Critical Literacy

  • Yvonne FoleyEmail author
Living reference work entry
Part of the Encyclopedia of Language and Education book series (ELE)


Historically, the term “literacy” was defined as the ability to read and write. However, this limited definition of literacy has been challenged through the emergence of social theories, where it was recognized that literacy is more complex than traditional perspectives allow The New London Group (Harv Educ Rev 66(1):60–93, 1996). A body of work associated with the term new literacy studies (NLS) views literacy as a set of socially and culturally situated practices, rather than simply as a range of technical academic skills that operate at an individual level (Gee, Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses, critical perspectives on literacy and education. Falmer, London, 1990) (Heath 1983; Street 1984). This shift in perspective has embraced the plural and discursive nature of literacy and integrates ways of being and doing in the world (Luke, Genres of power? Literacy education and the production of capital. In Hasan R, Williams, G (eds) Literacy in society. Longman, London, 1995; Gee, An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method. Routledge, Abingdon, 2005).

Critical approaches to literacy recognize the link between meaning making, power, and identity (Janks, Literacy and power. Routledge, Abingdon, 2010). While there are a number of orientations associated with critical literacy, all share the perspective that “human action is mediated by language and other symbol systems within particular cultural contexts” (Lewis et al. Reframing sociocultural research on literacy. Routledge, Abingdon, 2009, p. 5). Language therefore plays a key role in how we make sense of the world in which we live. Below is a brief review of some of the existing literature related to the history of critical literacy and some of its distinct orientations within the field of education. An account of the ways in which critical approaches to literacy have influenced teacher education programs and been instrumental in shaping teacher identity is considered. Finally, challenges associated with critical approaches to literacy are foregrounded and linked to future possibilities.


Discourse Power Language Diversity Literacy Culture Teacher Education 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Education, Teaching and Leadership (ETL), Moray House School of EducationThe University of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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