human memory was about to diminish. For example, Plato in his Phaedrus has Socrates say, in reference to writing, “this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves” (quoted in Innis, 2007, p. 78). Highly developed powers in memorising were greatly regarded in ancient preliterate societies as recounted by Chadwick (1997, p.  33) in her observation that “[a]‌mong illiterate peoples the training of the memory is cultivated to a degree undreamed of among readers of books, and the proficiency of the Gauls in this respect is commented on by Caesar”. But as already noted, an increasing orientation to chirographic symbols would change the character of memory to something more analytical than the very human processes of interaction typical of what was the case in conditions of primary orality. Differences between readers and listeners are reported above in Chapter Six, but Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) also point out “the especially severe constraints

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placed on short-term memory by aural information processing” (p.  122). This recalls Ong’s (1982) observations about societies in orality, within which vast amounts of energy are put into memorising what is important to that society, given that textual records are not available. Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) note that recall of speech fades quickly and it is an uncommon listener who has an excellent recollection of what has been said to them some time ago (unless there was something particularly memorable about it). Some of the ways in which readers have better control of incoming information than listeners are that under most everyday circumstances they can manage the rate at which they access (read) text. Next, they can return immediately or later to text if they feel they are not sure of its meaning or significance. Then by various means, they can save text “as an adjunct to memory” (Rubin, Hafer & Arata (2000), p. 122). So the role of memory does not vanish when text rather than speech is used to communicate. Rather this recollection is supplemented, enabling a reader who is making sense of written or digital text to employ a more precise and potentially strategic command of new information. The role of memory often turns up in ethnographic research into literacy issues in workplaces, as in Belfiore (2004) who described how particular staff members were highly reliant on their memories rather than access to textual data: Earl does his job by memory: ‘We have to remember everything. Different boxes, different products, we have to remember it all’ … [he] emphasises that it’s remembering, not referring to print materials, that counts in his job (p. 26).

This centrality of memory does not preclude staff use of written sources of information, but habitual reliance on recollection is traditionally part of an oral-experiential mode of operating at work. Belfiore’s (2004) comment recalls what Ong (1983, p. 52) had to say about memory, which was that people in primary orality often would have names for useful things only, with generalisations or abstractions about objects considered to be not of much practical efficacy. Further, in Belfiore’s instance, what and how we recollect evidently include the physical handling of boxes and products, demonstrating a tactile and manual dimension to work. Also, typically there is a collective more than individual orientation (“we have to remember it all”) to the work to be done. This helps to make the point that in workplace settings orality and literacy should be understood in ways other than anyone’s solitary consumption of printed text. People with liminal literacy have always had to rely on what they can remember to a greater extent than might someone who can easily read textual documents. Organisations are shifting their policies, standard operating procedures, and other forms of workplace knowledge into scriptural forms and tending to



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assume that all can access them equally. However, memory remains of much importance in the work setting when such policies cannot be accessed. This book has explored the difficulties faced by apprentices with liminal literacy as they attempted to engage with print modes of learning to the stage that they could complete their book work and obtain their certificates. Importantly, as reported, the apprentices did not have “becoming literate” as a goal. Instead, they were trying to find a way to overcome what they saw as a temporary issue of having to cope with the textual trade learning materials necessary for their apprenticeship. They defined their problem as a short-term one since they had correctly diagnosed that the culture of their work environment was much more oral-experiential in character than dependent on any advanced forms of literacy for everyday activities. Nevertheless, the apprentices had not learned to read and write to a level sufficient for trade learning, so characteristically they had had to learn how to rely on their memories to survive first at school and now at work. That is, memorising is generally the default means used by people with liminal literacy to replicate what they understand to be shown in printed form. During their apprenticeship they were, with much exertion and the close one-to-one support of their literacy tutor, attempting to supplement their usual memory-focused approach to recall of important matters with text-based learning. In respect of the kinds of literacy set out in Chapter One, what the apprentices were achieving was closer to comprehension than inferential literacy. Truth value. Already noted has been how writers in the social practice tradition such as Gee (1986) have strongly opposed the notion that either individuals or societies which are literate in some way enjoy superior qualities. However, Gee does acknowledge literacy as encouraging a “heightened emphasis on truth value, rather than social or rhetorical conditions” (p. 736). When empirically verifiable events or agreements (rather than the more fluid and transitory requirements of social relationships) start to play a greater role in human interaction and decision making, then a new awareness emerges of the logical outcomes of discussion and decisions, along with a greater familiarity with and expertise in abstract reasoning. A particular function of oral tradition, according to Innis (2008) was its “emphasis on continuity. It created recognized standards and lasting moral and social institutions; it built up the soul of social organizations and maintained their continuity” (p. 105). All of these were much more important than the objective assessment of information as accurate or not accurate that occurs within literate practice. As already noted, Gee refers to such focus on information accuracy as truth value, a collective assessment that information is first to be evaluated on whether it is empirically factual before its possible employment at work or in society is to be considered.

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As orality slowly becomes overshadowed by literacy in the minds of the decision-making elite, printed or digital texts gradually replace spoken accounts, and it becomes more difficult for anyone to maintain alternative versions of what happened in the past. Gee then commented that as the importance of truth value increases, logic and reasoning become more salient, since there is a rising expectation that people will discover “the necessity to be explicit about logical implications” (Gee, 1986, p. 736). In this way, he points out a relationship that evolves among literacy, accuracy, and everyday employment of logic in human interactions. Along similar lines, considering this issue at national and international levels, Innis (2008) thought that “[t]‌he increasing influence of print has been reflected … with the bias towards constitutions and documents and guarantees of freedom of the press and of the right of the individuals” (p. 130). His observation indicates a relationship between literacy, codified rules for the proper management of human societies and a written, fixed underpinning for assumptions about human democratic freedoms and citizens’ other rights and responsibilities. This perspective is supported by Meyrowitz’s reference to a possibility of strengthening of the democratic process in the “resurgence of oral forms of discourse in the working of institutions and in political action: involvement of all participants regardless of level of education, immediate action and reaction, and rejection of distant authority” (emphasis in original) (Meyrowitz, 1985, p. 161– 162). Literal involvement of all citizens regardless of their educational achievement is a democratic ideal, and a strengthened civic commitment to broad social engagement on matters of community importance could result in positive democratising outcomes. Yet this might be unlikely to happen in a society where there is a lack of strong social trust, where there are deep-seated societal divisions, and where, as at the present day, in some countries there seems to be a diminishing willingness to follow principles of logic and sequential reasoning in collective decision-making. Gee (1986) referred to literacy as a form of consciousness and a particular cognitive orientation to the world, with Western society having adopted a form of literacy “based on the values of essayist prose style” (p. 736). In fact, literacy practice in the workplace would usually have little in common with essayist prose, since technical writing and standard operating procedures at work are typically tersely written, featuring analytical, step by step approaches to description that ask readers to be familiar with logical and analytical reasoning. Certainly, some workplace writing (e.g., attempts to mount a persuasive argument) will employ essayist-style prose and Gee (1986) acknowledges that in that style will appear a heavy accent on the text and its literal content. This is not the same as what applies in orality where the orientation is to present-day reality and interpersonal relationships. As already mentioned, literal truth, while still



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important in an oral culture, may be overshadowed by current social needs and collective expectations. Ong (1982) gave an example of this with an account of genealogical lineage when transmitted orally. A telling of genealogy might originally have narrated that a given king had had four sons. But if one of the sons had not had children, then after the passage of generations it would be probable that the spoken genealogy would refer just to the living descendants, with the king now being recalled as having had three sons (if the fourth son had had no descendants). In this way, in the oral tradition, a genealogy serves its main purpose of recognising and reinforcing relationships among the living so that its role as a historically accurate source is not irrelevant but is of lesser import. The spoken genealogy has become literally untrue, yet this would have little consequence since its actual purpose is to help regulate human affairs rather than serve as a factual archive. Innis (2008) remarked that traditional oral descriptions had their own logic and rationale. Spoken accounts had a sorting role in which there was reassessment, refining and reshaping in order to produce whatever the current generation of story-tellers felt was particularly relevant to their time: “[f]‌act shifted into legend, legend into myth … The story was moulded and remoulded by imagination, passion, prejudice, religious presumption, or aesthetic instinct” (p. 102). Importantly, orally-held knowledge formed a cohesive whole such as in traditional Māori society where people were very interested in their past and preserved it carefully in oral tradition. They also preserved myth, religion, custom, geography, lore and law, explanations of nature, guidance about the future, and many other types of knowledge in the same medium. These strands were not easily separated, and they were not intended to be. They were integrated so that each assisted the remembering of the other; a tapestry … Emphases changed over time and context to the point where some things virtually disappeared. The experts who preserved and developed tradition were capable of staggering feats of memory, but memory is less infinite than paper. Because knowledge grew constantly, selection was required, and it was made on the basis of utility, broadly defined. Knowledge of failed acclimatisations of plants and animals, of extinct creatures and redundant techniques tended to be discarded (Belich, 1996, pp. 22–23).

Belich goes on to observe that “[l]‌iteracy, print, secularisation and special-partner dynamics have freed Western civilisation from the traditional need to interlock all knowledge to preserve it” (1996, p. 25). Yet no abrupt transition into a valorisation of “truth” occurs as literacy emerges into foreground focus within a culture. Even when a given culture has adopted literate practices its orientation towards earlier records will be biased in favour of

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assessing how such records can serve present needs. Eco (2008) explained how in the Middle Ages it was generally considered that the validity of an argument or point of view had to be demonstrated in terms of “the extent to which they were backed up by an earlier auctoritas. If it was suspected that the authority in question didn’t really support the new idea, his writings were promptly manipulated until they did” (p. 342). A shared understanding that information, including historical data, is mainly useful only to the extent that it serves fairly immediate practical needs is likewise evident within workplace culture. Here occupational orality is still to be observed and knowledge is not important of its own account but instead, it is valued to the extent that it can be put to work. Based on this assumption, communications intended for oral-experiential cultures might be assumed to function better if they accent present-day benefits rather than knowledge for its own sake or even benefits of longer-term and thus more uncertain value. In Chapter Six, Kotter, Mintzberg, Stewart, and others talked of the ways in which the organisational web of interpersonal networks facilitates the mutual exchange of favours, social influence and performance of work. Even in contemporary workplace contexts, a balancing act is necessary between truth value and decision-making oriented to the prevailing social or rhetorical conditions. Politics has been called “the art of the possible” and the same could be said of workplaces. As reported in Chapter Two, the on-site resentment expressed as towards “the academics” who were perceived to have control of the apprentices’ learning materials is an instance of tensions within a workplace culture imbued with orality in important ways. It also intimates stress experienced by those within an oral-experiential setting who are grasping the ways in which scriptural practices in their workplace are subordinating oral culture as possibly favouring “truth” over local realities. A different kind of layering:  science communication. Chapter Six set out what was called layering of a culture where textual ways of getting the job done are superimposed upon older oral ways of working. Here local spoken knowledge is supplemented in some ways but is often undermined by the imposition of printbased methodologies within the document-driven workplace. Nevertheless, the intersection between oral and print at work has been represented in a somewhat different form by writers in the sociology of science, commenting on scientific knowledge workers who are highly print-literate but still work in important ways within orality, since they are attracted by the ability of the latter to offer useful and sophisticated interactions beyond what is available from textual sources. For example, Lynch (2002) reports on molecular biologists’ spoken interactions in the laboratory, describing them as always more complex and thorough



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than the protocols in printed form that ostensibly were designed to prescribe how people are supposed to communicate and behave in that context. The scientists’ and technicians’ spoken interactions often include engagement with laboratory materials and equipment of various kinds, again without necessarily any reference to print materials, thus identifying competencies around objects such as specialist and everyday scientific artifacts. The textual materials could be seen as the map while the reality of interpersonal interactions and laboratory materials might be better understood as the territory. The protocols in scriptural form appear to set minimum standards for procedures and quality standards but, unlike in the ISO instances above cited by Follinsbee (2004), the print protocols do not seem to constitute a straitjacket reducing staff freedom. Instead, those concerned saw the merits of instituting their own oral-experiential systems that enabled them to navigate the complexities of their work and they possessed the liberty to do so. In a similar vein, Traweek (1988) undertook an ethnographic study of physicists at work, finding that it was especially through their gaining access to spoken interpersonal networks of communication that they achieved membership and acceptance on the job within the community of physicists. This can be seen as an example of Strate’s (2012b, p. 105) “oral subcultures existing within predominantly literate societies”. In essence, the physicists’ talk was the doing and were anyone to be excluded from spoken interactions with their peers, they would be impeded from undertaking their work effectively. Styhre, Josephson and Knauseder (2006) referred to the work of Lynch (2002) in describing how although scientific work done in laboratory settings is highly dependent on written protocols, requiring scientists and technicians to constantly employ such materials, laboratory work “can never be reduced to the level of written materials; scientific work is far too complex, contingent and situational to be easily captured by inscriptions such as written documents, statistics and mathematical formulae” (p. 89). The senior and middle-level managers interviewed by Henry Mintzberg (1973, 2009), Rosemary Stewart (1967, 1984) or Kotter (1982) would probably also believe that their orally-oriented work was similarly “complex, contingent and situational”. Hence Styhre et al.’s assessment is comparable to what has been reported about the multifaceted and contextually-grounded workspace of managers. Such observations could probably apply to any complicated work setting where decisions have to be made on finely-grained current evidence, which is often oral in nature. In the Lynch (2002) and Traweek (1988) instances of oral scientific communication, we see a different kind of layering since their circumstances differ in important ways from the workplaces earlier discussed. In scientific milieus,

