• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Discuss the relationship between literacy, orality and sacred texts with particular reference to South Asian society.

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

25.05.04 Jenny S�derlind Discuss the relationship between literacy, orality and sacred texts with particular reference to South Asian society. Traditionally, the relationship between literacy and orality has been regarded in what have are arguably quite simplistic and ethnocentric terms. Lack of literacy was viewed as signifying a lack of a literary tradition and an inability to think in abstract, objective terms. Oral traditions were generally given little attention, and even when they were, they were at times subjected to sweeping generalisations. It is not until relatively recently that alternative approaches have been put forward and the perspective towards orality has changed. This new view rejects the dichotomy between 'literate' and 'oral' societies and their supposed distinctive modes of thought, challenges the idea of literacy as a neutral and purely technological entity, and attempts to explore literate and oral expression as part of their own social context. I will begin by exploring the 'simplistic' view of literacy and orality, before presenting the arguments against such a perspective, illustrating the usefulness of a more nuanced, culturally specific approach with reference to the epics and sacred texts of India. One view explicitly or implicitly shared by many social scientists is that literacy is a neutral technology which can be detached from specific social contexts. Street (1984) delineates the arguments for this perspective, referring to it as the 'autonomous' model of literacy. Those who regard literacy in this way consider it a more useful distinction to make than the older divisions of societies into primitive/modern or logical/pre-logical. While the older versions of this 'great divide' theory were based on now rejected notions of race and biological determinism, this new incarnation is based on technology, the 'technology of the intellect' as Goody (1968, cited in Street) phrases it. While Levy-Bruhl's (1926) version of the great divide theory proposed differences in cognitive capacity between members of different cultures, those appealing to literacy are merely pointing to differences in cognitive development. ...read more.

Middle

Firstly, as Street (1984) convincingly argues, the concept of literacy is not neutral, it cannot be viewed in isolation from its social context. The practices and concepts of reading and writing in a particular society depend on the context, they are embedded in an ideology. The skills and concepts that accompany literacy are not caused automatically by its inherent qualities, and there is no simple relationship between the advent of literacy and the development of logic, science, and 'civilisation'. Thus the distinction between literate and non-literate societies rests is no more tenable than earlier versions of the 'great divide' theory, as it rests on the assumption that our particular social conventions regarding literacy are superior to those of other societies. The claims made by academics about the importance of literacy for cognitive development derive from their own social context, and serve to reinforce their practices and beliefs in relation to alternative practices in other cultures. Thus Street argues for the adoption of a more 'ideological' model of literacy, taking into account the social contexts and complexities of literacy and orality in each society. As Street (1984) shows, the assumptions in the autonomous approach to the study of the impact of literacy render the 'evidence' that oral language prevents abstract thought useless. Rather than testing for some objective ability, that of being able to think abstractly, what is being tested in the studies cited by Hildyard and Olsen is explicitness. Street argues that the differences displayed in schooled and unschooled children in this has nothing to do with cognitive capacities but instead reflect the convention of explaining explicitly and 'adopting a detached role' that schools instil in its pupils. Thus Greenfield and Bernstein, without realising it, are testing for conformance to conventions, the conventions of their own system. Work by Labov (1973, cited in Street) supports this interpretation of the studies. He found that the unfamiliar and authoritarian test situation discouraged response in less well schooled children who were not used to such test situations. ...read more.

Conclusion

An example of such a use are the sacred texts of the Jains, the agamas. These derive their meaning from the oral, ritual context they are presented in, and less value is placed on their actual content. As Dundas (1992) emphasises, the agamas are not taken to be the literal words of the Mahavira (one of the founders of the Jain tradition), but as existing without human or divine origin, as fixed truths without beginning or end. Thus the original religious texts are not the sole component of the agamas, but the commentaries on these texts are also revered as sacred. The study of these texts is not recommended, it is dangerous and unwarranted if not done in the right context. The language they are written in, ardhamagadhi, furthermore, is understood only by few, which increases their inaccessibility, and maintains their exclusivity. Rather than texts to be studied, they are seen as sacred objects, and performed as spectacle. When the Kalpasutra texts are performed, for example, they are told at such speed that it is impossible to follow the narrative. Altogether, it is clear that the actual content of the texts is not so relevant. Fuller (1984) further stresses that in the rare cases that the agamas are taught to priests, this is done orally, and it is not thought that learning from books can give any deep understanding. This illustrates the complexity of the relationship between written and spoken word and shows how culturally specific their uses are. Literacy and orality are thus both context-dependent and variable. Their uses differ depending on the society under study, and thus literacy has a range of different meanings and consequences. It is therefore of greater use to look at these practices as part of a whole, rather than attempting to extract the practice of writing as a neutral technology that separates some societies from others. Reality is more nuanced and complex than such a dichotomy and simplistic perspective would suggest. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Sociology section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE Sociology essays

  1. "Religion may encourage rather than inhibit Social Change," Critically discuss this statement with reference ...

    Also it is important to note that Weber was not saying that religion always caused change, but that it could be an important factor. Weber highlights the fact that ideas can conceivably lead to economic change. G.K. Nelson also gives arguments for religion as an initiator of social change.

  2. Do a detailed critical analysis of the opening of Coetzee's Foe, paying particular attention ...

    It is through Friday and his treatment in the hands of his white masters that Coetzee is addressing the way the white people have handled there relations with the Negro race. Coetzee probably wrote this particularly with South Africa in mind as it is where he is from but it

  1. Consider how the portrayal of the female characters in "Hobson's Choice" relates to the ...

    Alice and Vickey are not very well educated. They can obviously read, as Vickey reads a book in the shop, but they have trouble with maths. This is shown when they Vickey is trying to do the accounts: Alice: I'm not snappy in myself.

  2. The ancient civilizations of Central and South America

    The city was surrounded by about five rivers, and every year these rivers would flood and the soil was perfect for farming. Extra farming lands were also created by the people when large amounts of mud were taken to

  1. Max Weber: Basic Terms (The Fundamental Concepts of Sociology)

    Ch 28, Citizenship Outside the occident there have not been cities in the sense of a unitary community. Occidental cities originally arose through the establishment of a fraternity; it was in its beginnings first above all a defense group, an organization of those economically competent to bear arms, to equip and train themselves.

  2. The Digital Divide

    having an Internet connection and I think that this could be made possible by the government. In my opinion, Digital Divide is an issue that cannot be solved gradually.

  1. Despite the Australian context, The Removalists, is able to dramatize convincingly issues, which are ...

    In the case of Simmonds, he viciously and repulsively beats up Kenny in order to gain power, establish control and obtain his desires and wants. His continuous use of violence and power throughout the play reflects the obsession of power within society.

  2. Environmental Lessons From History.

    Why do we follow a society's rules? Without a sense of meaning and motivation, people will become apathetic. If this happens, a society may be threatened with decline. (Thuman & Bennet) The Survey. Methodology. The survey was carried out to try and gauge public opinion of the Environment.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work