Women’s identity-related participation and engagement in literacy courses in Turkey
This dissertation explores women’s participation and engagement in literacy courses from an identity perspective within the broader context of women’s life stories and the socio-cultural, economic and institutional contexts within which the courses take place. The approach I develop rests on a combination of literacy, discourse and identity theories. It draws on the social theory of literacy to show how women’s valuations of literacy and education contributed to the construction of the subject positions they attempted to enter through their participation in literacy courses. Drawing on Norman Fairclough’s understanding of discourse, I focus on the link between identity processes and the discourses and socio-political structures which are understood to be in a dialectical relationship with each other. I draw on feminist theories of self and subjectivity to understand how women attempted to change aspects of their selves created by the interplay of their social and material circumstances, their agency, and specific life trajectories. In Turkey, the majority of the participants in the literacy courses are women. The state-funded People’s Education Centres (PEC), with their extended network, attract the majority of the participants. Adult literacy programmes are organised as Level 1 and Level 2 by the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) and these two levels of adult literacy and basic education courses in Turkey are offered under the monitoring and inspection of said Ministry. I chose for the sites of my research two PEC literacy courses in disadvantaged areas of Istanbul where the occasional shanty house coexists with haphazardly-built apartment buildings. Methodologically, my study has an ethnographic approach to feminist discourse analysis. I observed one Level 2 literacy course at each centre over the course of four months. I had repeated interviews and conversations with seven women participants at Akasya PEC and four women participants at Lale PEC. Fieldnotes and interview transcriptions of more structured interviews constituted the major body of my data. The study shows that women’s accounts of their participation in the courses were underlined by discourses of formal education and literacy. These discourses have a prominent role in the official policy documents. However, the dissertation argues that the significance of the discourses of formal education and literacy was equally rooted in women’s attempts to redress, through their participation in the courses, some of the structural and institutional injustices they experienced as girl-children. These injustices made it difficult for my participants to access most of the prestigious literacy practices, knowledge and associated identities. The study highlights the meanings of the subject position of the schooled person which women attempted to take on through their participation. It also brings to the fore ways in which the discourses of formal education and literacy and the subject position of the schooled person were underpinned by socio-political structures such as gender, social class, ethnicity, rural-urban migration and the extent of poverty individual women lived in. It reveals women’s persistent attempts to access and continue the courses within the constraints of bureaucratic hurdles and socio-economic hardship and responsibilities. The study demonstrates how women “took hold” of the dominant literacy practices and power relations they found in the literacy classrooms. It shows the ways in which women aligned themselves with the schooled literacy practices and at times challenged the dominant literacy practices and power relations they found in the classroom. The study shows that women’s understanding of the value they found in education changed as a result of their educational experiences. It shows that women found joy in learning things they found both challenging and important. These findings contribute to discussions on the symbolic value of education and school literacy practices for literacy learners by exploring the roots of this symbolic importance in women’s life stories. The study demonstrates the importance of both schooled literacy practices and the broader value of education and the emerging specific uses of literacy in everyday life. The findings challenge the portrayal of literacy learners in policy documents and most of the literature in Turkey which assume that their most important literacy need is access to school literacy practices. The findings also challenge the deficit view of literacy learners in policy documents which undermines their social and economic capabilities. Thus the study extends understanding of what is considered as literacy that has the potential to improve one’s material and social conditions by exploring the perspectives of different women who lived in differing levels of poverty and socio-economic obligations. It also contributes to arguments on the reasons of finding value in education by showing the ways in which women found joy in learning in formal literacy classrooms as a result of their educational experiences.