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print knowledge may not, in the same way, be superimposed on the local reality of the oral-experiential spoken world that enables work practices to function well. Instead, unlike in some other organisational workplaces, both molecular biologists and physicists will have had many years of apprenticeship in the textual-based norms of their professions, often to doctoral or post-doctoral level. But in each case, building on their foundations of print knowledge, these science practitioners also engage with the sophisticated and specialist forms of orality needed for them to achieve their scientific goals. The earlier workplace examples have portrayed strong oral-experiential cultures of getting the job done which have had to come to terms with the new Internet-enabled, globalised, document-driven workplace. This has delivered a kind of accretion of print on top of the actuality of participants’ occupational orality. In the scientific instances, though, participants are already highly trained in print and scientific literacies and closely aligned to the textualised domain of science. Yet to succeed in their work and to retain membership within their community, these practitioners must engage in the intricacies of oral communication in order to do their work properly and to demonstrate their capability within their scientific communities. Layering in university discourse. Chapter One explained how a form of layering exists in universities in that, with especial reference to the undergraduate experience, universities maintain a stratum of orality in the form of lectures, workshops, seminars and conference presentations. This serves as an entry point to universities’ literate scriptural economies, such as journal articles, refereed conference papers or scholarly books, but these are ultimately of higher status than the oral layer (Mitchell, 2012; Sligo, 2015b). Postman (1985, p. 20) refers to these remaining vestiges of orality in the university as “residual traditions based on the notion that speech is the primary carrier of truth. But for the most part, university conceptions of truth are tightly bound to the structure and logic of the printed word”. As students progress within the academic system they learn to navigate through and then to some extent out of an oral landscape, seeking to enter a dominant dialogue of literacy to become part of the scriptural system and build credibility as literate scholars. The university has both oral and literate systems but the scriptural one forms the apex. What is disconcerting though as students attempt to make the transition from the oral university world that is familiar to them, to a strange and highly literate one, is referred to by Ellul (1985, p. 45): “[t]‌he word when written becomes a means of abstract, solemn discussion. A University based on writing is not the same thing as an Academy’s halls”. That is, students will encounter both greater



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abstraction and greater isolation as they undertake the turn from the collectivist ambience of the hall to the seclusion of the solitary scholar. What all workplaces commented on so far have in common, however, is the rich and nuanced character of oral communication, usually closely intertwined with the artifacts of the profession or trade. Then the textual protocols of digital or print media are either a basis for professional work, as in science, or else may comprise an additional and largely unwelcome imposition as in the instance of other workplaces observed here. Within the current study, though, persons with liminal literacy would not be able to engage with the kind of scientific work described, and their ability to enter managerial work reduces progressively in a time of rising expectations about managerial literacy. So as already seen, a status of liminal literacy will be increasingly disadvantageous when it comes to playing a part within the new, Internetenabled, document-driven workplace. Changes in the labour market and literacy training. Bynner (2004) noted how from the 1970s onwards the labour market worldwide transformed in many countries, quickly eroding jobs that needed little literacy. Unskilled work for both men and women “either disappeared or demanded new levels of education from employees” (p. 31). People with insufficient literacy became marginalised in economic and social dimensions while at the same time society became more polarised between the educational have and have-nots, with consequent damage to social cohesion. Bynner compared two cohorts of students leaving school with low literacy and numeracy, in 1958 and 1970. The 1958 cohort mainly successfully found work in the “unskilled and semi-skilled jobs that existed then” (p. 38) but the 1970 cohort did not have such options and more typically entered training or unemployment. The minority of them who did find jobs “gained little security from them or any occupational training, drifting in and out of work between spells of unemployment” (p. 38). The difference between cohorts was that in that timeframe the IT revolution and rapid, continuous workplace transformation destroyed many jobs that had few literacy requirements. Bynner’s analysis also explored the relationship between literacy and the absence of qualifications. This contributed to the debate (Reder & Bynner, 2009) about whether difficulties in finding employment stem from insufficient literacy or numeracy per se, or whether such a barrier arose from qualifications deemed to be insufficient by potential employers. Bynner (2004) concluded that “qualifications, which might be expected to mediate fully the effects of poor basic skills on unemployment, do not eliminate their effects” (p. 44). What seems to happen is that even though a person might have obtained a particular qualification, in the absence of literacy abilities considered necessary

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for particular workplace roles, “there is an added employability problem for individuals with poor literacy and numeracy, over and above the lack of qualifications that they carry with them into the labour market” (p.  44). Overall this cohort study pointed to the ways in which literacy and numeracy are significant not just in gaining employment but then in holding a job and progressing in it. Reder (2009) has said that while adult literacy programmes usually receive an evaluation of some kind, “remarkably little is known about the measured development of literacy and numeracy abilities in adult life” (p. 59). A partial explanation for this is that, as the adult literacy tutors in our study told us, everyone with liminal literacy has it in their own way. Put more positively, each person’s repertoire of literacy and numeracy capabilities at work or in the community is somewhat unique to them. Therefore, given the diverse array of strengths and shortcomings possessed by each person, no one-size-fits-all approach is possible in remediating anyone’s problems in literacy. This means that solutions must be carefully tailored to participants’ needs in any given training programme, which makes it unsurprising that quantitative measures of literacy progression are hard to obtain when assessing what literacy training might have achieved. Yet when adult literacy training courses are evaluated, while short-term improvements may be seen, there is less evidence for the long-term strengthening of literacy (Reder, 2009). A correlation seems to occur though between advanced literacy and being involved with work practices that need literacy abilities: “[i]‌ndividuals with relatively high levels of literacy proficiency also have relatively high levels of engagement in literacy and numeracy practices” (Reder, 2009, p.  79). This leads to the observation that “proficiency gains may not be the appropriate measure of program impact” (p. 80) and “[o]ther dimensions of growth, such as changing levels of engagement in everyday literacy and numeracy practices, may be better indicators of program impact and effectiveness” (p. 80). It seems that overall, literacy training courses do not build literacy competencies. In particular, “rather than job-related training contributing to literacy development, individuals with higher literacy skills are more likely to participate in training” (Gauly & Lechner, 2019, p. 1). This suggests how capability in literacy leads to a stronger awareness of the value of literacy learning. Nevertheless, a major overview of 115 adult literacy training programmes in the USA found that some beneficial outcomes appeared to occur, especially through participants developing a more positive self-image. Yet “as measured by tests, the evidence is insufficient to determine whether or not participants in adult education gain in basic skills” (Beder, 1999, p. 6). Similarly, a longitudinal study of government-subsidised adult literacy workplace programmes in the UK reported that learners in the 53 industrial sites where



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literacy training had been provided were found to have “made small literacy gains at best” (Wolf, Aspin, Waite & Ananiadou, 2010, p. 385). Nor did there seem to be evidence of the literacy training having any impression on ways of performing work. When the government subsidies concluded, employers saw no reason to continue the programme. Wolf et al. concluded that “[o]‌verall the subsidised programmes used an extremely costly approach and left no lasting legacy” (p. 385). Wolf and Jenkins (2014) continued to analyse data from the Wolf, Aspin, Waite and Ananiadou (2010) study and reported no significant gains in literacy among native English-speaking British adults who had taken part in workplace literacy courses though some slight improvement in mean scores appeared (p. 604). While “learners for whom English was a second language showed modest but statistically significant improvements” (Wolf & Jenkins, 2014, p. 585) it was uncertain whether this resulted from workplace courses or participants’ lived experience over time within an English-speaking environment. Their findings support the observation that if an enterprise culture is relatively print-averse and favours workplace activities that avoid literacy practices, then literacy training programmes run in such an organisation will have little beneficial enduring impact. It seems evident that literacy progress occurs only when enterprises successfully engage those with liminal literacy in more use of textual materials. That is, to enhance literacy it may make more sense to focus on what needs to be developed within the organisational culture and in particular to facilitate a workplace community of practice that incorporates reading and writing. The observation about getting trainees more involved in literacy practices is complemented by Evans, Waite and Admasachew (2008). Their research illustrates how employees who are able to access literacy programmes often demonstrate a more confident approach to their learning (as they start to redefine themselves as more successful and worthy) “and perceive more opportunities in their work than previously” (p. 248). Seeing more opportunities in a workplace presumably signals a greater sense of self-efficacy and confidence in what they think they can now achieve. The outcomes of greater confidence have already been discussed and in comparable work, Evans et al. (2009) said that “the most important general outcome of course participation, a year on, is an increase in workers’ confidence” (p. 257). Many trainees refer both to the skills they gain from such courses and to their newly-found self-assurance. Typically, one of the participants in that study cited her “growth in self-confidence as the most significant and multifaceted personal outcome” (p. 252). Participants’ enthusiastic acknowledgement of new skills and the self-reliance that result from training are characteristic of other adult literacy

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studies (e.g., Maclachlan, Tett & Hall, 2009). Yet while our interviewees similarly reported increased self-confidence both at work and beyond, confidence by itself does not achieve its potential until it is successfully engaged and reinforced by workplace opportunities for growth and development. Literacies. Booth (2006) claimed that there are four basic forms of literacy: school literacy, measured by various in-school assessments, life literacy, shown by competence within cultural, workplace, and recreational settings, print literacy, demonstrated through expertise in literature, including in non-fiction or popular media, and technological literacy, which combines computer and Internet images and words. Many other designations of literacy have appeared (e.g., media literacy, information literacy, cultural literacy) but classifications of literacy such as advanced by Booth have not really found wide acceptance. Therefore, the confusion and disputes about what literacy “is” arising from the paradigmatic conflicts earlier referred to, have resulted in what Gibson (2008) refers to as a crisis in the meaning of literacy. This he connects to the displacement of print as the formerly predominant medium. In his view, scholarly disputes regarding how literacy is to be defined and understood have turned the concept into a relatively meaningless term, with differential meanings assigned to the construct depending on the speaker’s philosophy. But the absence of consensus as to how literacy is to be regarded in society is problematic given the enormous financial investment worldwide in attempts to advance literacy both at school and in adult education as in workplace programmes. No scholarly agreement has so far been achieved on what kind of action is needed or might even be desirable “for developing the technical skills required to master any one sense-making practice” (Gibson, 2008, p. 75) in order to increase practical capabilities in literacy. Connors (1988), from a social practice standpoint, refers to numerous literacies and rejects the idea that competencies in reading and writing “create cognitive abilities or constitute the only meaningful sort of literacy” (p. 380, emphasis in original). He went on to say that a focus on print literacy alone is both narrow and discriminatory. His position is a standard one within the social practice literature, and it is typical to find that scholars in this field hold both the standpoints stated here. That is, their perspective is that researchers should not be interested only in (print) literacy to the exclusion of their exploring broader and more inclusive literacies at play in society. Further, these scholars tend to hold the view that academic research supporting the notion that print literacy is the only meaningful one has narrow and discriminatory outcomes in society that work against the best interests of its least-empowered citizens. Since experts interested in the field have not arrived at any consensus on what literacy is and how to measure or foster it, disputes occur about how much



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attention is to be paid, at school, for example, to building the skills of print literacy alone. Some are concerned that a great deal of time spent at school on literacy may unhelpfully distract from assisting young people to foster capabilities in all the other competencies (so-called information literacy, media literacy, cultural literacy, technological literacy, etc.) that are also important proficiencies for being a capable citizen in the 21st century (Gibson, 2008). On the other hand, if print literacy is indeed a necessary precursor for other competencies, then presumably major investment is justified in literacy development if the consequential literacies are to be fostered. The next section addresses what has been found in respect of brain development and literacy and the implications for cognition and communication.

Habits of Brain, Habits of Mind Bolter (2011, p.  193) follows social practice writers like Connors (1988), Gee (2000) or Street (1984, 1995, 2017) in proposing that it was not that “writing gave its users a mental capacity that was unknown or impossible in an illiterate person, but rather that writing favored certain capacities at the expense of others”. It is highly probable that habitual practices of writing do promote some competencies at the expense of other (oral-experiential) capabilities, but conversely, in the complex and shifting context of the 21st-century workplace’s literacy and orality, it is difficult to be precise about what are the capacities in orality that may be less used or not fully developed when literate on-site practices are relatively predominant. Dehaene (2009, p. 210) for example noted that the brain pays a price for literacy. Reading invades the neuronal circuits destined for another use and probably brings about the loss of some of the cognitive abilities that were handed down to us by evolution … [so that] reading acquisition possibly reduces the cortical space available for our other mental activities.

At this time though it is uncertain as to whether the gains and losses within the brain associated with literacy are to be understood as a zero-sum game. While the additional aptitude afforded by literacy has now been comprehensively revealed, the nature and extent of what we may be losing as an outcome of literacy competency and performance are still unclear. However, the contention of Bolter, Street, Gee and others in the social practice tradition that writing does not afford more advanced mental capacity in the employment of abstractions is not supported by a plethora of neurological studies. Brain imaging has been defined as a breakthrough technology for cognitive neuroscience, tapping into associated insights across several decades of cognitive

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psychology and brain science (Baars & Gage, 2013). It is now permitting comprehensive insights into how “learning changes the physical structure of the brain and, with it, the functional organization of the brain” (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999, p.4). That is, the social practice perspective so far discussed, which is oriented to the particularities of given workplaces, has been strongly challenged by research in cognitive science as from Dehaene (2009), CastroCaldas (2004), Julayanont and Ruthirago (2018), or Donald (2001) who have been describing what they call the literacy brain, showing how literacy skills make a fundamental modification in how brain processes work. In the view of such writers, abstract reasoning of any complexity both depends upon and is built by capability in literacy. It has been found that the physical structure of the brain alters in response to training in literacy, in that “[m]‌easurements of brain activity are profoundly different in the brains of illiterates,” demonstrating a “major upheaval produced in the brain by reading acquisition” (Dehaene, 2009, p. 208). More specifically, [t]‌he literate brain … engages many more left-hemispheric resources than the illiterate brain – even when we only listen to speech (emphasis in original) … Most strikingly, literacy did not only alter brain activity during language listening tasks, but also affected the anatomy of the brain. The rear part of the corpus callosum, which links the parietal regions of both hemispheres, had thickened in the literate subjects. This macroscopic finding implies a massive increase in the exchange of information across the two hemispheres – perhaps explaining the remarkable increase in verbal memory span in literates (p. 209).

A reciprocal relationship between the habitual practice of reading and the physical configuration of the brain is alluded to by Wolf (2007, p. 216). She held that one of the consequences of capability in reading was new opportunities for the brain to spend time scrutinising and reflecting on what had been learned: [t]‌he brain’s design made reading possible, and reading’s design changed the brain in multiple, critical, still evolving ways … literacy allowed the individual reader to give less time to initial decoding processes and to allocate more cognitive time and ultimately more cortical space to the deeper analysis of recorded thought.

