chapter  3
14 Pages

Fire+Hope Up: On Revisiting the Process of Revisiting a Literacy-for-Social Action Project

ByClaudia Mitchell

We are used to the conventions of ‘based on a true story’ in films. Just before the credits roll at the end of the film, the faces, or at least the names, of all the key characters flash on to the screen and we discover what this one or that is now doing, and there is a certain sense of closure-‘ah, so that’s how they ended up.’ It is a little precipitate, of course, since unless the characters are now all dead, they are still becoming. In some ways Burawoy’s (2003) notion of the focused revisit is not that different when we as researchers begin to wonder whatever happened to ‘our participants.’ What does ‘whatever happened to X or Y?’ have to do with our work? We introduced our grade 8 students to Leonard Cohen’s poetry in 1975, or we carried out a study with youth on combating gender violence in 2000, and we wonder what they are doing now, and maybe we even dare to ask what difference this work had made to them. But there are other issues. One of the challenges of social research relates to isolating the features or factors that make a difference (if at all) in an intervention or project. If we attempt to evaluate the influence or impact, the short time frames of many interventionist studies make it likely that we fall into the potential trap of making exaggerated claims, or miss significant outcomes simply because we stopped too soon. In this chapter I focus on a project involving a group of young people mostly between the ages of 14 and 18 from secondary schools in several townships in the Western Cape of South Africa, who participated in an HIV&AIDS-focused literacy project, the Soft Cover project between 2001 and 2003. The connections between literacy and activism here are critical in seeking to shed light on how revisiting might help us to reconceptualize social practices of literacy.