Aspects Of The Ethnography Of Literacy


Literacy is a complex subject due to its importance and ambiguity. The significance of literacy is evident from the requirements modern society places on its members. It is expected from virtually every individual that they can communicate effectively via reading and writing. Meanwhile, the ambivalent nature stems from the high number of unclear interpretations of this term. The more specific exploration of literacy becomes, the less evident the overall comprehension of this concept is. Subsequently, there is no consensus on what literacy means, as the most appropriate description is general. Nevertheless, the concept is important and has to be studied to understand what is important in modern society.


It is generally agreed that the two essential components of literacy are reading and writing. However, it is also not a clear term, as it covers a wide variety of activities, the goal of which is to perceive written information. There are numerous reading techniques, which can be used to accomplish this goal. Similarly, different texts can be read and comprehended. Each technique and type of text vary by complexity and prerequisites for successful comprehension. For instance, writing on a road sign requires basic knowledge of words and traffic rules. In contrast, to understand an academic article, it is necessary to have sufficient command of the language and deep awareness of the subject matter. Writing is also an abstract concept that lacks a single standard.

As a result, there are different levels of one’s mastery of reading and writing. It is important because it is not clear what level constitutes sufficient competence. In its most basic sense, being literate means the ability to read and write. However, what type of text one can read and write is also important. Standards of literacy differ for various occupations, as each field demands its level of competence. Furthermore, cultural differences also lead to unique literacy expectations of socioeconomic groups. As each person undergoes a different stage in life, there are different expectations, which are based on age. As a consequence, the social and cultural context seems to determine the basics of literacy, while no universal conception that would apply to everyone exists.

Ethnography is helpful because it provides methods most appropriate for studying literacy. The reason for this is that the focus is put on the logic of the daily lives of people. Ethnography takes into consideration the context, which includes the exploration of living conditions, family life, leisure, habits, and other factors that provide the necessary information for understanding literacy. Most importantly, ethnography studies communication via sociolinguistics and frameworks that enable researchers to structure communication into strictly defined elements. Observations of interactions between people and analysis of examples of reading and writing are the specific methods that make ethnography the most suitable field for studying literacy.


Altogether, it is evident that literacy is a complex ability that is influenced by a large variety of factors. Different interpretations of the essential forms of literacy result in a lack of a universal definition and metric, which would allow clear ascertaining whether a person is literate or not. Of all fields of study, ethnography has the most potential to answer the question of what constitutes the essence of literacy. Its unique combination of field observations and text analysis with studies of cultural and social context is essential in understanding the concept of literacy within the context of highly diverse societies.