More of the specifics of how the human brain responds as a result of literacy training were explained by Wolf (2007, p. 224). She described the findings from brain imaging technology about changes in brain structure as driven by literacy development: “the fluent reading brain activates newly expanded cortical regions across frontal, parietal, and temporal lobes of both hemispheres during comprehension processes such as inference, analysis, and critical evaluation”. It seems evident that the fluent reading brain’s growing familiarity with analysis and



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evaluation is particularly associated with inferential literacy as defined in Chapter One. (Also see Castro-Caldas (2004) and Julayanont and Ruthirago (2018) for a more detailed account of literate-nonliterate brain differences.) Aliteracy or literacy disengagement. The social practice perspectives on literacy from authors cited above, for example, Gee, Street, and Bolter also run counter to evidence as cited by Carr, Dehaene, Wolf, and others, and from Booth’s (2006) perspective on the literacy mind, which are the views of a literacy educator working mainly with teenagers at high school. Booth uses the term “a continuum of literacy” (p. 9), referring to the present-day “retreat from complex and deeply structured modes of printed texts” resulting in “invisible illiterates” (p. 9). Disengagement from literate practice may be described not really as illiteracy but rather as aliteracy, “as individuals retaining the capability to read and write increasingly choose not to, devoting their time and energy to other pursuits, such as watching television” (Strate, 2014a, p.  66). Yet “[r]‌eading rewires the brain, and the wiring is not a permanent fixture, but needs to be continually renewed” (Strate, 2014a, p. 139) so a condition of aliteracy implies a diminishing aptitude over time. Specifically, anyone’s ongoing disconnection from reading may mean therefore that they find it increasingly difficult over time to first to focus on, then to comprehend passages of sustained printed text (DelVecchio, Jae & Ferguson, 2019; Sligo, 2008). That is, aliteracy is unlikely to be a static state since a person’s neglect of reading relatively complex materials seems to result in their declining ability in understanding, memory and learning: “research continues to show that people who read linear text more comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links” (Carr, 2010, p. 127). Then learning becomes more challenging again for us when we are online, undermining how well we can reflect on what we encounter. Should we be reading in “an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” (Carr, 2010, p. 117) our need to evaluate links and make related navigational choices, while also processing a multiplicity of fleeting sensory stimuli, requires constant mental coordination and decision making, distracting the brain from the work of interpreting text or other information (Carr, 2010, p. 122).

We consider the relationship of Internet use to literacy and orality in more detail below in this chapter, addressing for example ways in which electronic media play no part in accustoming anyone to the disciplined, sequential character of scientific reasoning. Going further, Postman put the case that habituation to electronic information creates a mental framework that is actually “hostile to science.

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Science depends on linearity of thought, the step-by-step presentation of evidence and argumentation. This method of organizing information is the structural basis of scientific thought” (1979, p. 77). In the cognitive science view, the capabilities engendered by literacy are understood as means by which learners create “deeper, more complex constructions of our own worlds” (Booth, 2006, p.  11). While new competencies like multi-media and online skills are critical for participation in the modern world, they all necessitate the standard foundational elements of print literacy. These include an expanding command of vocabulary, a facility in ready decoding of new information, confidence in message comprehension, proficiency in and readiness to engage in critical analysis of what is read, and competencies in writing (Sligo, 2015a). Carr, Dehaene, Maryanne Wolf, and others make the case that within an increasingly complex society there is a rising need across the population for greater skill levels in identifying nuances within the information that is presented to us, and for the development of a subtle awareness of how to shun propagandistic extremes, along with the ability to accommodate the shades of grey in perspectives that we encounter. Booth (2006) questions whether those who can comprehend only at a basic level become more “susceptible to control by corporations, unethical political leaders or charlatans” (p. 15). A more chilling take on deception and control by charlatans is offered by Postman (1985, p.  113). He proposes that starting with the age of television a mass beguilement, indifference and cynicism have been building so that many of us no longer think we will hear the truth from our political or other community leaders. Unlike the scenario sketched by George Orwell in his novel 1984, [l]‌ies have not been defined as truth nor truth as lies. All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference … Aldous Huxley [in his novel Brave New World] … prophesied its coming. He believed that it is far more likely that the Western democracies will dance and dream themselves into oblivion than march into it, single file and manacled … [he] grasped … that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions.

Compounding the problem is information overload. Drucker was earlier quoted as saying that excessive quantities of incoming information do not enrich our understanding but rather impoverish it. The extent of information overload that many presently experience creates intractable barriers to being able to tell the difference between meaningful and meaningless new data and compromises our ability to determine its quality. If in combination with this we want new information in the



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first instance to entertain us, then the potential for careful reflection is passed over in favour of an emotive reaction: If serious discourse is reduced to entertainment, then it falls to technical experts to take over the administration of our society, at the cost of individual freedom and true community (Strate, 2014a, p. 100).

Is there a paradox when citizens expect that anything they are to take seriously must also entertain them? The cognitive and social benefits of deep reading additionally include the ability to probe to discover a writer’s line of thought, enabling the reader to employ “considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning”. However deep reading allows the reader to “uncover lies, confusions, and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weigh ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another” (Postman, 1985, p. 52). Deep reading has been associated with other qualities. Carr (2010, p. 123) refers to how “deep reading becomes a form of deep thinking” since quiet, reflective reading permits the brain to avoid distractions. Then Strate (2014a, p. 79) talks of how deep reading and “deep writing” are connected. He reports on the differences between a script that had been produced in a kind of freestyle way and not edited and another text that benefitted from much in-depth research and careful reviewing. He pointed out that a reader might take a similar time to read either document, “but the deeply written text represents a kind of condensed time, a distilling of intellectual quality that is unequalled in any other medium”. All the stated capabilities are the merits of reasoning that underpin a community that aspires for its citizens to be members of a fully functioning democracy. Postman (1985, p. 64) went on to say that what is generally understood to constitute mature discourse is enhanced by the conventions of print, in that it can build a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.

These are some of the key attributes needed to equip society to discern charlatans, including political and other purveyors of fake nostrums. Hence a question for 21st-century educators and policy framers is how to inculcate such aptitudes within educational programmes, which is considered further below. The hardware and software. Literacy brain and literacy mind may be thought of as the hardware and software of literacy. In combination, they suggest that command of traditional literacy and further associated capabilities depends upon

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both brain and mind being habituated to print literacy. The neuroscience evidence has shown that rising levels of cognitive functioning occur through intensive shaping of the architecture or hardware of the brain following many years of schooling, which have created habitual pathways of analytical thinking. Then the literacy mind, the software of cognitive ability, is rendered more subtle and capable of more nuanced insights via unceasing exposure to complex written texts. Donald (2001) recounts cultural innovations in human history over time and observes that “[t]‌he most important of these is literacy. Literacy skills change the functional organization of the brain and deeply influence how individuals and communities of literate individuals perform their cognitive work” (p. 302). Related work has been proceeding as already mentioned (e.g., Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Dehaene, 2009; Julayanont & Ruthirago, 2018; Wolf, 2007, 2018) assessing activation within various areas of the brain that feature diverse patterns of brain organisation for speech, writing and listening. These areas specialise in hearing spoken language, seeing and reading words, using spoken language, and producing words via mental processes. Then “[t]‌o become fully literate, the individual must acquire a host of neural demons that are completely absent from anyone who lacks literacy training” (Donald, 2001, p. 302). (The term “demons” is derived from artificial intelligence studies in computational science and refers to the “unconscious mental operators” (Donald, 2001, p. 3) that shape our brain functioning. These operate mainly outside our conscious awareness and permit us to carry out specialist and involved operations such as our everyday use of grammar in spoken language without conscious discernment.) The development of literacy animates substantial restructuring of brain circuits and there “is no equivalent in a preliterate mind to the circuits that hold the complex neural components of a reading vocabulary or the elaborate procedural habits of formal thinking” (Donald, 2001, p. 302). The habitual use of a reading vocabulary and familiarity in the formal processes of logic “have to be hammered in by decades of intensive schooling”. Dehaene (2009, p. 210) reporting on neurological research, commented that “[i]‌lliterates can remember the gist of stories and poems, but their verbal working memory – the temporary buffer that stores instructions, recipes, names or phone numbers over short periods of time – is vastly inferior to ours” (“ours” meaning those able to read relatively complex, long-form prose). Chapter Six has already explored how the practices of habitual listening orient the mind to searching for the gist within what has just been spoken and to find the pragmatic or tactical implications that may follow. Gradually there is a shift in the functionality of particular brain circuits associated with literacy, resulting in the rewiring of “the functional architecture



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of thought” as already reported (Donald, 2001, p. 302) with the outcome that “the main effect of literacy is positive: learning to read induces massive cognitive gains” (Dehaene, 2009, p. 210). Havelock (1963, p. ix) referred to the interrelationships of vocabulary, ideas, and contexts, since “until the fit word is present, you do not have the idea, and the word to become fit requires a suitable contextual usage”. Analysis of this kind is, needless to say, incompatible with the commentary of Bolter, Belfiore or Hunter above, or the claim by Gee (1986) that “thought processes (in so-called primitive societies) about such matters as witchcraft were the same as those involved in scientific thought” (p. 721). As discussed earlier, the social practice position is to reject colonialist and racist views in all their manifestations and to stress what Western and non-Western societies have in common. In this way, there is a major paradigmatic difference between cognitive scientists’ interpretation of the literacy brain and mind, and social practice theorists’ views on mental processes in orality. The latter theorists have appropriately done their job in refuting the notion that cognitive theory operating alone without reference to other fields can fully explain the workings of literacy in applied settings. Now the time has come for the two fields to explore what they have in common and for a mid-range theory encompassing the most valid perspectives of both to emerge, which is the especial contribution of media ecology. Cognitive theorists hold to the position that those with liminal literacy usually are undeveloped in literacy brain and literacy mind to the extent that they are not practised in coming to grips with complex ideas and arguments in textual formats (Dehaene, 2009; Carr, 2010). This though is not an argument about intelligence (however measured) and the present author does not propose that literacy and intelligence are to be equated. Instead, the issue has more to do with the habitual neural pathways in the brain, which are disposed either towards abstractions (literacy) or practicalities (oral-experiential practice). Ideally, though, both are needed to avoid the weaknesses of just practical focus or solely an abstract orientation. Then the social practice perspective that literacy does not encourage cognitive abilities like abstract thinking conflicts with the work of Styhre, Josephson and Knauseder (2006), anthropologists such as Lévi-Strauss (1976), and historians Chadwick (1997), Innis (2007), Ong (1982) or Thompson (1968). These have cited evidence that schooling in literacy does build psychological capability in complex ways. This goes further than just a person’s being able to provide a fluent account of the mental processes they are employing, as Gee (1986, p. 730) accepts from a social practice standpoint.

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Electronic Media, Cognition and Communication Chapter Five described new digital literacies and the emergence of “post-typography”. The present section returns to this issue, addressing ways in which the pervasive electronic media of the 21st century are impacting upon the human sensorium, our cognitive processes and our forms of communication. The present moment is a transition or tipping point in the lives of virtually everyone who is affected by electronic media. As already explained, this is not the first time that a substantial shift in cognition and communication has occurred. Chapter One set out what Plato in The Republic sought as a necessary conversion for Greek citizens of his day away from largely oral forms of thinking and social interactions and in the direction of an ideal “autonomous rational personality” (Havelock, 1963, p. 208), one no longer constrained within the parameters of primary orality. Chapter One commented on how the pre-Platonic Greek oral cultural tradition comprised a “tribal encyclopedia” (p. 209). But Plato’s criticism of the oral culture of his time, personified in those whom he called the poets, has some resemblance to the concerns being expressed about present-day social media’s influence on anyone who has not been taught how to undertake an evidence-based assessment of claims and perspectives online. It is as though the trivialising and frivolous character of what we encounter online is progressively weakening our analytical capabilities and wearing down our willingness to take a critical stance to what we see and hear. One major issue for many is the disconcertingly swift speed of change. This is so much undermining previous assumptions about how our lives should be lived that it demands that each of us has to “work out a set of values, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that are viable, or seem viable, to each of personally” (Postman & Weingartner, 1969, p. 11, emphasis in original). Note the statement about personally: the social, religious, political and other community groups that formerly seemed to provide a secure basis and guidelines for living now have relatively less reach into our lives and have become less authoritative. With the rapidity of change and the decline of confidence in formerly trusted social institutions (e.g., government, religious authorities, news media) has come a lessening of our feeling secure or vindicated by significant others in our own array of values and beliefs. If we are individually to settle on a moral stance, then Postman (1979, p. 101) proposes as key traditional values that might comprise a touchstone for citizens who seek to change their society in a positive direction: “personal autonomy, community cohesion, family loyalty, and the primacy of human affection”. But humans are intrinsically social beings so what currently is engaging our attention and shaping our behaviour? Presently social media may comprise for



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many people a powerful online communication environment which in its scope and persuasiveness arguably possesses some characteristics of the ancient Greek “vast tractate” or tribal encyclopaedia of social knowledge to which Havelock (1963) referred, forming many present-day citizens’ understanding of their everyday lifeworld and influencing their forms of communication. Accordingly, a substantial number of 21st-century citizens may understand that their tribal source of knowledge is an online (albeit in practice narrow) world of bundled social media, which, depending on a person’s age, society, or social class, etc., will include some of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, WeChat, Tumblr, et al. In Havelock’s (1963) view, Plato was adamant that the relatively simplistic, orally conveyed understandings of the time had to be reconceptualised “differently, non-poetically, non-rhythmically, and non-imagistically” (p 209). Killing off the poetic, “the lazy play of the endless saga-series of events” (p. 210) in favour of the prosaic and analytic would be viewed by some as an imaginative loss, but others would understand it as a gain in respect of applied and defensible reason. Paradoxically, while social media may have a narrowing and simplifying consequence for what we perceive, on another level, the immediacy and inescapable presence of communications mean that we are now exposed to fragmented insights into societies around the world which once we would have had little knowledge of, with shards of fractured images constantly passing before our eyes. Consequently, our global awareness “is growing so that other civilizations themselves are all in a sense our own, no matter what or where they are” (Ong, 2002c, p. 298) even though we can have no access to the subtlety and unique insights of other cultures via the electronic media’s quick cut scenes. Ong continued to point out that as technology proceeds to increase its influence in our lives, it is necessary and inevitable for individuals so to open their interior consciousnesses to outside goings-on. The interior of the individual is called on today, as it never was until recently, to live through at each moment the ongoing exterior activities of the entire human race (2002c, p. 279).

