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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Missionaries, Marxists and Magic: Power and the Politics of Literacy in South-East Africa
Author:Harries, PatrickISNI
Year:2001
Periodical:Journal of Southern African Studies
Volume:27
Issue:3
Period:September
Pages:405-427
Language:English
Geographic terms:Southern Africa
Mozambique
Subjects:reading
missions
power
literacy
Religion and Witchcraft
History and Exploration
Education and Oral Traditions
Politics and Government
Ethnic and Race Relations
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/823308
Abstract:This article challenges the idea that literacy is a universal skill that can be acquired. Instead, the author suggests that people learn to read and write in different ways in different spatial and temporal contexts; and that the interaction between literacy and other social forces determines the way in which the skills of reading and writing are both acquired and perceived. This leads the author to question the idea of literacy as a politically neutral indicator of progress. Elaborating on this perspective, the author examines how a group of Swiss missionaries spread a set of Protestant reading practices and texts in late 19th and early 20th-century southeast Africa. He argues that their experience at home led them to view literacy as a revolutionary tool for the transformation of society. He then looks at the different contexts in which Africans adopted the skills of literacy, and the different meanings with which they imbued the practice. Next, he ties these ways of reading to the interpretation of texts and local networks of power. The final part examines literacy as a sign and source of power employed by a new class of national politicians and draws parallels between the missionaries' objectives in pursuing literacy and those of the mass literacy campaigns organized by Frelimo in Mozambique. Notes, ref., sum.
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