"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Meanings in Use

As I prepare a briefing for my 1-2-3 Project, I realize how much I am relying on what I learned from the book "Reading Works" and in particular, Chapter 2: Paperwork is the Lifeblood of Quality. If you recall, in that chapter Sue Folinsbee wrote about her study of literacy practices in a factory. She had two stated goals:
- First, she wanted to show how literacy practices or "paperwork" are inextricably interwoven into all aspects of workplace life….especially how literacies are the lifeblood of ISO 9001
- Second, she wanted to make explicit how literacy or documentation requirements of systems like ISO pose contradictions and dilemmas for both workers and managers that are about "meanings in use"……

She illustrated how different meanings that workers and managers give to literacy practices reflect power, social relations, work practices and values that are part of a larger company culture. She also discussed the implications when there is a gap between "policy" and "actual practice" in how paperwork is accomplished.

When I first read the chapter, I'm not sure I really appreciated the significance of Folinsbee’s case study and the findings. Her study was conducted inside a factory. Most of my work experience is from working in an office. The workers in her case study were mostly "blue collar" workers. In contrast, my job background thus far has been "white-collar," i.e. chained to a computer 8-10 hours a day. In short, I did not believe that Folinsbee’s study had implications for my work environment – but the insights acquired from my 1-2-3 project proved to me I was dead wrong.

What has changed? I can now personally empathize with the major points made in the Folinsbee case study—and most important – I can see their applicability beyond the factory. For example, I now greatly appreciate the significance of different "meanings in use" between managers and workers and the consequences associated with these differences. During my 1-2-3 Project I listened to testimonies on how different "meanings in use" can negatively impact a worker’s level of stress, workload, and sense of job satisfaction.

I am also more appreciative of the "situated" literacies that the workers develop to cope with the different "meanings in use." Whether or not a person has earned a GED or a PhD – in both cases I better respect and acknowledge how workers become "experts" in devising process orientated workarounds that attempt to bridge the gap between their expectations and managers. In summary, I have gained a new appreciation for the sociocultural approach to literacy and realize that the insights gained from the Folinsbee case study, and my 1-2-3 Project, would not have been acquired from a cognitive-psychological view of literacy.


  1. Bob, this is an excellent example of how "circular" this learning is. It's a great way to prepare for the analysis of your own 1-2-3 findings and also for your final paper. I wonder if re-readings should be deliberately embedded in the course?

  2. Bob, I think re-reading some of the texts is a great idea. We read so many interesting things in this class, and sometimes there is just not enough time/space in my brain to take everything in the first time. By the way, I really enjoyed your presentation on Tuesday. I think that your relationship to both discourses puts you in a great position to look at things with a fresh eye.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.