In this way our media environment both envelopes then bares us to a swathe of impressions from an array of diverse sources. All of this comprises a new and different shift whereby Western-style countries, among others, experience a movement of tectonic dimensions in how the human sensorium is responding to new media, and accordingly how human cognition and forms of communication have quickly been reacting in response. We might ask whether we can drink from a firehose of information but in ways that permit us to survive and build our capability to find some sustenance from it.

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Major shifts in communication and cognition are not unknown, as earlier described in this book. For example, centuries-old traditions of scribal copying of manuscripts gradually came to an end starting from the 15th century (Eisenstein, 2005) as with the invention and popularisation of the printing press European societies began to realise new-found access to the mass-produced products of the printing press and to employ their democratising possibilities. Today, after half a millennium of what some have called the Gutenberg parenthesis (Sligo, 2015a, 2018) the printing press and its products are being pushed from the center of our intellectual life to its edges … The electronic revolution is approaching its culmination as the computer – desktop, laptop, handheld – become our constant companion and the Internet becomes our medium of choice for storing, processing, and sharing information in all its forms, including text (Carr, 2010, p. 77).

The transition, though, is not a reversal back into a version of primary orality. Postman (1979, p. 74) emphasises that we are not relapsing into any kind of oral society that lacks text and so relies upon human memory and interpersonal dialogic means of determining what is most important to us. Rather the new electronic environment that shapes our forms of communication is “fundamentally hostile to conceptual, segmented, linear modes of expression, so that both writing and speech must lose some of their power” (p. 74). The previous chapter cited Drucker’s caution that the essential value of the computer had to be assessed by how much “time it gives executives and professionals on all levels for direct, personal, face-to-face relationships with other people” (1993, p. 333). Currently, though, concerns are being expressed as to whether we are harnessing the power of computing technology in ways well adapted to serving the human endeavour. Or are we redefining our interactions as human beings in ways that fit within computers’ constricted confines? This is not a Terminator, Transformers or Robocop scenario, but instead, [m]‌achines can take over, not in the sense that they will direct human society … but in the sense that we may, and often do, regard ourselves as machines, taking a mechanical device as a model for the human being (Ong, 1977, p. 300).

Carr had a similar view of a self-imposed restriction on our capabilities and imagination for “as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence” (2010, p. 224). The sheer presence and impact of technology in society imply a weakening of other community dynamics, such as religion, artistic ways of seeing the world, or long-held political traditions, resulting in a society deeply oriented to



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technology without ever quite understanding why. Here the community imaginary valorises technology and what it permits as solutions to social and economic questions. In this way, the rise of technology is balanced against the decline in longer-standing social values and qualities, so accordingly “[t]‌he reason why it is hard to say no to technology is that in a technopoly there are no other values, no competing system of beliefs, no ruling idea to set against the technological imperative” (Strate, 2006, p. 53). Another way of looking at this issue is to hold that there may well be other values and other belief systems as a counterweight to the technological imperative. However, the problem is that they are to different extents occluded from public awareness and their reach into the culture is relatively small when compared to the authority of the technological juggernaut. Television. For Postman (1979) the rapid uptake of television in homes in the USA in particular following World War II created a wholly new (though unintended) means of shaping young people’s understanding of their society and their place and purpose in it. This was achieved particularly via an unremitting exposure to commercials. Postman (1979) cited evidence that by the age of 18 a young person in the USA would have been exposed to something in the order of 675,000 television commercials. The intensity of this experience far outweighed other sources of direction or guidance especially school and accordingly made “the television commercial the most voluminous information source in the education of youth” (p. 61). The implications of this for Postman were that youth are being trained in the habits of “intense concentration for short periods of time, and deconditioned, so to speak, to sustained concentration”. Carr’s (2010, p. 129) perspective reinforces this, in that multimedia divides our attention, “further strains our cognitive abilities, diminishing our learning and weakening our understanding”. The case is made that the basic message of any television commercial is that life is never too complex, and gratifications need not be deferred, so that “serious human worries are resolvable through relatively simple means and that, therefore, the resolution of anything problematic is never far away” (Postman, 1979, p. 61). Television, as it was in the 1970s, does not exist in the same form now and is currently watched less than when Postman was writing, with social media having displaced its influence to an extent. Yet commercials remain incessant in “free” versions of platforms such as YouTube and are prominent in the ecological terrain of social media like Facebook, Instagram, etc. For Ellul (1985, p. 120) there is a kind of omnipresence inherent in television’s reach into his lifeworld and his society, essentially crowding out the human dimension. His access to his material existence is blocked by a relentlessly unfolding array of images arriving in his field of vision,

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a circle of images that become so much truer than my own life. I cannot rid myself of them. Television is the supremely powerful drug. I end up living my existence before the very thing that eliminates me.

The effects of television and social media shape more than the individual alone, in that they are also held to undermine and rework many other dimensions of our culture. The outcomes of print in our lives gradually decline, but as they do so, “the content of politics, religion, education and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television” (Postman, 1985, p. 8). Ultimately though television alone was not really what Postman was concerned about. He saw television as just one element within a holistic, invisible information environment that forms our lives, having a complexly cumulative impact upon us. Its “hidden curriculum” he said, “conspires against almost all of the assumptions on which the slowly disseminated, logically ordered, and cognitively processed word is based” (Postman, 1979, p. 75). What for Postman in 1985 was the age of television, strictly defined, might now be over, but the visual persuasiveness of television and the more recent other visual media that supplement it is by no means defunct. Postman’s statement above could be reframed as the content … is being changed and is being recast in terms that are most suitable to the dominant media of the day, which at present for many is social media.

Google and Web Browsing The works cited above including Rubin, Hafer and Arata (2000) on the cognitive demands of reading and literacy’s greater facility in handling abstractions are relevant to the claim around “Is Google making us stupid?” developed by Carr (2010) in his book The Shallows. Carr believed that his constant grazing on Internet-based short texts had led him and others into a more deprived form of information-processing, a readiness to flick among different instances of relatively low-level information, with little in-depth evaluation of concepts then seeming to be possible in the assessment of texts. The outcome of this for him had been a gradual turning away from the habits of complex analytical inquiry and its replacement by a lesser form of intellectual processing. He felt that a “fundamental shift [is] taking place in society’s attitude towards intellectual achievement” with some convincing themselves “that surfing the Web is a suitable, even superior, substitute for deep reading and other forms of calm and attentive thought” thus allowing themselves “to slip comfortably into the permanent state of distractedness that defines the online life” (Carr, 2010, p. 112).



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Stephen Pinker (2010) offered a refutation of Carr’s position in his New York Times article “Mind over mass media”. However, Carr’s concerns about the superficiality of understanding echoed the apprehensions of educationalists and media specialists as already considered. As earlier suggested, Postman (1985) and others concurred that those capable of reading only minimal, low-level text find themselves unable to interpret challenging texts and will be undermined in their decision-making, making themselves vulnerable to unprincipled or unethical influencers. Thirty years before Carr’s observations, Postman (1979, p. 73) had found how both young and older persons were finding it increasingly problematic to achieve a sustained focus on a printed linear argument so that “it is becoming increasingly difficult for the young to sustain attention in situations where there is a fixed point of view or an extended linear progression. Although writing is demonstrably the epitome “of analytical and sequential thinking, [it] seems increasingly to be an alien form … even to those who may be regarded as extremely intelligent” (p. 73). He had in mind a diminishing societal capability even among very well educated individuals both in undertaking close reading and in writing confidently in long, sustained form. Carr’s view above about a fundamental shift occurring in society away from the perceived merits of deep and sustained logical argument is well illustrated in Bolter (2011). He concurs that it is now quite normal for electronic texts to exist only in disjointed and unfinished form. However, he says that while this array of fragments may be seen as “a network of self-contained units rather than as an organic whole … [t]‌his fragmentation need not imply mere disintegration”. He goes on to propose that such fragments of text available online are not necessarily “chaotic”, instead, he believes, they may “function in a perpetual state of reorganization” (p. 11). It is not quite clear from this as to who might have agency in a reorganising process; reorganising by whom, how effectively, and for what or whose purpose are not addressed. But a rearranging of an unsystematic collection of texts that may be found online does not imply that any coherent or consistent position is going to emerge. Ongoing redistributions could just result in disparate sequences of disorderly, fragmented, and ultimately incoherent assertions, given that two meanings of the word cohere are to form a unified whole and to be logically consistent. Bolter (2011, p. 12) then suggests that there will emerge a definition of effective writing that supplements or replaces our traditional notion of the unity of voice and of analytical argument. What unity there is in an electronic text derives from the perpetually shifting relationship among its verbal elements.

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To this writer, at least, that kind of unity is no unity at all. If a comprehensible and lucid argument is absent, then no unity of perspective can emerge. A deep reading of a text or texts continues to depend on the presence of an underpinning and intelligible intellectual position. What is merely a collection of disparate elements that can be accumulated in various ways for unrelated purposes by different individuals does not encourage deep reading; their uncoordinated status means that they are intrinsically shallow. Bolter (2011, p. 107) advocates for authorial liberty from allegedly unreasonable and outmoded bookish demands: Why should a writer be forced to produce a single, linear argument or an exclusive analysis of cause and effect, when the writing space allows a writer to entertain and present several lines of thought at once?

He cites a collection of authors such as Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Pynchon, Italo Calvino, and others, all of whom are said to show a preference not to be pinned down into a constricting, sequential, unified point of view. Writing of this kind is variously called an antibook or nonlinear writing (p. 109) or a hypertextual essay (p. 111). Its benefit for a reader who, following hypertext links, samples back and forth across multiple documents relevant to a particular author of interest (say, the works of Aristotle) is that the reader would be enabled to “make explicit the implicit act of deeply informed reading, which is itself a dialogue with the text” (p. 110). In my view though, by such cross-textual means, a reader might be able to get a good sense of the range and diverse character of Aristotle’s writing. Much more elusive is obtaining an adequate understanding of how that writing evolved or learning how an argument is slowly assembled in defensible steps or discovering how a comprehensible standpoint has been constructed based on earlier premises. We could also note that Sontag, Barthes, Wittgenstein et al. all well understood how to produce a coherent, linear narrative when they wished to do so. It is one thing to deviate from such a narrative in which you already have highly sophisticated expertise and to venture out as a writer to explore some other innovative way of expressing yourself. It is a quite different proposition to advocate that there is no necessity for an aspiring writer to develop the capabilities of deep reading and coherent writing. The concern is that anyone whose attention is overrun with multiple fragmented, ill-organised factoids will find the greatest difficulty in undertaking any constructive sensemaking. When the senses are besieged with disconnected data points received en masse, no processing of ideas in a linear fashion is possible. The



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outcome is “the loss of logical thought, need for consistency, sense of history and progress, and narrative plotting” (Strate, 2012a, p.  449). So far Carr’s concern remains unaddressed:  “[w]‌e don’t see the forest when we search the Web. We don’t even see the trees. We see twigs and leaves” (2010, p. 91). Secondary orality. Carr’s and others’ perspective on how a less developed kind of intellectual processing has been developing over recent years finds support in Ong’s (1977, 1982) account of secondary orality. As already described in Chapter One, Ong talked of how electronic technology has created a new form of orality, termed secondary, which in many ways evoked primary orality in the extent of its socialised processes, its focus on the immediate present and some reliance on formulaic practices in forms of communication. Yet secondary orality via the new electronic technologies is relatively self-aware since it knowingly incorporates the literate practices of writing and print. The new forms of electronic media simultaneously rely on and reinforce print modalities but at the same time, they incorporate oral interpersonal communication in consciously informal ways. Ong (1977, p. 298) commented that secondary orality on one level looks very similar to primary orality yet it is very different in being “planned and self-conscious where primary orality is unplanned and unselfconscious.” Then secondary orality is totally dependent on writing and print for its existence … whereas primary orality was not only innocent of writing and print but vulnerable to these media and ultimately destroyed by them (p. 298).

Though primary orality was fully supplanted by the spread of literacy over time other forms of orality persist. These are both in the fragments of residual orality as in Chapter One, and in the more vital sense of occupational orality. Gee (1986) said that “members of many US communities, though they may write and read at basic levels, have little occasion to use these skills as taught in school” (p. 737). This observation may have been true when Gee was writing a generation ago. At that time few would have been able to predict the rapid emergence of the Internet-enabled, digitised, textualised, global enterprise, and its outcome in the form of document-driven workplaces, within which compelling pressures make powerful demands on almost everyone in employment to demonstrate an increasing capability in their literacy. It is questionable whether many workplaces with globalised interests exist now that are unaffected by the need for a substantial proportion of its staff to have abilities in inferential literacy. Also, no-one in the mid-1980s could have forecast the rise of social media with its requirement to have literacy skills in reading and using the alphanumeric

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keypad, and in negotiating certain levels of software packages associated with social media. The social practice perspective on this has already been talked of in Chapter Five and Knobel and Lankshear (2007) further advanced the view that “new literacies are more ‘participatory’, ‘collaborative’, and ‘distributed’ in nature than conventional literacies” (p. 20) all of which terms evoke the kind of language used by Ong and other scholars influenced by his research. Then for Kibby (2005) email, even though a written mode of communication, also comprised secondary orality since it has the characteristics of an oral interchange creating “a participatory event that heightens a feeling of community” (pp. 771–772). The immediacy of email interchanges evokes a sense of participating in a conversation which makes the interaction more like oral than traditional forms of written communication. Similarly, Turner (2010) said that current modalities of interpersonal relating such as electronic chats, instant messages, or voice mail are more like interactions “in oral mode than in traditional written ones” (p. 371). Ong (2002a, p. 476) stresses the complicated nature of trying to account for how new forms of orality are related to and changing traditional literacy, observing that “a residual primary orality, literacy, and secondary orality are interacting vigorously with one another in confusing complex patterns in our secondarily oral world”. Albrecht (2004, p. 377) points to dysfunctional outcomes, though, making the case that electronic media have seriously enfeebled oral communication. Rather than retrieve or extend oral communication, electronic communication demolishes it relentlessly wherever the two come into contact. If it may be said that orality and literacy worked out a certain societal balance in the many centuries during which they co-existed side by side … electronic media have seriously disrupted this balance, running roughshod over both orality and literacy.

