Accepted paper:

Literacy activism and the politics of Enlightenment in Tamil India


Francis Cody (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

This paper is about the contradictions that arise in youth literacy activism in southern India.

Paper long abstract:

Since the early 1990s hundreds of thousands of Tamil youth have participated in literacy lessons, science demonstrations, and other events designed to transform their fellow villagers into active citizens with access to state power. These efforts to spread enlightenment among the oppressed are part of a movement known as the Arivoli Iyakkam (the Enlightenment Movement), considered to be among the most successful mass literacy movements in recent history. In their endeavors to remake the Tamil countryside through literacy activism, Tamil youth found that their own understanding of the politics of writing and Enlightenment was often transformed as they encountered vastly different notions of language and imaginations of social order. While activists of the movement successfully mobilized large numbers of rural women, they did so through logics that often pushed against the very Enlightenment rationality they hoped to foster.

panel P53
Educated youth in search of enlightenment in South Asia (and beyond)