“What i feel in my heart”: Literacy practices of and for the self among adults with limited or no schooling

Kristen H. Perry, Annie Homan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Through this international cross-case analysis of ethnographic literacy practices data, we investigated two questions: (1) In what literacy practices do adults with limited or no schooling engage for personal fulfillment? and (2) What do these practices reveal about the nature of literacy for individuals who are often characterized as illiterate? Data came from 92 participants across 13 case studies from Africa and the Americas in the Cultural Practices of Literacy Study database. We queried the database to identify (a) the social activity domains in which participants read or wrote, and (b) their purposes for doing so, then narrowed our analysis to practices related to personal fulfillment (i.e., practices that were clearly for themselves and/or for personal expression, self-understanding, and/or identity). We categorized purposes into themes, contextualized the practices within the original ethnographic data, identified participants representing “rich cases”, compiled participant portraits, and developed coding schemes to examine data for patterns. Participants across worldwide contexts read and wrote for a variety of personal purposes, including coping with life, facing problems, or escaping their daily realities, or for entertainment. Practices often connected with spiritual or religious life domains or with participants’ attempts to make sense of their lives. An important theme across practices and contexts was participants’ marginalized status, reflecting the ways in which practices connected with other aspects of context. Our findings challenge current understandings of the ways in which those assumed to be illiterate or low-literate practice literacy, suggesting implications for redefining functional literacy and for adult literacy instruction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)422-454
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Literacy Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2015.


  • Adults
  • Functional literacy
  • Limited schooling
  • Literacy practices
  • Migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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