English Ph.D. Dissertations


“Old Wine” and “New Wineskins”: (De)Colonizing Literacy in Kenya’s Higher Education

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Bruce Edwards (Advisor)


Most social critics in the disciplines of Rhetoric and Composition, Education, and Feminist Studies have argued that it is impossible to divorce literacy from politics; that literacy is a hegemonic enterprise. Based on this premise, this study investigated how politics plays out in the discourse patterns in Kenyan universities. Owing to the apparent semblance between colonial and postcolonial literacy policies and acknowledging the historicity of phenomena, the study investigated the role the British colonization of Kenya has played in shaping postcolonial discourse patterns in Kenyan universities – why and how the postcolonial state reproduced the colonial literacy policies. The study concludes by exploring strategies for decolonizing Kenya’s higher education. Based on the data I collected through multiple modes of inquiry including autoethnography; historical and library research; and interviews, it was evident the colonial establishment put in place a literacy system commensurate with its colonial agenda. And, since the agenda of postcolonial regimes was not radically different from that of the colonial establishment and subsequent neocolonial forces, the postcolonial state reproduced colonial literacy policies to entrench and perpetuate their hegemonies. Notably, these regimes suppressed discourse in higher education to curtail dissent and, therefore, ensure perpetuation of the status quo. To decolonize literacy, the study proposes four strategies: stakeholders in Kenya’s higher education, especially educators and students must reconsider the role of the university; educators and students must embrace critical literacy paradigm in place of the prevailing functional approach to literacy, educators and students must reconsider their stance on epistemology and ontology; and, universities must introduce comprehensive Rhetoric and Writing courses.