Changing conceptions of literacies, language and development : Implications for the provision of adult basic education in South Africa

Abstract: This study aims to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the circumstances under which adult education, in particular adult basic education, can support and occasionally initiate participatory development, social action and the realisation of citizenship rights. It traces developments in adult basic education in South Africa, and more specifically literacy and language learning, over the years 1981 to 2001, with reference to specific multilingual contexts in the Northern and Western Cape.The thesis is based on four individual studies, documenting an arc from grassroots work to national policy development and back. Study I, written in the early 1990s, critically examines approaches to teaching English to adults in South Africa at the time and proposes a participatory curriculum model for the additional language component of a future adult education policy. Study II is an account of attempts to implement this model and explores the implications of going to scale with such an approach.  Studies III and IV draw on a qualitative study of an educator development programme after the transition to democracy. Study III uses Bourdieu's theory of practice and the concept of reflexivity to illuminate some of  the connections between local discursive practices, self-formation, and broader relations of power. Study IV uses Iedema's (1999) concept of resemiotisation to trace the ways in which individuals re-shaped available representational resources to mobilise collective agency in community-based workshops. The summary provides a framework for these studies by locating and critiquing each within shifts in the political economy of South Africa. It reflects on a history of research and practice, raising questions to do with voice, justice, power, agency, and desire. Overall, this thesis argues for a reconceptualisation of ABET that is more strongly aligned with development goals and promotes engagement with new forms of state/society/economy relations.