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Literacy in Traditional Societies


  • Page extent: 360 pages
  • Size: 229 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.53 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521290050 | ISBN-10: 0521290058)

The importance of writing as a means of communication in a society formerly without it, or where writing has been confined to particular groups, is enormous. It objectifies speech, provides language with a material correlative, and in this material form speech can be transmitted over space and preserved over time. In this book the contributors discuss cultures at different levels of sophistication and literacy and examine the importance of writing on the development of these societies. All the articles except the first were specially written for this book and the extensive introduction unites and synthesizes the material.


Introduction Jack Goody; 1. The consequences of literacy Jack Goody and Ian Watt; 2. Implications of literacy in traditional China and India Kathleen Gough; 3. Literacy in a Buddhist village in North-East Thailand S. J. Tambiah; 4. Literacy in Kerala Kathleen Gough; 5. The transmission of Islamic learning in the Western Sudan Ivor Wilks; 6. Restricted literacy in Northern Ghana Jack Goody; 7. Literacy in a Nomadic Society: the Somali case I. M. Lewiss; 8. Astrology and writing in Madagascar Maurice Bloch; 9. Uses of literacy in New Guinea and Melanesia M. Meggitt; 10. The measurement of literacy in pre-industrial England R. S. Schofield; Bibliography; Index.


'This is an important book. It comprises eleven essays, including the editor's introduction, on the varying uses and social effects of writing in a series of partially literate societies. The focus is on contemporary situations and the processes which have led to these, although historical evidence and historical cases are also treated. Throughout, writing and the uses of writing are analysed in specific social contexts. The book seems successfully addressed to a wide audience of social scientists and historians.' Journal of Asian Studies

'These essays have great interest for the problem of cultural transmission in any age.' Archaeology

'This book's great merit is to be found largely in the combination of a stimulating theoretical approach with a great variety of ethnographic fact to test it. Not only are the papers by the contributors to this book based on first-class fieldwork, they also test their own conclusions in relation to Goody and Watt's findings. The fact that they do this not only adds much value to their own contributions, but it also makes this excellent book an extraordinarily homogeneous one.' Anthropological Forum

'Jack Goody, in this, as in his earlier works, is erudite, lucid and innovative in his thinking. Anthropologists, historians, educators and others will find his studies and those of his collaborators stimulating and probably seminal for a number of other investigations.' History of Education Quarterly

'… this book is one of that important group of works to have appeared on the borders of history and anthropology; it shows in a stimulating and controversial way how much anthropology and history can contribute to each other in practice and in theory, and how they can combine in the search for methods suitable for the writing of world history.' The Oxford Magazine


Jack Goody, Ian Watt, Kathleen Gough, S. J. Tambiah, Kathleen Gough, Ivor Wilks, I. M. Lewis, Maurice Bloch, M. Meggitt, R. S. Schofield

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