Conference Papers

How Fantastic is Literacy?

This paper explores different definitions of literacy and why it arguably demands discrete attention on an Education Studies’ course. It examines contemporary theories and focuses on a scene from the film ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’ to highlight the possible plurality, and potential power of literacy.

Literacy is not an end in itself. It is a fundamental human right (Bataille, 1976). It is seen as inherently good and virtuous (Cook-Gumperz, 2006). Despite this, there is no universal agreement on the definition of literacy (Wyse, Jones, Bradford & Wolpert, 2013). Graff (2013, p.4) states that: “Literacy is a historical variable and is historically variable.” Literacy in the twenty-first century has become a byword for standards (Lankshear, 1993). Yet there appears to be a dichotomy between what is known as ‘functional literacy’ and ‘critical literacy’ (Freire, 1996). This paper sets out to explore different views of literacy and what place literacy has in Education Studies. It concludes that literacy is at the epicentre of the debate about what education is and ought to be about. Literacy therefore demands special attention in Education Studies and avoids the safety of neutrality.

Adams, D. (2015) 'How Fantastic is Literacy?', paper presented to The 11th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 25–26 June, viewed 10 August 2020, <>