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Writing as a Problem: African Grassroots Writing, Economies of Literacy, and Globalization

Jan Blommaert
Language in Society
Vol. 33, No. 5 (Nov., 2004), pp. 643-671
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4169384
Page Count: 29
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Writing as a Problem: African Grassroots Writing, Economies of Literacy, and Globalization
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Abstract

This article analyzes a set of handwritten documents produced by a Burundese asylum seeker in Belgium. The documents are instances of "grassroots writing": their authorship is collective, and they display considerable problems with "remembering." They are also rather typical text-artifacts of globalization processes, in which literacy products from one part of the world meet literacy expectations from another part. Two general points are derived from the analysis. (i) The function of documents such as these is not "reading," but rather a complex of reading, viewing, and decoding. The documents are at least partially VISUAL bearers of information. Such functions need to be investigated ethnographically. (ii) The reason for this is the fact that the production and reception of such documents has to be set against the background of widely different economies of literacy. Consequently, the differences between text production and text reception are grounded in worldwide patterns of inequality. This casts doubt on a number of popular theses about the nature of contemporary societies and the role of discourse in late modernity.

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