Scotland provides an interesting context for studying adult literacy in that it is one of the few countries that explicitly acknowledge the idea of literacy as a social practice. By drawing on two initiatives we illustrate literacy learning derived from a mixture of social practice and critical literacy perspectives. Together they provide insights into how literacy may develop to challenge relationships of inequality and oppression. The role of the literacy tutor is critical to this process and needs to begin from a position which challenges the idea of literacy as a decontextualised, skill. To help learners question what it means to be literate, and to create genuinely empowering experiences, it is important to locate literacy in the wider social and political relations in which it is embedded.