Critical Tasks in Conceptual Literacy
As Wittgenstein teaches us, the task of freeing ourselves from the intellectual pictures that hold us captive is not only immensely hard, it is never done, for we are always going to find ourselves held by new metaphysical mirages, fall for new temptations to forsake the ordinary.
(Moi, 1999: xiv)
I have described conceptual literacy as an act of sensitization to multiple meaning. I have urged that central to this sensitization is an awareness of the political implications of debate and argument over meaning. In this respect the key question that I have asked in this chapter is ‘What effects does contestation have for feminist knowledge?’ As I hope I have made clear in response to this question, I have drawn on particular theorists and positions. Yet there is a question that has preceded each of these. This is: ‘What theoretical frameworks can enable me to understand the politics of how text and stories work on me to produce my intellectual responses of agreement, rejection, joy, passion, depression, disbelief, loss and transformation?’ For me this question is central and it is here that I turn to critical literacy. Through critical literacy ‘we come to know how enchanting language is, we learn to revel in the enchantment of knowing ourselves in the world through language. At the same time as we learn to be transgressive, we develop the skills of critical imagination through which we open up new possibilities, think the as yet unthinkable, beyond and outside dead language’ (Davies, 1997a: 29). Davies (1994; 1996; 1997a; 2000) has illustrated how critical literacy is a set of practices that draws on poststructural theories of selfhood and language. It encourages the development of skills and habits but does not seek to separate theory from practice. Rather, as Davies remarks, critical literacy is concerned with developing a reflexive awareness of how speaking-as-usual constructs our understandings of ourselves and of others. It is, in this regard, concerned with the relationship between the construction of selves and regimes of truth. To do critical literacy we need to develop the capacities through which we can read against the grain of dominant discourses and the privileged positions that are constructed within them. In this we must learn to look beyond the content of the text and to see, and critique, how this content works upon us to shape meaning and desire. Davies (1997a) has set out five inter-related tasks that we need to undertake to develop critical literacy. I have adapted these for the development of conceptual literacy.