Literacy Practices of a Group of Immigrants in Central Athens

Ms Zoe Nikolaidou
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A two-week ethnographic research was curried out in the centre of Athens, in order to explore in which cases and for what reasons newcomers in Athens use literacy. Participant observation and a number of qualitative interviews revealed the great variety of literacy practices in the lives of newcomers. A focus is given on the various domains of life that literacy is used and on the use of ‘mediators’ as a strategy to overcome literacy problems. Taking photographs of street signs in collaboration with my informants revealed what is called 'illiteracy of resistance', since most signs are bilingual or monolingual written in the mother tongue of the immigrants.

What follows is a discussion on dominant and vernacular literacy practices and I make the claim that these terms are socially embedded and highly context dependent, as what counts for vernacular in one social context (e.g. Arabic shop signs in the neighbourhoods of Athens) could be considered as dominant in any other social context. My informants possess cultural capital in a great extent but they lack in symbolic capital which would give them the power to impose their literacy practices as dominant. My overall claim is that it is the context within which people live and put literacy into practice that should be characterised as ‘dominant’ or ‘vernacular’, not the literacy practices.

Keywords: Literacy Practices, Immigrants, Ethnography, Mediator, Dominant and Vernacular Literacy Practices
Stream: Education and Social Welfare
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Literacy and Power among Newcomers in Athens

Ms Zoe Nikolaidou

Research student, Department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University
Lancaster, Lancashire, UK

Zoe Nikolaidou holds a BA in linguistics from the University of the Aegean, Greece and an MA in Language Studies from Lancaster University, UK. She is currently doing a PhD investigating literacy practices in the workplace.
Zoe Nikolaidou's main academic interest is the way literacy is embedded in society, as well as the use and the role of literacy and language in education. She also has a strong interest in qualitative research methods.
Her research is funded by the State Scholarships Foundation in Greece.

Ref: I06P0262