Volume 6, Number 3, Fall 1996, 127 - 142



Pat Campbell


This article discusses the outcomes of an 8-month study on participatory literacy practices in five adult literacy programs in Alberta, Canada. The findings indicated that identity politics play a pivotal role in the transformation or reproduction of power relationships between and among literacy workers and students. It is only after we have addressed social identity and power/social relationships articulated through "identities" that we can begin to talk about student participation and the creation of new roles for students and staff.


Participatory literacy programs, according to Fingeret and Jurmo (1989), are those which "share the power equally among learners and staff' (p.1). The notion of changing established power relationships between students and staff is woven throughout the literature on participatory practices. Although recognition exists for the challenges inherent in altering power/social relationships, more information is needed on what actually transpires in programs and among students and literacy workers as they try to challenge and change power relationships. This study examined five adult literacy programs that had staff and students who were engaged in this process.

The Design

The main purpose of this research was to study participatory literacy practices or the active involvement of students in the operation of one or more components of their adult literacy program. The study was guided by the following two questions:
(a) What are the individual and group experiences of students and literacy workers who are involved in participatory literacy practices?
(b) What changes do students and literacy workers see in themselves and in their programs as they become involved in participatory literacy practices?


PAT CAMPBELL is a consultant with Literacy Services of Canada, Edmonton, Alberta.

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