Literacy Practices in Working Life


Per Ledin, Olle Josephson and Anna-Malin Karlsson

Based on an abstract for a seminar with the Literacy Research Group, Lancaster University, May 2000, where also Jonas Carlquist participated.

Our project focuses on everyday literacy practices in different workplaces in Sweden. The overall purpose is to describe situated literacies in present-day society, i.e. in a society that is said to be postindustrial, postmodern etc. and that is affected by social changes like individualization, conversonalization, technologization etc. Our general question is: What do people actually read and write at work? A general point of departure is that it in present-day society seems hard to sustain the common view that literacy involves a general and autonomous skill. Rather, we could expect to find all sorts of situated literacies. It is not, however, clear what kind of competences and skills that are present and needed in different workplaces and to what extent they differ.

The project puts special emphasis on common occupations in which writing is not considered a main task. The methodology, which combines ethnography with discourse analysis, includes three types of analyses:

1. A shadowing study, highlighting the individual and chronological aspects of literacy. One individual is followed for one day, and his/her writing and reading is described in terms of literacy practices and chains of literacy events.

2. A site study, highlighting the spatial and collective aspects of literacy. What we call text aggregation points are studied and the relation between the spatial location and the function of texts is considered.

3. A text study, highlighting the text patterns and relating them to the results of the shadowing study and the site study. Here, the Bakhtinian concepts of chronotope and heteroglossia seem fruitful as they focus on ways in which texts construct time and space and on ways in which voices and discourses are combined and opposed.