There is no ‘best’ definition of literacy, as literacy is almost a living thing that changes and is moulded according to the needs and practices of groups of people. As Thames and York put it: ‘Literacy is complex; it is a constantly mediated force that can take on a life of its own in different contexts, cultures, and social and political arenas’. Definitions of literacy reflect various theoretical perspectives, which are briefly outlined later in this chapter.
Although there is no universally agreed definition, most contemporary definitions of literacy do include reading, writing, speaking and listening and viewing or visual literacy. Many definitions also include critical thinking, critical literacy, and the ability to choose and use appropriate modes of communication for particular contexts or purposes. The ability to use and produce a variety of text forms, including electronic and multimodal texts, is seen as a crucial element of literacy. Some contemporary definitions of literacy are very broad, with some even including dance, music and movement.