In Literacy as Involvement, Deborah Brandt examines the cultural and social roots of the acts of reading and writing. The book asks, for example, whether literacy is a natural growth of or a radical shift from orality. It questions the contrary views that literacy is either the learning of the conventions of language or is better understood as heightened social ability. Finally, it raises the possibility that knowing how to read and write is actually understanding how we respond during the acts of reading and writing.
This examination of literacy as process is also offered as a critique of prevailing theories of literacy advanced by such scholars as Walter J. Ong, S.J., David Olson, and E. D. Hirsch. They depict literacy as a textual experience that is socially and linguistically detached. Brandt critically examines the underlying assumptions from research on writing processes and argues that they call for a major reformation of prevailing conceptions of literacy. Specifically, she analyzes several expository texts from a process perspective to establish the interaction of reader and writer in even the most seemingly formal and detached writing. In her conclusion, Brandt brings together the major findings of her study to address pressing literacy issues, including the problem of illiteracy in our schools.