The Arivoli Iyakkam (the Enlightenment Movement) is considered to be among the most successful mass literacy movements in recent history. Led by activists from the people’s science network and the progressive writers association, the Arivoli Iyakkam worked in conjunction with district-level administration to encourage active citizenship among the most oppressed classes in rural Tamil Nadu. In The Light of Knowledge, Francis Cody’s ethnography of this social movement and government program highlights the paradoxes inherent in such movements that seek to emancipate people through literacy when literacy is a power-laden social practice in its own right.
The Light of Knowledge is set primarily in the rural district of Pudukkottai and it is about activism among laboring women from marginalized communities who have been particularly active as learners and volunteers in the movement. In their endeavors to remake the Tamil countryside through literacy activism, workers in the movement found that their own understanding of the politics of writing and Enlightenment was often transformed. Indeed, 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. Offering a rare behind-the-scenes look at an important area of activism, The Light of Knowledge engages with critical social theories of language and citizenship. This book will appeal to a range of readers interested in sociology, feminism, development studies, and education.
Francis Cody is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Asian Institute at the University of Toronto.
List of Abbreviations
Note on Transliteration
Introduction: Of Light, Literacy, and Knowledge in the Tamil Countryside
1. On Being a “Thumbprint”: Time and Space in Arivoli Activism
2. Feminizing Enlightenment: The Social and Reciprocal Agency
3. Labors of Objectification: Words and Worlds of Pedagogy
4. Search for a Method: The Media of Enlightenment
5. Subject to Citizenship: Petitions and the Performativity of Signature
Epilogue: Reflections on a Time of Charismatic Enlightenment
"In The Light of Knowledge, Francis Cody moves away from the conventional modes of literacy studies and situates an ethnography of literacy activism within a broader anthropological framework that allows for new approaches and fresh questions."
Ritty A. Lukose, Associate Professor, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University