Today at COLIS 2010 Brendan Luyt presented a paper coauthored with Intan Azura, The oppressed sigh of the information literate: an examination of the potential for the oppression in information literacy. The speaker started by referring to the paper by Matusov and St Julien (2004) which identifies how print literacy could be seen as a form of colonial oppression. Through the creation of texts, literacy enables bureaucracy. Luyt argued that nowadays colonial oppression tended to take place with mental ratherthan physical property, e.g. where intellectual property is taken from the intellectual commons, "at a time when new technologies are changing the contours of creativity" (e.g. someone can usually sell-on a book or copy bits of it or display it, which it might be illegal todo with an electronic verson).
He thought that, firstly, IL was involved in this through the "push of norms" to do with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and this is leading to a redefinition of IL which has more emphasis on respecting IPR. He thought that learners should be encouraged to trouble the idea of IPR and reflect on what the implications of IPR were.
Secondly, there was the idea that a hierarchy of cultures had emerged, which again could be seen as oppressive. One aspect of this was media concentration (e.g. far fewer companies owning media channels), thus effectively reducing the knowledge pools, possibly replacing knowledge from less dominant cultures, leading to another form of mental colonisation. The implcations for IL education were making sure that we encouraged learners to see the social context of information production, engage critically with the media and so forth. He felt that at the moment there was not enough focus on the social and political aspect of information.
The speaker also mentioned students learning through textbooks, and thus absorbing traditional conceptions of knowledge.
Of course, my take on this would be that the kind of information literacy that I espouse, and aim to engage my students with, is a means of liberation rather than oppression. There were also questions after the talk pointing out that alternative sources of information proliferated (although people still get a lot of information via the "traditional" media), and that people were becoming more likely to be producers as well as consumers. However, I would agree that the kinds of critical and ethical engagement he was talking about is vitally important.
Reference: Matusov, E. and St Julien, J. (2004) "Print literacy as oppression: Cases of bureaucratic, colonial, and totalitarian literacies and their implications for schooling." Text, 24(2) 197-244
Photo by Sheila Webber: Peacock, Prague, May 2010