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1. The ability to read and write, contrasted with illiteracy. In looser usage this also includes basic arithmetical competence. Compare multimodality; oracy.

2. Functional literacy: a level of minimal competence in reading and writing (and sometimes also basic arithmetic) essential for daily life and work.

3. Used more metaphorically for technical competence (e.g. computer literacy) and/or critical discrimination (e.g. media literacy, news literacy), or even more broadly (e.g. cultural literacy, information literacy, visual literacy).

4. A feature associated with cultures depending on the written word, in theoretical opposition to the orality of ‘pre-literate’ cultures. The British anthropologist Jack Goody (b.1919) argues that the affordances of the written word are a key agent of social change (see also great divide theories). Literacy is seen by some as enabling logical thinking and objectivity. Historical records represented a new form of intergenerational cultural transmission. The concept of authorship arose in literate cultures. The British educationalist Brian Street has criticized orality/literacy great divide theories as based on an ‘autonomous model’ of literacy (a form of media determinism).

Subjects: History

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