Adult literacy as technique and technology of governmentality : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education in Adult Education at Massey University, Manawatu campus, New Zealand
This thesis examines the policy for adult literacy in New Zealand, in particular
developments since the International Adult Literacy Survey of 1996. It was the findings
of the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) that led to the problematising of adult
literacy in terms of the needs of New Zealand society and economy and the greater
engagement of government, businesses and tertiary education providers.
Foucault’s (1991a) notion of governmentality provides a lens through which to view
adult literacy policy and to analyse a number of policy documents, in particular More
than Words, the adult literacy strategy, Te Kāwai Ora, and the subsequent Tertiary
Education Strategies 2002-2007, 2007-2012, and 2010-2015.
The thesis argues that, in the policy formulation, adult literacy is concerned with the
techniques and technologies through which the literacy needs of the population are
constructed and controlled. The concerns of policy are how to bring people to a state of
literacy so that they can be usefully involved in society, as employable workers. The
mainstream discourse of adult literacy defines it as a set of skills without reference to
context or culture, that can be applied in a range of contexts. The policy approaches
tend to marginalise or silence other discourses, for example literacies for Māori,
literacies as social practices, critical literacies and literacies used in a range of settings.
The thesis traces adult literacy in New Zealand from pre-European contact and the
subsequent developments as part of the colonisation processes. The 1970s to the
present saw the development of community responses to adult literacy.
The thesis discusses the subsequent tertiary education reforms and the subsuming of
adult literacy into the tertiary education sector with increased emphasis on audit and
monitoring practices developed by the Tertiary Education Commission and NZQA with
implications for the identities and self-government of learners and providers.
Finally, the thesis concludes with a discussion of ways for considering the development
of a wider policy focus for adult literacy that addresses such issues as culture, context
and the needs as identified by learners. This is followed by some recommendations
and questions for future research.