Lost in translation: Tracing the erasure of the critical dimension of a radical educational discourse

Aileen Ackland

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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This article demonstrates that the presence of radical discourse in an educational field is not necessarily evidence of criticality in practice. Appropriated by policy and practitioners within a web of power relations, radical discourse may come to act on practice in ways which are antithetical to its theoretical origins. To illustrate this process of transformation and its effects, the paper explores the discourse of the Scottish ‘social practice approach’ as an actant in the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy (ALN) initiative 2000–2012. The argument uses ideas from actor-network theories, in particular the concept of ‘translation’, to make sense of the apparent contradictions in the Scottish context. Seemingly derived from the New Literacy Studies (NLS), the concept of ‘the social practice approach’ implies a critical pedagogy. Its prominence in the discourses of ALN in Scotland might indicate critical practice. Despite Scottish practitioners' claims to ‘do social practices’ there is, however, little evidence of such practice. Part of a larger study of the Scottish ALN reforms, this examination of the emergence and stabilisation of the ‘social practice’ discourse suggests that in translations the associations with NLS were betrayed through relationships with other powerful discourses. Ironically, the effect of the discourse of ‘the social practice approach’ may have been to contribute to the effective mobilisation of Scottish practitioners to the role assigned to them in the government human capital project and to obviate resistance. The paper concludes with some thoughts about the potential for intervention to open up spaces in which alternative constructions of literacy and literacy education can be assembled.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-210
Number of pages19
JournalStudies in the Education of Adults
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2014


  • actor-network theories
  • adult literacies
  • new literacy studies


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