In supporting his statement Albrecht cited evidence that by the late 20th century, community-based music, performed at home or in the neighbourhood, was being seriously undermined by the increasing prevalence of recorded music. Yet in the present study within the workplaces in which we researched, we would maintain that habitual workplace oral-experiential practices still survive, in many ways not much changed by electronic media.

The Visual: Material and Abstract This section returns to the matter of the visual already mentioned in earlier chapters and comments on the nature of two transitions affecting our sensorium. The



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sensorium is the entire sensory apparatus of the human body and the second of these transitions is still taking place. The first change was away from what could be called visual materiality in primary orality, that is, a focus on objects and practices of importance in the culture, and towards abstract forms of the visual in literacy, especially an absorption in the words on a page. For Ong (1967, p. 8), “[w]‌riting, and most particularly the alphabet, shifts the balance of the senses away from the aural to the visual, favoring a new kind of personality structure”. Speaking of the shift from more-oral to more-literate that occurred with Gutenberg in the transition from primary orality, Ong (1967, p. 221) observed that [t]‌he struggle, in which the disputatious oral approach to existence and knowledge lost much of its hold, was a struggle between hearing and seeing. Seeing won … Knowledge, in the sense of intellectual knowledge, was henceforth, more than ever before, to be conceived of almost solely by analogy with vision.

But this new manifestation of vision associated with literacy was alphabet- and writing-focused rather than oriented to the material objects of a culture. As such, it developed people’s habituation to the solitary analysis and interpretation of abstract concepts, rather than a visualism oriented to tangible objects in use. As Strate (2014a, p. 53) explained, “while visualism refers to the dominance of sight, it is the abstract vision based on literacy and not the concrete vision associated with images and icons”. The “concrete vision” includes the materiality of the workplace such as its array of artifacts, many of which are best understood as bodily extensions. These items have not gone away and are still at the centre of people’s work and learning especially in craft environments. In the present study, the liminally literate people described can be excused for feeling marginalised and (literally) not heard, given the predominance in their educators’ culture of abstract vision and the book. The second change is a transition that is now occurring, which is a return to more material forms of the visual as our new secondary orality gradually takes shape. For Ong (1967, p. 260) this is a new oral-aural world in how it reengages us with sound. Its existence is possible only through heavy reliance on visual constructs, out of which is generated the sound world of a technological milieu … Beneath the oral-aural mentality today, a visualist, objective, neutral structure remains, no longer in complete control, but there.

The objective, literacy-based form of understanding may still be there, however in an age when social media dominates many people’s noetic processes, the question being raised is to what extent the relatively impartial, neutral mental structure

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that literacy developed is currently being destabilised. Wolf (2007, p.  19) has pointed out that we are embarked on a journey that has by no means finished. She reflects on what we have to understand better “as we and our children negotiate our own transition from a written culture to one that is increasingly driven by visual images and massive streams of digital information”. She is referring not least to major barriers to our ability to be reflective and rational that are inherent in such a transition. Many “now think essentially by association of images … and can no longer construct or follow a rigorous logical demonstration, unless this is supported by charts and diagrams” (Ellul, 1985, p. xi). Ellul mourns the demise of the word in the waning of literacy and literate assumptions since we are likely to “believe words only if they have some visual evidence supporting them. Whatever cannot be expressed through images seems to us to have no genuine importance, or even existence” (1985, p. x). Within secondary orality, voice and visual are re-emerging in intertwined ways in that the modern era reintroduces and enhances the role of voice. Yet “the visual or the visual-tactile, which were so intensified with the emergence of alphabetic script and print, are being further intensified as never before” (Ong, 1967, p. 90). Voice, the aural, visual, visual-tactile, all refer to our senses and how we perceive what we encounter. Since we are still currently embroiled in a transition from more-literate forms of cognition and communication to new, less-literate forms of orality, the “changes in today’s sensorium as a whole have been too complex for our present power of description” (Ong, 1967, p. 88). As the volume in our visual-aural-tactile surround-sensorium ramps up and becomes more intense and distracting, writers such as Ellul, Strate, Postman, Carr and Wolf would predict that our ability to focus, meditate, and undertake a deep examination of a single topic deteriorates. As already seen in Chapter Five, being able to fully participate in secondary orality depends on a capability in manipulating text. When an individual’s textual aptitude is low their ability to make sense of messages received and their facility in conveying messages in nuanced fashion are relatively impaired. This book has explored the situation of those of liminal literacy, who find themselves significantly impeded in the use they can make of new communications technology and the access they can obtain to communities of users. From this derives the proposal that the form of orality characteristic of apprentices with liminal literacy is not secondary in the same way as it might be for those strong in literacy. Rather, their orality comes from the occupational context in which they work and within which a pervasive oral culture and its preference for oral forms of discourse are well-suited to the needs of those with literacy difficulties.



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Citizens’ participation in the modalities of secondary orality (e.g., texting, emailing, or accessing social media) is often represented in the literature of multimedia as unproblematic, and as a matter of choice for anyone who has access to the technologies (Kulikowich, 2008). However, the liminally literate may well not be free to elect to use such modalities, given technology’s requirement for a certain facility in print and writing, which drastically restricts the range of options open to them. Further, when the consumption and sending of very short online texts in collaboration with others is more oral than print-literate in its character then our proficiency in undertaking an in-depth analysis of texts from online sources is impaired, bearing some similarities with what happens in primarily oral contexts.

Implications for Education In what Wolf (2018) calls a “hinge moment between print and digital cultures” (par. 3) comes the issue of how educators might respond to the questions raised about a declining aptitude among both children and adults in abstract thinking, in how well we can concentrate, and in preparedness to read and write long-form text. Equally important is how to identify the vocal and visual strengths inherent in new forms of orality and how educators might seek to build on them for the betterment of students and their society (Kress, 2000). Ong made the point that it is common for young people to “grow into adulthood without entering into, much less mastering, the analytic thinking processes which can be interiorized only by grappling with the written word” (1977, p. 259). That is, anyone untrained in the habits of close reading may not develop or maintain the systematic noetic practices that they would benefit from in a progressively more complex world. Accordingly, educators need to open doors to the printed word in ways that permit and encourage the habitual practice of reading. Part of their task is to inspire all students to transcend what is delivered up to them by easy Internet access, and to probe for more nuanced ways of seeing and understanding than what appears in front of their eyes immediately. Close reading is hard and deep reading is still harder, so ways should be found to show new readers how they benefit from investing a greater effort. Those attempting to realise the rites of close reading, however, will not necessarily do so on the terms previously considered normal by the traditionally literate. Importantly, ongoing changes in brain practices and consequently in what the mind accepts as customary progressively change what and how we think. Wolf referred to an ongoing evolution in the brain and consequential changes in the mind when she proposed that we will

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recruit new connections in the brain that will propel our intellectual development in new and different ways … as we make the transition from a reading brain to an increasingly digital one (2007, p. 4).

One issue in learning has to do with separation, closeness and immediacy. When earlier generations travelled to their public library or to a bookshop they understood that they needed to undertake a passage to a destination that potentially would give them access to new information. After a journey of some kind, there was an awareness of entry to a specific place that held its own expectations of visitors’ behaviour, of gaining admittance to a store of knowledge where questions could be answered, and fresh perspectives obtained. This created agency in the individual’s mind as they became accustomed to the idea that it was necessary to set out in a self-aware way across space and time to build their comprehension. Yet when our device is constantly only the distance of an arm’s length our agency tends to wane, and a sense of passivity grows; we feel more reliant on whatever happens to pop up on our screen and assume it as normal that no journey and little waiting are needed. Once it seems to us that time and space have no further relevance in information-getting then whatever point of view arrives on our screen gains credibility as “the answer”. Wolf ponders information’s imminence in questioning whether habituation to and reliance on whatever data comes immediately off our device will cause the “attentional, inferential, and reflective capacities in the present reading brain” (2007, p. 214) to decline, and to weaken children’s competence “to evaluate, analyze, prioritize, and probe what lies beneath any form of information” (2007, p. 226). However, she suggests that inspiration has the power to unlock doors to new ways of understanding as teachers and parents lead children into uncovering “the invisible world that resides in written words” (2007, p. 226). Imagination may reveal to the reader multi-layered and more stimulating insights than are possible from a shallow reading of a text. This is part of what is needed “to promote the processes that lead to fully formed expert reading in our citizenry” (2007, p. 226) along with “a new kind of brain: a ‘bi-literate’ reading brain capable of the deepest forms of thought in either digital or traditional mediums” (Wolf, 2018, par. 12). The bi-literate brain, nevertheless, implies a bi-literate mind, being one that is capable both in digital and print modalities and which can do both breadth and depth, to range widely across multiple modes in digital form and to probe deeply in traditional literate ways. A society’s education system is not solely responsible for changes needed, with Strate (2014b, p. 101) proposing that media organisations have a moral obligation to take steps to assist their audiences to “decode their messages accurately, interpret them appropriately, and most important of all, evaluate them critically”.



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For this to happen, the media organisations’ owners and decision-makers need to become convinced that their enterprises’ survival and success are better guaranteed by helping to increase the number of fluent readers rather than by acquiescing in dumbing them down. The case can be made that the news media have a better chance of thriving if they play whatever part they can in developing citizens’ literacy. A market for quality journalism provides an alternative to the assumption that media must compete in the race to the bottom for consumers who are increasingly “insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions” (Postman, 1985, p. 113) as already quoted. At the time of writing, the 2020 COVID-19 emergency has provided an excellent case study of how scientific expertise and evidence-based decision-making have proven their critical and decisive role in protecting people. It’s a pity it took a crisis to make the point.

Conclusion Overviews of the situation faced by adults with liminal literacy often refer to the complexity around how best to develop their literacy and numeracy both in terms of the kind of policy needed and how to operationalise remedial assistance. Neither the causes nor the solutions are straightforward. Then “successful interventions are relatively uncommon. Tackling serious literacy and numeracy weaknesses is challenging because the group of low-skilled adults is diverse and requires different, well-targeted interventions” (Windisch, 2015, p.3). Windisch appropriately draws attention to complexities in the field, but we found that the relative harmony of perceptions shared between those with liminal literacy and employers contrasts with perspectives of the literacy policy and training community (Tilley, Sligo, Shearer, Comrie, Murray, Franklin, Vaccarino & Watson, 2007). Literacy policy experts do not necessarily possess good first-hand insights into how print or digital texts are seen in the workplace. As already noted in Chapter One, Ong (1980) thought that “[l]‌iterates have had trouble understanding oral cultures” and “persons from highly literate cultures have commonly been unable to react understandingly to adult, sophisticated levels of behavior in oral cultures” (p. 202). The assumption that pencil and paper examination-style assessments of literacy provide a sufficient basis to reveal what is needed to strengthen communication at work appears to have been shaped by literate persons’ prior experience. Print literacy as a standalone goal that might seem perfectly reasonable to someone who is highly literate appears as only incidentally useful and not a priority within a workplace culture where oral-experiential conventions are prevalent.

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Paradoxically, too great a concern for acquisition of print competencies at the expense of broader capabilities may undermine the main contribution of text literacy. Liminally-literate persons as in our Whanganui study demonstrated their acceptance that the real value of literacy training for them was to strengthen and enhance their everyday life activities, including work, but also their family communication, their awareness of health issues, and other holistic facets of their lives. It seems apparent, therefore, that if they are not to be an imposition and waste of time by consumers of literacy training, attempts to strengthen scriptural literacy need to be made within the applied, oral-experiential contexts that our interviewees had identified as important to them. We postulate that a policy expert’s unwitting orientation to the solitary sphere of the literate learner creates a mental framework that is more slanted towards texts than orality and is confined by the assumptions of the literately engaged. That is, those whose professional acculturation has been within literate worlds, through the nature of their development assume as normal the private consumption of print-based information. Then in respect of the social practice position, its insistence that social processes, not individual cognitive capabilities, are the only important factors in literacy practice does not enhance or offer more nuanced insights in the understanding of how somebody learns, and instead unhelpfully oversimplifies what is involved. It distracts attention from exploring the personal exertion needed to become proficient in literacy and to become capable in the work that depends on that literacy. The narrow emphasis that social practice authors have had on maintaining that ‘learning is not individual’ creates a binary perspective on learning (solitary versus collective) and undesirably distorts rather than makes for deeper insights into the issue of how we learn in either personal or social settings. Both the cognitive and the social practice perspectives are necessary to create a comprehensive grasp of the situation, but neither is sufficient to permit a good understanding of the learning undertaken by apprentices or people in the community in the present study. The liminally literate comprise a complex group with particular needs that are deserving of close attention, so we seek a position to reconcile findings both from cognition and social practice. This perspective of ours is not new. In the related field of how human intelligence develops, Gardner (1983) believed that reconciliation is needed between perspectives derived from Chomsky, Piaget and anthropology. He noted how the Chomskian position stresses the importance of individuals’ uniquely unfolding mental faculties, while Piagetian-influenced scholars focus on how the developing organism morphs through a series of stages. Both of these stand in contrast to the concern from anthropology and other social science disciplines to understand the formative effects of the cultural environment. From these Gardner (1983) sought



