Political Efficacy and social trust: Why literacy programs should not only focus on employability

Political Efficacy and social trust: Why literacy programs should not only focus on employability

Date: Wednesday, October 2nd, 11-12pm

Location: AHH 1.602

Speaker: Anke Grotlüschen, Hamburg University

Abstract: The large-scale findings from PIAAC (Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) offer more than knowledge about economic outcomes of high/low literacy proficiency. They also provide data on political efficacy, social trust and volunteering. Political efficacy is a construct that indicates democratic participation and asks for individuals’ feelings on whether they can influence politics. Social trust indicates social cohesion and asks whether individuals trust their co-citizens as well as social institutions. Thus, our research questions are: What do low literate groups think about their political efficacy, how strongly do they trust in their society, and how often are they involved in volunteering? Our theoretical assumptions do not conceptualize people in terms of human capital or rational choice. Political engagement and social cohesion correlate with the belief in a fair society. Two French intellectuals, Rancière and Rosanvallon, point to massive disruptions of social cohesion. Economists like Piketty call for new models of distribution to improve shared use of the commons. We conclude that politically extreme choices are made in societies that lack a belief in communality and justice. Social trust is low amongst low literate groups and volunteering seems a weak strategy for integrating low-literate adults. Their feelings of political efficacy hint at a certain disengagement with politics. Recent literacy programs or strategies tend to focus primarily on employment and employability. The findings suggest a new task for literacy provision: empowerment and democratic participation.

Anke Grotlüschen is Professor for Lifelong Learning at Hamburg University. She oversees 4 million Euros in research grants focused on literacy, numeracy, political participation and lifelong learning. This includes two nationwide Level One Surveys (2010, 2018). She is one of six principal investigators of the Hamburg Numeracy Project.

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