Remaining student centred : a critical discourse study of an adult literacy organisation's publicity in Aotearoa New Zealand from 1973 to 2009 : a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, Massey University, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

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This thesis undertakes a historical critical discourse study of an adult literacy provider’s publicity in Aotearoa New Zealand. It investigates how the organisation attempted to publicise a critical literacy mission and communicate with hard-to-reach learners within the structuring effects of wider marketised publicity discourses and a hegemonic functional account of literacy. Drawing on Laclau and Mouffe’s Discourse Theory and Habermas’ critical theory of publicity, the research found that the case study organisation, Literacy Aotearoa, was increasingly impacted by the need to produce marketised publicity which centres on garnering positive attention from state funding agencies and business. Despite the paradox that in order to raise funds it had to publicise and in order to publicise it had to raise funds, Literacy Aotearoa managed to produce glossy, branded publicity in order to survive a tight fiscal environment. At the same time, it also articulated a student-centred critical literacy discourse in its publicity which was able to critique impediments to adult literacy provision. In addition, Literacy Aotearoa carefully engaged with lowkey publicity methods that were better suited to learners’ needs. This reconciliation of diverse literacy and publicity needs was achieved, in large part, due to the commitment, skills and resources of practitioners and learners in the organisation. However, because of the organisation’s need to identify with commonsense understandings of literacy learners as “lacking”, stubborn deficit discourses remained in the organisation’s publicity, which were at odds with a more empowering learner identity, although these discourses became less obvious in later years. In addition, the strain on the organisation’s resources in adhering to accountability requirements in a competitive funding environment impacted the organisation’s full potential to connect with all learner audiences. Building on previous recommendations for the sector, this thesis argues that in order to increase the sector’s ability to reach a diverse range of adult literacy learners, agencies should support learners to publicise in their own social networks. It is also argued that this labour-intensive publicity work, which better meets the particular information and communication needs of adult literacy learners, should be recognised and supported in state policy and funding.
Literacy Aotearoa, Publicity, Adult literacy, Functional literacy, New Zealand