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to “forge a productive middle ground” (p. 326) and in that space, it should be possible to acknowledge “innate intellectual proclivities, the heterogeneous processes of development in the child, and the ways in which these are shaped and transformed by the particular practices and values of culture” (p. 326). This intentionally inclusive standpoint offers a better prospect of building on the strengths of different fields, more so than the fruitlessly hard line advanced by writers such as Nicoli, Gherardi and Yanow (2003) that “learning cannot be conceived as mental processes” (p.3). In literacy studies, a broad orientation of Gardner’s kind is also supported by Evans, Waite and Admasachew (2008) who designate problems inherent in the current polarised and incompatible epistemological stances in adult literacy scholarship. The polarisation reveals a mutual and unhelpful incomprehension, even antagonism, between quantitatively based approaches and ones that are more qualitative or hermeneutic in nature, in the social practice tradition. The authors call for a mixed-methods approach that would go beyond orientations wedded only to technical skills, or to the expansion of social practice approaches, or a “social ecology” (p. 258) of learning in adult basic skills. Given the extensive international investment into both the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of adult literacy, our research orientation had to span both paradigms. The apprentices whom we interviewed possessed low self-esteem on account of what they realised was their insufficient capability in the mechanics of literacy. An investigation of their learning that took only their social practices into account would be far from sufficient in explaining their situation. We believed that a comprehensive understanding would arise only from a combination of social practice and individual learning insights. Gee (1986) does acknowledge that print literacy capabilities along with “their concomitant world view are necessary for social and economic success in our society” (p. 720). This, though, Gee considered being at the cost of undermining (or even devastating) less powerful cultures in the world impacted by the predominant Western model. Likewise, the ascendancy of the dominant print-literate culture is “tied to the failure of nonmainstream children in our schools” (p. 720). Gee (1986) pointed to the claims made for the universal necessity for literacy and objected to them as comprising an unspoken means of favouring one dominant group in society, this being “mainstream middle-class and upper-middle-class groups” (p.  731). His analysis may well be correct, but print-literate means of sense-making are increasingly powerful and required (rightly or wrongly) within the new globalised enterprise. Meanwhile, our research with apprentices revealed little engagement with this debate. Apprentices did understand that they are acutely exposed to risk from their inability to engage with the document-driven

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workplace. They were also demoralised with feelings of inferiority stemming from their literacy proficiency at work. They were aware that they had to reach whatever standard of literacy was deemed to be sufficient within their workplace’s community of practice, so for the most pragmatic of reasons this had become their priority. The position taken in the present book is that there is indeed a predominant and growing culture of documentation as earlier mentioned. Yet in many organisations documentation is an overlay upon the persisting remnants of an older culture within which other forms of oral-experiential work practices remain important. In diverse ways, these two cultures contest and negotiate with each other and the book has attempted to survey the incursions of literacy practice into an oral culture and the enduring character of occupational orality. McLuhan has been quoted as describing the incomprehension shown by literate persons towards oral-experiential societies: “[t]‌he natural world of non-literate man is structured by the total field of hearing. This is very difficult for literary people to grasp. The hand has no point of view. The ear has no point of view” (Culkin, 1968, p. 310). The present study has no “non-literate” people, but still, participants as earlier mentioned stressed that those responsible for the apprentices’ learning materials did not design them to accommodate the apprentices’ “hand” (experiential learning in embodied literacies) or “ear” (learning by listening or talk with peers on site). In this way, a contradiction is revealed between how apprentices traditionally have learned and how current educational and training policy would wish them to learn. A focus on everyday use of logic that stems from literate work practices and that results in codified and relatively permanent work arrangements (in contrast to an interpersonal agreement on what is necessary for the tactical demands of the moment) has become standard within the modern enterprise. This is because it is increasingly through ready dissemination of Internet-enabled, digitised documents and increasing access of staff to such texts that enterprises now plan, organise, control and evaluate their processes. All employees are now to be uniformly logical, readily able to demonstrate the validity of their thinking processes, and coherent in explaining why they are behaving in a particular way. In this way literacy practices along with the concomitant value ascribed to information have been influencing organisational practices (though as stated here, without eliminating oral-experiential modes of work). Booth (2006) claimed that “[i]‌t has only recently become expected and desirable to be fully literate in every format and genre and demeaning not to be so” (p. 27). He was referring to print literacy rather than other forms of social and interpersonal competency such as media “literacy” etc. and he is here describing



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how print literacy has become valorised in society and a form of certification that all are supposed to achieve. What is not acknowledged here though is that the social elite who are themselves generally literate to a reasonably advanced standard will assume this is the socially default position. Those with liminal literacy but who are outside this kind of social sphere feel demeaned by others when their literacy is found to be insufficient for their applied context. Further, “[g]‌raduation from a school system does not guarantee literacy success, even using the simplest definition of literacy competence” (Booth, 2006, p. 10). However, if a school child’s home and social environment are mainly oriented to and shaped by oral-experiential work or community cultures then they are unlikely to have been well supported by their home and community settings in the task of becoming print-literate. That child is not prepared to discern the symbiotic character of oral-experiential and literate cultures in their community or work environments. As this book has proposed, within the workplace literacy practices exist in ambiguous, complex, partly conflictual and partly synergetic relationships with oral-experiential cultures, and each contributes to workplace achievements in different ways. As Ellul (1985, p. 3) suggested, “[e]‌ach person is made up of the confrontation of what he [sic] sees and hears, of what he shows and speaks”. Oralexperiential cultures in a sense live down the cracks of literate culture, with their oral manifestations hidden from view since typically they are not recorded in any print form. But as already noted, Innis (2007) talked of the “vitality of the oral tradition” (p. 195) in describing how orality helps to keep communities united. This insight may be a familiar one for anthropologists who have traditional oral societies in mind, but that concept is not well understood or well theorised in contemporary societies. How oral practices may work within a modern industrial society that is heavily influenced by literacy assumptions and processes is currently unclear – hence in this way this study makes a contribution. Innis (2007, p. 79) said how “[t]he life and movement of a dialectic opposed the establishment of a finished system of dogma”, a useful concept to illustrate the effects of interpersonal communication in modern societies. We have been considering how the standing of knowledge that has been certified by textual means is being enhanced while oral-experiential forms of knowing are diminishing in perceived value. A paradox associated with this, though, is that much work still relies on oral practices, when for empirical reasons via orality the best outcomes can be achieved. Enterprises that do not understand or cannot come to terms with these conflicting tendencies are much less well-off than organisations that grasp the symbiotic oral-literate character of their culture and know how to employ both scriptural and oral ways to get things done. The present

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study has set out to explore the salience of oral-experiential practices in some dimensions of organisational work. Further research is needed to identify how in contemporary workplaces the useful affordances of oral practices can be maintained even given the predominance of the Internet and intranet-based forms of control and influence. Lifelong learning. A  coherent, evidence-based policy to facilitate national strategy for lifelong learning does not yet seem to exist. In particular, how people in industrial settings view lifelong learning differs from how educationalists and government policy specialists see it. Trade communities of practice tend to discount or dismiss theorised forms of knowledge development. The tensions that exist between literate and oral-experiential worlds need to be considered in any attempt to formulate quality ongoing learning for adults but to date, this has seemed to happen anywhere (Sligo, Watson, Murray, Comrie, Vaccarino & Tilley, 2007). Our interviews offered little evidence of any awareness among industry people of the desirability or importance of continuing to learn in ways dependent on literacy. Recommendations for national or industry policy to facilitate on-site learning must show how people will benefit from learning derived from print or digital sources that is properly integrated into workplace settings. For apprentices to thrive in on-the-job learning employers should first perceive the practical value of constant literacy-related learning and be ready to institute such arrangements at work. We learned from both the apprentices and the Whanganui study that certification in the form of gaining a qualification or completing workbooks is important but does not register as significant in its own right in the minds of adult learners. Rather, certification represents an entry ticket to desired outcomes, which especially have to do with personal development or more strongly desired integration within a community. Then from Whanganui interviewees, qualifications are seen as representing a shift in human relationships. They form part of a transition from informal to formal assurance processes, from oral agreements to written contractual ones, from relative trust to relative distrust, from socialised means of managing relationships to individualistic ones. As discussed, highly literate people’s insufficient understanding of orality almost certainly leads to a discrepancy between how literate people think of literacy and how people in oral settings understand it. Literacy training in many countries around the world has had massive investment but represents a waste of time if it is framed in ways designed to fit educationalists’ or administrators’ assumptions yet which lack meaning when a life is lived strongly within an oral culture.



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Accordingly, Hamilton’s (2012) assessment of adult literacy’s policy environment in the UK appears to be typical of what happens in other countries as well. For her, the national media, government policy and the mandated means of publicly evaluating adult literacy training outcomes have all combined to result in a privileging of formal learning over informal ways of learning. In particular, an active assumption exists that standardised and measurable outcomes are to be obtained. In Black’s (2018) view, because of dominant neoliberal philosophies both in industry and in society, “[t]‌here are now few spaces for an empowering adult literacy education” (p. 104). The dysfunctional and confused nature of thinking around adult literacy policy undermines the possibility that national policies will be able in the short term to promote lifelong learning that is well-tailored to the personal and unpredictable requirements of adult learners. Or as memorably stated by Waite, Evans and Kersh (2014) in referring to the UK, “a byzantine and shifting funding landscape, with its concomitant bureaucracy and strong emphasis on target-bearing qualifications has militated against long-term sustainable provision” (p. 199). We believe that policy officials’ focus on that which can be measured, specifically the award of certificates, needs to be broadened, since “one cannot, in fact, assume that the award of a new qualification indicates that substantive learning has taken place” (Wolf & Jenkins, 2014, p. 585). In this situation, the fallacy at play seems to be that, that which can be measured may be taken as proof of success, while individual or collective achievements which are impossible to quantify may safely be discounted. Wolf and Jenkins went on to say that their study “underlines the complexity of reading skills, and the need for long periods of learning and instruction if serious progress is to be made” (2014, p. 585). While reading skills are certainly complex, the authors’ last observation suggests how dominant is the belief that instituting training courses in workplace literacy will improve literacy. Yet no matter how long or assiduous the literacy instruction, if that training is not validated by the workplace community and supported in operational ways on the job, progress in literacy is unlikely. The perspective of the present book ultimately is that literacy development is not really about instruction; rather, people advance in their literacy when they are supported in taking part in literacy practices that make sense within their own lives. There is often a level of national rhetoric about the importance of lifelong learning in a context of rapid social, technological and economic change, but actual government commitment may be insecure. An element of culture shock may exist among policy and governmental authorities leading to uncertainty about what, in a fast-changing world, the priorities are to be for adult education,

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creating dispute and indecision. Postman (1979, p. 21) observed that “too much change, too fast, for too long has the effect of making social institutions useless and individuals perpetually unfit to live amid the conditions of their own culture”. When an inchoate or tacit sense exists among policy experts that social institutions are being destabilised by the rapidity of change then decisions about educational investment are likely to be reluctant, delayed, and compromised. Potentially further undermining consistent and focused investment in adult literacy is policy fashion. Barton (2005, p. 96) refers to surges of interest in adult literacy at government level but after the wave of enthusiasm has passed and policy has moved on, then there is little infrastructure left and little to show for it … Adult literacy education gets taken up by governments, but looking across the world it often seems to end up in disappointment and it is only a temporary interest.

As already reported, workplace adult literacy courses generally seem to contribute little to advancing literacy (Beder, 1999; Reder, 2009; Wolf, Aspin, Waite & Ananiadou, 2010). More positively, such courses may build a willingness to engage with literacy practices, so long as the circumstances that apply in a given setting permit this to happen. However, it is only the everyday use of such skills that enable those of liminal literacy to make transitions into more developed forms of literacy. For this reason, lifelong learning policy should include investment in facilitating literacy practices in businesses that will benefit from stronger literacy capabilities. As people in workplaces personally and collectively engage in the traditional literacy practices of reading and writing complex texts, individual and group expertise in literacy will advance. What adult literacy funders must identify as appropriate and valuable outcomes of literacy training include the following. As already stated, confidence and its related attributes of self-belief, self-efficacy, self-discipline, and work ethic are noteworthy and valuable outcomes of literacy training. Along with these are realisation of one’s own agency, support in setting goals as to improve one’s English or to get a qualification and building an understanding of the role of literacy in attaining such aims. In our assessment, adult literacy policy and the investments that it directs will be much more successful once they accept the needs of the whole person, along with the reality that workplaces which, while conditioned by the need to include forms of text literacy, are still oral-experiential in important ways.


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Author Index

Abrassart  153 Ackland  166 Admasachew  188, 212 Albrecht  3, 24, 58, 65, 83, 205 American Society for Quality  136 Ananiadou  89, 147, 188, 217 Anderson  121 Anthony  81 Antley  2, 10 Appleby  166 Arata  76, 156–160, 178, 179, 201 Arnold  149 Aspin  89, 147, 188, 217 Atkin  89 Australian Bureau of Statistics  162, 163   Baars  191 Bakhtin  110 Barthes  78, 203 Barton  4, 103, 165, 166, 217 Beder  147, 187, 217

Belfiore  7, 104, 112, 113, 125, 156, 166, 179, 196 Bell  49, 98, 170, 171 Betts  109, 110 Billington  148 Black  24, 118, 162, 216 Blokhuis  81 Blom  155 Bolter  190, 192, 196, 202, 203 Booth  189, 192, 193, 213, 214 Bourdieu  82 Brandt  106, 107 Bransford  19, 21, 22, 77, 152, 169, 191, 195 Brine  24, 106, 109, 114, 164 Brown, A.L.  19, 21, 22, 77, 152, 169, 191, 195 Brown, T.   24 Buddeberg  107 Burgess  108 Bynner  6, 8, 77, 123, 147, 160, 162, 166, 170, 186  



author   index

Cadzen  119 Carlson  4 Carr  7, 12, 72, 103, 111, 154, 171, 192– 194, 196, 199–202, 204, 207 Casarotto  151, 152 Castleton  105 Castro-Caldas  112, 191, 192 Chadwick  19, 55, 178, 196 Cocking  19, 21, 22, 77, 152, 169, 191, 195 Coiro 114–116 Comrie  vii, 36, 54, 67, 74, 89, 96, 102, 174–176, 210, 215 Connors  189, 190 Cope  4, 103, 109, 117, 119, 165 Cowan  88 Crosbie  94 Crowley  16, 86, 87 Crowther  165 Culkin  14, 77, 116, 164, 213 Culligan  54, 74, 89, 96, 102, 149, 174, 175, 176   Daft  139 De Certeau  9, 10, 12, 26–28, 51, 52, 62, 78, 83, 89, 113, 121, 129, 132, 138–141, 150, 153–155 Dehaene  111, 154, 171, 190–193, 195, 196 Deresiewicz  145 Dieleman  26 Donald  67, 72, 111, 191, 195, 196 Drucker  54, 58, 65, 129, 140, 142, 144, 193, 199 Druine  165   Earle  165 Eco  183 Education Counts: Survey of Adult Skills  150, 161, 163 Eisenstein  1, 199 Ellul  28, 52, 102, 130, 140, 185, 200, 207, 214 Evans  188, 212, 216   Fagan  4 Farrar 92–94

