PRA: A new literacy?

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Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) has gained in popularity over the last decade and now presents a viable challenge to the traditional methods of project planning. This paper explores the idea of PRA as a new literacy and examines how far the visual language of PRA can be considered to be neutral and empowering for non-literate people. Using concepts from the New Literacy Studies, I look at the process whereby new skills of mapping and diagramming are introduced to non-literate villagers. Taking specific examples of PRA activities, I show that many of the assumptions of PRA practitioners regarding people's understanding are supported by research into visual literacy and ethnomathematics. How far PRA can be an empowering process depends on social factors, such as the way activities are facilitated and the familiarity of the setting. The emphasis within PRA on 'sequencing' activities and practices such as 'interviewing the diagram' ensure that the visual representations produced are not regarded in isolation. In conclusion, I suggest that, as with 'new' literacy users, PRA facilitators need to ensure that the visual activities of PRA are helping to extend people's visual literacy by building on the skills they already have and making the most of the existing local visual literacy and numeracy systems. In particular, the making of diagrams needs to be seen differently from the interpreting of diagrams, if PRA activities are to lead to action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-551
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of International Development
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1996

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