Farrell, L.   17, 82, 83, 85, 104, 113, 114, 125, 148, 149 Farrell, T.J.  71 Follinsbee  90, 113, 132, 135–138, 184 Franklin  vii, 54, 89, 96, 102, 175, 176, 210 Fromkin  155   Gabrielsen  148 Gage  191 Gardner  211, 212 Gauly  187 Gee  4, 7, 10, 11, 14, 75–77, 85, 103, 105, 106, 108, 114, 120–122, 133, 152, 155, 170, 171, 180, 181, 190, 192, 196, 204, 212 Geiser  73, 82, 83 Gherardi  167, 212 Gibson, M.   189, 190 Gibson, T.   5, 174 Gingell  6 Glaser  35 Goody  7, 8, 11, 21, 59, 73, 84, 106, 120, 122, 138, 172, 177, 178 Gow  81 Gowen  110 Graff  165 Guhin  94 Gumperz  155   Hafer  76, 156–160, 178, 179, 201 Hall  166, 189 Hamilton  165, 216 Harris  25, 82 Hart  81 Hatim  11, 16 Havelock 12–14, 16, 18–21, 23, 27, 81, 83, 89, 92, 93, 120, 129, 140, 156, 164, 175, 178, 196–198 Hernandez  165 Heyer  16, 86, 87 Hinschen  81 Hilton  8, 124, 125 Hopkins  124 Huddleston  80 Hughes  91

au t h o r   i n d e x  | 235

Hull  113 Hunter  111, 196   Illich  2, 46, 95, 172, 173 Innis  9, 12, 14, 15, 49, 50, 85–87, 111, 120, 129, 132, 140, 155, 156, 178, 180–182, 196, 214 Ivanyuk  103   Jackson  24, 90, 105, 137, 152, 156 Jeffcoat 30–32 Jenkins  188, 216 Jewson  80, 91 Jones, K.D.  2 Jones, S.   72, 101, 102, 165, 166 Josephson  87, 98, 184, 196 Julayanont  112, 154, 191, 192, 195 Jung  150   Kalantzis  4, 103, 109, 117, 119, 165 Kamberelis  8 Kersh  216 Khanenko-Friesen  4 Klaassen  5, 6, 174 Knauseder  87, 98, 184, 196 Knobel 114–116, 205 Kotter 127–130, 136, 140–144, 148, 151, 183, 184 Kress  116, 208 Kulikowich  115, 208   Labov  153, 154 Lankshear 114–116, 205 Lave  44, 79, 80, 91, 97 Lechner  187 Lee  46, 49, 62 Lengel  139 Leu 114–116 Lévi-Strauss  24, 120, 177, 196 Linde  153, 154 Livingston  90 Lowe  85 Luria  48, 62, 66, 75, 121 Lynch  132, 183, 184

McCardle  165 Maclachlan  165, 166, 189 McLuhan  4, 11, 14, 15, 17, 27, 47, 58, 75, 77, 121, 129, 131, 132, 140, 155, 156, 171, 213 Maglen  124 Mahoney  30 Marchand  62, 63, 73, 90 Meehan  139 Merchant  89 Meyrowitz  4, 7, 8, 71, 130, 139, 144, 146, 159, 160, 181 Miller  165 Mintzberg  127, 129–131, 138–144, 151, 162, 164, 183, 184 Mitchell, P.   2, 9, 26, 27, 185 Mitchell, W.   130 Montoya  18 Murray  vii, 36, 67, 79, 102, 210, 215 Mutch  139 Myers  19   National Center for Educational Statistics  161, 162 National Research Council  125 Neilson  viii, 174 New London Group  118 New Zealand Ministry of Education  149 Nicoli  167, 212 Nissinen  148 N.S.W. Department of Education  24 Noble  149   OECD  10, 53, 161, 164 Olsson  vii, 74, 175, 176 Ong  2, 4, 5, 7, 9–12, 14–17, 20–22, 26, 27, 35, 41, 44, 48–50, 52–55, 61–65, 67, 71, 72, 74–76, 83, 89, 91–93, 96–99, 107, 111, 120, 121, 128–131, 133, 135, 139, 140, 141, 143, 146, 155–157, 159, 171, 176, 177, 179, 182, 196, 198, 199, 204–208, 210 Onstenk  81



author   index

Pang  19 Perry  103 PIAAC  161, 162 Plato  13 Postman  3, 4, 7, 19, 25, 42, 51, 77, 111, 136, 142, 185, 192–194, 197, 199–202, 207, 210, 217   Ramos  103 Reder  6, 8, 77, 123, 147, 152, 160, 162, 166, 170, 186, 187, 217 Resnick  19, 20, 22, 24, 25 Rodman  155 Rubin  76, 156–160, 178, 179, 201 Ruthirago  112, 154, 191, 192, 195   Sagan  88 Sanders  2, 21, 42, 48, 49, 63, 95, 106, 107 Shaw  103 Shearer  vii, 102, 210 Simon  127, 133, 144, 145, 147 Simons  25, 82 Skills At Work  163 Sligo  27, 36, 54, 67, 74, 79, 89, 96, 102, 127, 149, 163, 174–176, 185, 192, 193, 199, 210, 215 Snell  81 Soukup  2, 176 Stewart, C.R.  175 Stewart, R.   127, 130, 140–144, 151, 183, 184 Strate 3–7, 11, 15, 16, 37, 47, 49, 50, 58, 65, 74, 81, 83, 93, 94, 102, 103, 132, 133, 139, 147, 171, 184, 192, 194, 200, 204, 206, 207, 209 Strauss  35 Street  4, 103, 106, 165, 190, 192 Styhre  87, 98, 184, 196 Swain  96, 103 Swann  146, 147

Tannen  14 Taylor  2, 139 Tett  96, 165, 166, 189 Tham  103 Thompson  23, 196 Tilley  vii, 36, 54, 67, 74, 79, 89, 96, 102, 174–176, 210, 215 Todd  30 Traweek  132, 184 Trinh  130 Trorey 92–94 Turner  2, 103, 140, 176, 205   Unwin  91   Vaccarino  vii, 36, 54, 89, 96, 102, 174–176, 210, 215   Wackerhausen  81 Waite  88, 89, 147, 188, 212, 216, 217 Walker  107 Ware  122 Warnick  17 Warschauer  122 Watson  vii, 36, 102, 210, 215 Weingartner  25, 42, 51, 77, 111, 142, 197 Wenger  44, 79, 80, 91, 95, 97 Wildemeersch  165 Wilkinson  2, 139 Willis  25, 82 Windisch  149, 162, 210 Wolf, A.   89, 147, 188, 216, 217 Wolf, M.   7, 52, 72, 111, 112, 154, 171, 191, 192, 195, 207–209 Wyse  151, 152   Yanow  167, 212 Yap  175 Young  123   Zevenbergen 44–46, 49, 62

Subject Index

Abstract reasoning  13, 21, 23, 44–46, 49, 50, 53, 54, 55, 76, 90, 91, 120, 122, 124, 137, 162, 171, 178, 180, 186, 190, 191, 196, 201, 206, 208 Academics see Highly literate individuals Action-centred skill see Hands-on learning and practices Adages see Maxims Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey  161 Adult literacy investment see Investment in adult literacy Adult literacy policy see Literacy policy Adult literacy research see Literacy research Aggregative forms of language  53, 76 ALL see Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey Aliteracy  192 Alphabet  18, 20, 21, 49, 50, 61, 171, 172, 206, 207 Analytical thinking see Cognitive ability Anglo-Saxon common law  86, 87 Aphorisms see Maxims

Apprentices 10–12, 15, 27–84, 88, 90–92, 94–99, 104–109, 111, 114, 115, 117–119, 121, 122, 124, 133–135, 169, 170, 172, 180, 183, 207, 211–215 Aristotle  11, 203 Arithmetic see Numeracy Aural abilities see Listening   “Back to basics”  25 Bar-bell economy  124 Binary views of literacy and orality  11, 14, 49 Binary views of theory and practice  43, 64, 65, 66, 70, 84, 211 Brain habits see Habits of brain and mind Brain structure or imaging see Neurological studies Bullying or teasing  73, 84, 108, 109, 111, 119   Calvino  203 Canclini  26



subjec t   index

Carolingian Dynasty  85 Catchphrases see Maxims Celts  19, 55 Chirography see Handwriting Chomsky  211 Clandestine orality  26, 139, 140 Class see Social class Classification skills  48, 121, 178 Close reading see Deep reading Cognitive ability  4, 13, 14, 20, 21, 23, 25, 46, 48, 52, 53, 71, 72, 76, 80, 91, 96–98, 103–105, 111, 112, 120, 142, 144, 145, 147, 148, 150, 153, 154, 157–162, 165– 167, 170, 173, 177, 178, 181, 189–204, 206–209, 211 Cognitive science  103–105, 165–167, 190–205 Cognitive dissonance for apprentices or students  28, 74 Collective learning  13, 16, 17, 23, 40–42, 46, 52, 55, 58, 69, 78, 84, 96–98, 105, 123, 127, 134, 176, 179, 180, 211, 217 Colonialist views  105, 196 Communication studies  3, 156 Communal learning see Collective learning Communities of practice  40, 41, 44, 47, 49, 51, 56, 58, 59, 64, 70, 79–99, 107, 111, 118, 151, 156, 165, 188, 213, 215 Competency testing in literacy see Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies Competencies of the body see Hands-on learning and practices Comprehension literacy  19, 22, 24, 25, 156, 180 Computers  49, 71, 82, 87, 102, 107, 142, 189, 199 Confidence  35, 47, 62, 65, 68, 70, 73, 78, 84, 86, 95–98, 102–104, 108, 111, 118– 120, 148, 170, 188, 189, 193, 202, 217 Conservatism and literacy  53, 85–87, 146 Coping strategies  36, 37, 40, 54, 74 Copying see Mimesis Craft literacy  23, 49, 50, 57, 58, 92, 206

Creativity  22, 25, 26, 52–54, 66, 75, 111–113, 139, 146, 149, 150, 163, 173 Critical literacy see Inferential literacy Culture of documentation see Documentdriven workplaces   Decision-making  12, 15, 16, 24, 25, 46, 61, 85, 115, 116, 128–130, 132, 139, 141, 144, 145, 152, 155, 158, 165, 176, 180, 181, 183, 184, 192, 202, 210, 217 Deep reading  74, 150, 158–162, 164, 189–196, 201–204, 208, 209, 216, 217 Deficit perspectives on literacy  102, 103, 105, 106, 108, 110, 114, 119 Democracy  16, 86, 87, 181, 193, 194, 199, 214 Dichotomous views of theory and practice see Binary views of theory and practice Digital literacies see Electronic media Discourse communities see Communities of practice Document-driven workplaces  7, 104, 107, 118, 119, 125, 131, 144, 148, 149, 152, 156, 166, 183, 185, 186, 204, 212, 213 Dry stone walling  92–94 Dualism in theory and practice see Binary views of theory and practice   Education see Schooling Elaborate language  21, 63, 71, 74–76 Electronic media  4, 5, 16, 17, 25, 50, 71, 86, 106, 115–117, 128, 143, 144, 156, 157, 160, 192, 193, 197–205, 207, 208, 209 Eloquence see Rhetoric Email see Electronic media Embodied competencies see Hands-on learning and practices Emotion  12, 13, 25, 74, 96, 125, 152, 194 Employers see Managers Epigrams see Maxims Epithets see Maxims Executive MBA see MBA

sub j ec t   i n d e x  | 239

Failure at or by school  35, 36, 42, 60, 62, 64, 67, 69, 73, 77, 92, 107–109, 170, 212 “Fast capitalism”  51, 152 Figure and ground  4, 11, 47 Formulaic statements see Maxims Formulary devices see Maxims Foucault  132 France  51, 52, 161 Functional literacy  24, 36, 37, 53, 55, 103, 125, 149, 150 Funding pressures on teaching  34, 35, 67–69, 73, 74, 124, 216   General Motors  54, 65 Gist  21, 142, 157, 158, 195 Globalisation  16, 17, 75, 90, 114, 122–125, 131, 132, 137, 148–150, 160, 161, 174, 185, 198, 204, 212 Google 201–204 Gossip  128, 143 “Great divide” see Orality-literacy “divide” Greece, ancient  13, 18, 23, 92, 93, 177 Gutenberg  123, 140, 199, 206   Habits of brain and mind  13, 23, 53, 83, 89, 97, 144, 147, 158, 159, 172, 179, 190–196, 200–202, 208, 209 Hands-on learning and practices  4, 10, 34, 35, 38–40, 45, 46, 53, 55, 56, 58, 62, 63, 65, 73, 82–85, 87, 91, 92, 96, 98, 99, 104, 112, 130, 133–135, 140, 141, 172, 179, 206 Handwriting  20, 50, 68, 72, 73, 75, 78, 84, 97, 108, 116–119, 178 Health  9, 33, 36, 37, 148, 211 Higher education  26–28, 54, 106, 146, 150, 173, 185 High literacy see Highly literate individuals Higher literacy see Inferential literacy Highly literate individuals  2, 7, 10–12, 14, 15, 28, 38, 42, 47, 53, 71, 76, 83, 85, 99, 103, 106, 110, 116, 130, 150, 155, 159, 183, 185, 210, 211, 214, 215 Human sensorium see Sensorium

Huxley  193 Hybrid cultures see Layered cultures Hyperlinks  115, 192, 203   IALS see International Adult Literacy Survey Identity construction  25, 26, 51, 78, 80– 82, 95, 96, 108, 171, 217 “Illiteracy” 18–20, 55, 66, 105–107, 111, 175, 178, 190–192, 195, 210 Imagined community of readers  57, 74 Imitation see Mimesis In medias res  47 Individualism see Individualistic learning Individualistic learning  35, 41, 49, 79, 92, 97, 98, 122, 131, 150, 177, 195 Inferential comprehension see Inferential literacy Inferential literacy  18, 22, 24, 25, 149, 156, 157, 158, 160, 161, 162, 166, 170, 180, 192, 204, 209 Information overload  142, 193 Innovation see Creativity Instrumental learning  41, 42, 60, 63, 64, 67–73, 80 Interface of orality and literacy  5, 11, 14, 26, 178, 214 International Adult Literacy Survey  161, 165 International Organization for Standardization (IS0)  27, 89, 131, 132, 136–138, 149, 184 Internet and intranets  7, 25–27, 86, 87, 90, 114–116, 119, 123, 128, 131–133, 141, 142, 149, 152, 160, 164, 171, 185, 186, 189, 192, 199, 201–204, 208, 213, 215 Introspection  14, 17, 91, 96, 97, 128, 135, 141, 194, 207, 209 Intuition  12, 63, 71, 98, 115, 136, 141, 158, 182 Investment in adult literacy  6, 32, 94, 101, 124, 148, 189, 190, 212, 215, 217 ISO see International Organization for Standardization



subjec t   index

Kierkegaard  203 Knowledge acquisition  40, 115, 190, 191, 211 Knowledge-based work and knowledge workers see Professional workers Knowledge economy see Scriptural economy   Language codes see Language registers Language modality see Language registers Language registers  59, 74–77, 93, 107, 153–155 Layered cultures  26, 27, 80, 85, 88, 90, 91, 98, 136–140, 153–155, 160, 183– 185, 213 Learning style  36–38, 40 “Learning to read”  63, 64, 149, 150, 162, 163 Lifelong learning  124, 215–217 Liminal literacy  1, 2, 4, 7–12, 15, 28, 33, 36, 41, 45–47, 49, 52–54, 56, 57, 62, 65, 67, 71, 73, 74, 78, 79, 82, 86, 90, 98, 99, 101–125, 157, 166, 175–180, 186–188, 196, 206–208, 210, 211, 214, 217 Limited literacy see Liminal literacy Linear reasoning or expression  14, 21, 61, 71, 160, 171, 192, 193, 199, 202, 203 Listening  13, 17, 19–21, 28, 53, 61, 62, 65, 76, 77, 81, 92, 115, 116, 129–131, 135, 136, 139–141, 151, 155–160, 178, 179, 191, 195, 202, 205–207, 213 Literacies  8, 50, 53, 56, 73, 98, 114–117, 122, 146, 165, 166, 185, 189, 190, 197, 205, 213 Literacy benefits  64, 68, 89, 96, 130, 176, 183, 194, 208, 215, 217 Literacy brain and mind  45, 46, 67, 112, 190–196, 208–210 Literacy classes see Literacy training Literacy definitions  10, 17–24, 102, 162, 189, 214 Literacy needs  6, 17, 30, 33–35, 43, 59, 64, 69, 99, 102, 108, 111, 115, 116, 120, 152, 174, 176, 187, 188, 211, 217

Literacy policy  8, 24, 89, 105, 117, 119, 120, 166, 175, 194, 210–217 Literacy research  2–5, 7–10, 12, 14, 17, 24, 30–33, 36, 43, 48, 49, 51, 52, 64, 76, 80, 81, 87, 89, 90, 96, 101, 103–114, 118, 120, 124, 130, 139, 140, 144, 146–148, 156–159, 161–166, 173–176, 178, 179, 188–192, 195, 205, 212, 215 Literacy training  6, 17, 29–35, 39, 42, 43, 51–53, 59, 81, 84, 88, 89, 96, 97, 102, 109, 110, 120, 147, 148, 170, 173, 186–189, 191, 192, 195, 210, 211, 213, 215–217 Literacy tutors see Tutors Literate cultures  8, 9, 11, 12, 20, 26–28, 35, 51, 55, 65, 75, 83, 103, 133, 138, 139, 172, 177, 178, 210, 213, 214 Literate orality  50, 51 Literate residue see Residual orality   Malinowski  9 Managers  12, 16, 24, 33, 36, 37, 42, 51, 53, 74, 84, 87–90, 97, 98, 111, 113, 117, 124, 127–167, 172, 174–176, 184, 186 Māori  33, 121, 177, 182 Map and territory  155, 184 Map and tour  153, 154 Marx  172 Massey University  vii, 32 Mathematics see Numeracy Maxims  16, 21, 53, 58, 92–94, 146, 159, 177 MBA 145–147 McLuhan  4, 11, 14, 15, 17, 27, 47, 58, 75, 77, 121, 129, 131, 132, 140, 155, 156, 171, 213 Media ecology  2–4, 23, 58, 81, 83, 103, 139, 140, 166, 171, 196 Memory  16, 19, 20, 28, 39, 53, 70, 83, 86, 92, 93, 104, 121, 130, 132, 176–182, 191–193, 195, 199 “Mere literacy”  109, 118 Mimesis  10, 21, 35, 62, 63, 81, 82, 115, 121–123, 134, 135, 150, 151, 172, 177

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Mind see Habits of brain and mind “More-literate”  14, 27, 54, 55, 57, 72, 76, 86, 105, 111, 123, 130, 138, 146, 160, 171, 187, 206–208, 217 “More-oral”  14, 27, 46, 52, 54, 55, 71, 86, 93, 135, 136, 138, 144, 150, 151, 153, 175, 176, 206 Motivation  36, 37, 40, 42, 58, 70, 72, 81, 89, 94, 144 Mottos see Maxims Multimodal communication  6, 116, 139, 193, 200, 208   Neurological studies  112, 154, 171, 190– 196, 208, 209 New Literacy Studies  105, 108, 109, 111, 114–121, 165, 166 New Zealand Department of Labour  viii, 32 New Zealand Foundation for Research, Science, and Technology  viii, 101 New Zealand literacy levels  149 New Zealand Ministry of Education  viii, 30 New Zealand Modern Apprenticeship Scheme  29 New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission  viii, 29 Nietzsche  203 NLS see New Literacy Studies Numeracy  6, 8, 24, 25, 30, 32–34, 40, 42– 46, 50, 64, 70, 77, 88, 89, 96, 108, 123, 160, 161, 165, 166, 186, 187, 210   Observation see Mimesis Occupational orality  7, 15–17, 41, 47, 49, 77, 113, 144, 146, 164, 183, 185, 204, 213 OECD  10, 53, 149, 160, 161, 163, 164 Online media see Electronic media Oral cultures  2, 4, 9, 11–13, 26, 27, 35, 48, 53, 55, 75, 76, 91, 93, 94, 98, 103, 107, 121, 128–130, 133, 135, 136, 138, 146, 153, 160, 177, 178, 182, 183, 197, 207, 210, 213, 214, 215

Oral formulas see Maxims “Oral literacy”  18 Oral tradition  5, 6, 9, 12, 13, 16, 28, 53, 86, 87, 94, 103, 151, 155, 174, 180, 182, 197, 214 Oral-experiential culture and practices  5, 7–10, 15, 17, 26–28, 32, 35, 42, 45–47, 50–58, 62–64, 66, 69, 73, 75, 78, 80–89, 91, 92, 95, 97, 98, 103, 104, 112, 115, 116, 122, 124, 125, 127–140, 143, 144, 147–151, 153, 155, 157, 162, 170–175, 177–180, 183–185, 196, 205, 210, 211, 213–215, 217 Orality as tactical  26, 56, 102, 127, 129, 132, 139, 141–143, 147, 150, 151, 157, 158, 164, 195, 213 Orality-literacy “divide”  4, 5, 11, 14, 155 Oratory see Rhetoric Orwell  193 Osmosis see Mimesis   Pencil and paper tests of literacy  6, 101, 210 PIAAC see Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies Piaget  211 Pinker  202 Plato  13, 14, 50, 92, 178, 197, 198 “Poets”  13, 20, 197, 198 Post-industrial society  49, 82, 170–172 Post-typographic  115, 116, 197 Power imbalances  8, 86, 87, 110, 114, 119, 120, 130, 132, 136, 138, 139, 152 Pre-Gutenberg orality see Primary orality Primary orality  3, 7, 12–17, 26, 50, 51, 92, 93, 96, 140, 146, 153, 177–179, 197, 199, 204–206, 213 “Primitive versus civilised”  9, 105, 121, 196 Productivity  6, 24, 106, 119, 164 Professional workers  8, 10, 14, 76, 85, 124, 125, 130, 143, 145, 148, 159, 162–165, 170, 183, 186, 211



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Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)  6, 147, 160–165 Proverbs see Maxims Pynchon  203   Radio  16, 17, 131 Reading  6, 9, 20–22, 25, 28, 30, 31, 39, 40, 47, 51, 53, 59, 62–67, 69, 70, 73–76, 78, 82, 96, 102, 106–109, 116, 118, 119, 130, 142, 147–151, 156–162, 164, 165, 169, 170, 175, 176, 179, 180, 188–196, 201–204, 208–210, 216, 217 “Reading to learn”  149, 150, 162, 209 Recitation literacy  19, 20, 22, 86 Registers of language see Language registers Residual orality  7, 11, 15, 16, 50, 51, 65, 71, 185, 204, 205 Resistance to change  16, 17, 41, 51, 52, 73, 87–89, 98, 109–111, 114, 137, 151, 166 Restricted literacy see Liminal literacy Rhetoric  16, 19, 22, 55, 93, 110, 130, 152, 180, 183, 216 Role ambiguity  60–62, 67, 99 Roman Empire  23, 55 Roman law  86   Satisficing  127, 133, 137, 144, 145, 148 Schooling  21, 22, 42, 48, 54, 59, 60, 62, 67, 69, 92, 108, 109, 120, 134, 170–173, 195, 196, 208–210, 212 Science communication  133, 183–186 Scottish adult literacy  96, 165, 166 Scriptural economy  9, 26, 27, 71, 85, 87, 89, 90, 123, 125, 132, 137, 150, 155, 170–172, 179, 184, 185, 209 Secondary orality  2, 7, 15–17, 51, 93, 128, 140, 143, 146, 204–208 Self-efficacy or self-esteem  64, 68, 70, 73, 78, 104, 108, 111, 118, 119, 170, 187, 188, 212, 213, 217 Sense-making  15, 18, 92, 149, 189, 203, 207, 212, 216

Sensorium  5, 25, 76, 82–84, 132, 154, 192, 197, 198, 205–207 Sensory perceptions see Sensorium Sherlock Holmes  112 Signature literacy  19, 20 Sign literacy  19, 21, 22 Silence  109, 110, 114, 118, 130 Skill-set  174, 175 Slogans see Maxims Social class  51, 59, 75–77, 105, 119–121, 125, 138, 155, 169–171, 173, 198, 212 Social cohesion  6, 13, 125, 186, 197 Social media  17, 25, 124, 157, 160, 197–201, 204–206, 208 Social practice views of literacy  4, 14, 72, 101–125, 144, 165–167, 180, 181, 189–192, 196, 205, 211, 212 Sontag  203 Standard operating procedures  26, 38, 70, 90, 131, 132, 148, 156, 179, 181 Stress  73, 137, 183 Supervisors  12, 33, 40, 42, 47, 53, 65, 73, 76, 79–99, 108, 109, 118, 132, 135–138, 147, 149, 172   Tacit knowledge see Hands-on learning and practices Tactical behaviour see Orality as tactical Technology  3, 8, 11, 15, 16, 35, 50, 51, 58, 65, 71, 72, 83, 114, 115, 117, 123, 151, 161, 163, 171, 190, 191, 198–200, 204, 207, 208, 210, 216 Television  16, 17, 131, 192, 193, 200, 201 Textualisation of knowledge  2, 7, 9, 17, 24, 26–28, 36, 50, 53, 71–73, 75, 76, 85, 86, 88–91, 99, 103, 113, 115, 118, 122–124, 128–134, 136, 137, 142, 144, 148–151, 156, 160, 169, 171, 174, 179, 183–186, 188, 196, 204, 214 Textual cultures see Literate cultures Tribal knowledge  16, 129, 197, 198

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Truth value  85, 86, 133, 157, 180–183, 185, 193 Tutors  12, 30, 33–36, 38–41, 43, 56–78, 84, 91, 95, 96, 99, 107–109, 122, 124, 187   Universities  9, 26–28, 106, 145–147, 150, 173, 185, 186 United States Army  22   Visuality  5, 8, 16, 28, 41, 47, 62, 65, 66, 102, 114, 115, 121, 131, 132, 135, 136, 141, 156, 201, 205–208 Voice see Listening Von Hügel  121

Web see Internet and intranets Whanganui  vii, viii, 101, 102, 109, 174–176, 211, 215 Wisdom  21, 36, 37, 71 Wittgenstein  203 World War I   22 World War II  65 Written language  1, 5–7, 9, 12, 16, 18, 21, 23, 24, 26–28, 31, 32, 38, 39, 41, 51–53, 56, 59, 61–64, 66, 68–71, 84–88, 90, 94, 98, 112–114, 116, 122, 131, 132, 136, 137, 139, 142, 150, 155, 156, 159–162, 164, 174, 176–179, 181, 184, 185, 194, 195, 201–209, 215

Lance Strate General Editor This series is devoted to scholarship relating to media ecology, a field of inquiry defined as the study of media as environments. Within this field, the term “medium” can be defined broadly to refer to any human technology or technique, code or symbol system, invention or innovation, system or environment. Media ecology scholarship typically focuses on how technology, media, and symbolic form relate to communication, consciousness, and culture, past, present and future. This series is looking to publish research that furthers the formal development of media ecology as a field; that brings a media ecology approach to bear on specific topics of interest, including research and theoretical or philosophical investigations concerning the nature and effects of media or a specific medium; that includes studies of new and emerging technologies and the contemporary media environment as well as historical studies of media, technology, and modes and codes of communication; scholarship regarding technique and the technological society; scholarship on specific types of media and culture (e.g., oral and literate cultures, image, etc.), or of specific aspects of culture such as religion, politics, education, journalism, etc.; critical analyses of art and popular culture; and studies of how physical and symbolic environments function as media. For additional information about this series or for the submission of manuscripts, please contact: Lance Strate, Series Editor | [email protected] To order other books in this series, please contact our Customer Service Department: [email protected] (within the U.S.) [email protected] (outside the U.S.) Or browse online by series: