The Literacy Research Discussion Group was the term for our face to face meetings in pre pandemic days. These pages are left here for our archive.

Michaelmas Term 2018 

Date & Location Speaker(s) & Affiliation  Title and Abstract
Tuesday, 9 October

B59, County South


Ibrar Bhatt and Alison MacKenzie Queen’s University, Belfast Just Google it: digital literacy and the epistemology of ignorance

This paper examines digital literacy and how it relates to the philosophical study of ignorance. Ignorance of how digital technologies work (e.g. how users’ online activities can be used to the advantage of platform owners without the users’ knowledge, and how browsing can be confined) is still not well understood from the perspective of user practice. Building on work in Literacy Studies which has often examined ‘knowledge production’, we argue that a social practice approach to digital literacy can also help examine how epistemologies of ignorance may be produced, reproduced and sustained. Using data from a study which set out to explore the knowledge producing work of undergraduate students through interviews and recorded observations of assignment writing, we argue that particular digital literacy practices pave the way for the construction of certain forms of ignorance, and that this kind of Literacy inquiry is a vital step in better understanding the implications of online practices.

16 October

B59, County South


Robert Crawshaw

Lancaster University

Practising Cultural Literacy in Uncertain Times


What is ‘Cultural Literacy’?  The phrase was formulated by Eric (E.D.) Hirsch in 1988 in terms which have been largely discredited for their prescriptive, content-led, nationalistic implications.  Nevertheless, within Western Europe and the UK in particular at the present time, the status of knowledge and the form it takes for different sectors of modern society remain burning issues.  Nation states have become more defensive of their identities.  Against a background of increased social diversity, assertion of the right to choose, forced migration, religious conflict, fear, and political division, culture has been promoted as a vehicle for national economic growth.  At the same time, the role of the arts in state education has been marginalised, giving rise to initiatives designed to investigate cultural value from a simultaneously ‘intrinsic’ and ‘instrumental’ point of view, that is in terms of culture’s capacity to generate tangible social and economic benefits for communities as well as for individuals’ well-being.
At a time when teleological solutions to social problems are viewed with the gravest suspicion by academics and non-academics alike, such developments leave unanswered the question of what ‘cultural literacy’ ought to consist of, including the states of knowledge and activities most likely to promote it.  The question has fundamental implications both for citizens in general and for those professionally responsible for researching the field.  This in an era dominated by the global hegemony of new technology which is changing the very notion of culture itself. The objective of this discussion will be to consider what these implications are with reference to two examples from the work of the Cultural Literacy and Creative Futures group of the programme Cultural Literacy in Europe (CLE).

23 October

C89, County South


Julia Gillen and members of the Literacy Research Centre Advice on getting your journal article published

Are you writing at PhD or MA level and keen to get perhaps your first journal article published? Or perhaps you’ve got some interesting experiences you would like to share? Whether you’d like to offer or receive advice or just listen, you are welcome to a session where members of the Literacy Research Centre who are established writers and editors will be happy to share their experiences.

6 November

C89, County South


Sebastian Muth, LAEL Literacy development and social control: Governing language learners at a Swiss health resort

Located in pristine surroundings, in a picturesque valley in the Swiss Alps, Heidiland is a medical resort and spa clinic that has catered to exclusive guests for over 150 years somewhere in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. It represents a sector of the Swiss healthcare industry that caters exclusively to wealthy local and foreign patients and that is highly dependent on non-skilled migrant workers predominantly from countries of the European Union. Because of their lack of German skills, the resort’s human resources department organizes compulsory language courses that are emblematic of the ways in which language, in this case, language education or training, is used to manage and profit from an increasingly diverse workforce. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in two German language courses at Heidiland over two years, this paper illustrates how language plays a role in the hierarchization of workers and how the objectives and design of the courses are a function of the workers’ position in the hierarchy. Framed in the discourse of “corporate social responsibility”, the German language courses are a means of producing particular types of workers who do not cause problems for the organization and who can work and talk uniformly, in a way that fits Heidiland’s image as an exclusive health resort. As it emerged during fieldwork, the German courses also position the workers as unwilling language learners who must be made responsible for ensuring that they transparently and efficiently do their jobs, without addressing the structural conditions of the workers’ employment and the tenuous circumstances of their lives that play an immense role as largely unsuccessful language learners.

13 November

C89, County South


Uta Papen, LAEL, Julia Gillen, LAEL and Ulrike Zeshan, UCLan An ethnographic approach to learning, teaching and researching multiliteracies with young deaf adults in Ghana and Uganda

We discuss two action research projects undertaken with young deaf adults in Ghana, Uganda and India in 2015-2018. The aim has been to develop a new eco-system of learning around language and literacy. Here we focus mostly on work in Ghana and Uganda. Following an approach developed by Street (2012) and others (Rogers 1999), researchers, tutors and students used ethnographic-style methods to explore everyday literacy practices. These “real literacies” provide the basis for teaching-learning activities led by deaf peer tutors.
In the first project (2015-2016), deaf research assistants worked with young deaf adults in Ghana and Uganda to understand the ethnographic contexts of English literacy among these deaf communities and then created lessons based on real life materials. We also made use of an online platform, Sign Language to English by the Deaf (SLEND) on Moodle. Data collected include lessons implemented on Moodle, portfolios collected from students, and observations by research assistants. This project led to the idea that the focus of interventions should not be English literacy, but should embrace and move beyond a set of competencies in various modes, i.e. multiliteracies (Cope and Kalantzis, 2015), including L1 India/Ghanaian /Ugandan Sign Languages, English literacies and digital literacies (Zeshan et al, 2017).
Using real texts to generate pedagogic materials has proved to be motivating but also experienced as challenging by the learners and tutors. This is partly because real texts can be complex, and partly because language education is expected to be grammar-focussed. Accordingly, in the second project we intensified the training of research assistants and peer tutors and are seeking to use a greater variety of real texts, including digital media, and to combine learning activities on real life communicative practices with integrated grammar lessons. Our move from “literacies” to “multiliteracies” has enriched our approach in many ways but continues to bring out some tensions and dilemmas along the way. We have learned that it is important to work with all participants’ views including when there are productive tensions with the real literacies approach. Genuinely participatory methods of research and teaching are called for in the search for sustainable educational innovation.

27 November

C89, County South

Paper discussion session Coming to know more through and from writing (Prain and Hand, 2016)

We will be discussing the short yet fascinating paper: Prain, V., & Hand, B. (2016). Coming to Know More Through and From Writing. Educational Researcher, 45(7), 430–434. If you have any difficulties in obtaining the paper, which available through Lancaster library, do ask Julia Gillen.

11 December

C89, County South

Geoffrey Nsanja, University of Leeds Researching interim literacy practices through the Ubuntu lens

In this talk, I present a report of a research project I did into the writing practices of novice academic writers as they transition to university education in a Malawian university. As I examined these practices through the African onto-epistemological frames of Ubuntu particularly its emphasis on interdependence and becoming as the basis for “being” or “selfhood” (cf., Gade, 2011, 2012), I will highlight that as they engaged with new Discourses of higher education my participants were not just acquiring new knowledge items. Rather, at the heart of this engagement was an identity work they were doing, one which sees their view of self evolve.
Considering that selfhood and discourse are closely intertwined (Kramsch, 2015), I will highlight in this talk that as discourses which novices produce during this liminal phase are “interim literacy genres” (Paxton, 2006, 2007), then there is need for us to perceive these genres as unlike any we are familiar with. These I call “interacademic discourses” to highlight the hybrid nature of the discourses which novices in transition produce and are hailed by. At the heart of this talk will be a highlighting of the relational challenges which novices face to cope with “new ways of being” (Gee, 2008) in a new context. I will round off the talk by highlighting that such relational problems index the point that some of the novice failings in this liminal phase are indicative of a “failure of community” (Mann, 2005) and not the individual per se.


1pm 22 January County South C89 Juliet Henderson, Oxford Brookes University Towards a theorisation of possible selves in humanities and social science literacy practices

In this paper the term ‘possible selves’ is co-opted to refer to the contingent agency of the writing subject in five discursive fields of governance. As guiding ideals, productive regularities and technologies of subjectivation in the tightly regulated practices of university literacy, these fields govern what writers need to do for their work to be legitimised by dominant evaluative regimes. I distinguish the five ‘possible selves’ as follows: (i) the neoliberal self; (ii) the centred, Cartesian self; (iii) the ‘skilled’ compliant worker; (iv) the transformed, empowered self; and (v) the never completely achieved self. My intention in this paper is twofold. On the one hand, as governmentality of ‘good writing’ becomes more salient in UK universities, as evidenced by the proliferation of writing centres, questioning the givens of the social practices of ‘academic writing’ remains vital. On the other hand, I wish to make more explicit what hangs in the balance when we are either appropriated by or appropriate different styles of governmentality. In their reflexive relationship with knowledge and the institution subjects may find these categories of self of practical use in the daily business of becoming the self they aspire to be.

Jamie Duncan, Lancaster University Protest Literacies: Texts and Practices Contesting Military Policing and Mega-Events in Rio de Janeiro

In this presentation for the LRDG, I discuss my research on protest in Rio de Janeiro approached through the ethnographic and historical traditions of the New Literacy Studies. Based on one year of fieldwork over 2013-2014, the empirical focus is on protest events (e.g. demonstrations), the main themes that were contested through these, how such events connected over time, and the social uses of literacy and related communication technologies in their mobilization, performance, and dissemination.
From 2006, a period of contentious politics emerged in Rio through social movement responses to so-called ‘mega-events’ due to be hosted in the city (e.g. the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games). Newly implemented policies associated with preparations included the installation of policing in low income housing areas and extensive evictions referred to as ‘pacification’ and ‘removals’ respectively. Focussing on one area of favelas, my research charts the development of social movement responses toward these issues over a period of ten years (2006-2016) which I frame in terms of a particular cycle of protest.
In my LRDG talk I discuss one protest event which was one of the focal points of this cycle. Through this event, I highlight particular literacy practices (protest literacies) and intersecting meaning making trajectories (memorialization trajectories) characteristic of protest events over 2013-2014.

Thursday, 7 February
Sumin Zhao, Edinburgh University JOINT SESSION WITH LIP RESEARCH GROUP: The discourse of the self vs. the selfie: An (applied) linguistic take on social media

Increasingly visualised social media discourse poses an interesting challenge for discourse analysis, methodologically, theoretically, and ethnically. In this talk, I illustrate how multimodal discourse analytical methods can dialogue with the critical discourse analytical framework in analysing social media (Djonov & Zhao, 2014). The talk draws primarily on a collaborative project with Dr Michele Zappavigna on selfies and social media visual genres. Central to our discussion is the premise that the selfie is not simply a genre for self-representation but also one that generates various perspectives, that of the selfie maker, the represented visual participant, and the viewer (Zhao & Zappavigna, 2018a). This unique perspective generating nature of the selfie is both facilitated and constrained by the various technologies involved in selfie practices (Zhao & Zappavigna, 2018b). The unique “grammar” of the selfie makes it a genre easily re-contextualised across different platforms and social contexts (Zappavigna & Zhao, 2017, Zhao & Zappavigna, 2018c, Zappavigna & Zhao, forthcoming), giving rise to a discourse of the self or more precisely a discourse of the selfie, in which subjectivity and intersubjectivity intricately interwind. I endeavour to show how linguistic and discourse analysis approaches can offer unique insights into the production of “semiotic capitalism” in everyday practices. I also call for more attention to be paid to the “computer” or “semiotic technologies” (Zhao, Djonov & Van Leeuwen, 2014) in studying computer-mediated discourses.

Tuesday, 12 February
Diane Potts, Lancaster University The question of the question: Early stages in a design-based research project

This is a presentation populated by questions. With the help of Derick Chiu, a recipient of a departmental Trinity Studentship, I outline the early stages of a multi-year research project exploring pedagogies that simultaneously draw on and enhance students’ awareness of their plurilingual capacities. Following a brief description of design-based research (DBR) (The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003; McKenney & Reeves, 2018; Moore, Schleppegrell & Palincsar, 2018) and using students’ texts, observational data, student interviews and teaching resources from the project’s pre-design phase, I will trace the emerging classroom-based design of the project’s first formal research cycle.  Throughout, I will account for the systematic and ad hoc design decisions, decisions fueled by questions, informed by on-the-fly transitivity analyses and furthered by students’ input, that have influenced how we will interrogate conceptions of translanguaging that have recently dominated research in multilingual classrooms. To this, Derick will add his own questions and observations as an early stage researcher who is currently analyzing the students’ texts. Closing remarks will focus on the question of the question: that is, we will speak to questions capable of addressing three interconnected issues a) the need for research methodologies that account for the impact of pedagogic interventions without the constraints and epistemologically problematic assumptions that accompany randomly-controlled trials; b) the need to interrogate multiplying concepts of ‘languages’ (multilingualism, plurilingualism, translanguaging) for their pedagogic consequences, and c) the ambition among educators and educational researchers to pursue pedagogies that are simultaneously culturally-sustaining (Harman, 2018), academically rigorous and agency-enhancing.

Tuesday, 26 February
Napat Jitpaisarnwattana, Oxford University, UK and King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, Thailand Socialising and Personalising language MOOCs: Developing a Social and Personal Online Language Course (SPOLC)

This presentation will look at a Social and Personal Online Language course (SPOLC – a newly coined term used to refer to Language Massive Open Online Course in this project). There has been a lot of attention given to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and their potential to disrupt education. However, what Language MOOCs have struggled with is encouraging and enabling student interaction in order to improve learning. In addition, the high heterogeneity among students is also an important issue in LMOOCs. However, most existing LMOOCs still fail to incorporate these elements into their design. The design principles of SPOLC, aiming to solve these existing problems, afford a personal language-learning environment for learners by exploiting the data available through learning analytics as well as providing the highly interactional learning activities for participants. The content of the project targets primarily professional engineers who need to give presentation in their workplace. This project is being carried out as a part of a PhD dissertation on the same title and the data is being collected.

Monday March 25 11-12 C89 Kristiina Kumpulainen, University of Helsinki, Mari Keso, Helsinki, Uta Papen, Lancaster University, Julia Gillen, Lancaster University The Storybook Project – work in progress

We invite you to this work in progress session. Our Storybook mini project is a collaboration between the Joy of Multiliteracies project in Helsinki and the Peer to Peer Deaf Multiliteracies project (funded by ESRC/DFID). Julia Gillen and Uta Papen are Co-Investigators in the P2PDM three year project working with deaf young children and young adults in India, Uganda and Ghana. The two teams are coming together on Monday 25th March and we invite you to join us. In the Literacy Research Centre we are adapting the storybook authoring project developed by Kristiina Kumpulainen and her colleagues including the artist and designer Mari Keso in Finland for use by young children working with deaf tutors.

Tuesday 14 May 1-2pm County South C89 Karin Tusting, Sharon McCulloch. Ibrar Bhatt, Mary Hamilton and David Barton Book launch: Academics Writing: The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation

The book Academics Writing: The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation (Routledge) recounts how academic writing is changing in the contemporary university, transforming what it means to be an academic and how, as a society, we produce academic knowledge, drawing on detailed qualitative research on the daily writing lives of academics in different disciplines and different institutions. We will be launching the book on Tuesday May 14th at 1pm-2pm in County South, Room C89. All 5 authors will be present. We will provide an overview of the book with time for discussion.

Tuesday 28 May 1-2pm Bowland North SR 23 UK Brazil Collaboration Project The changing language and literacy landscapes of Brazilian Universities: English in policy development and in practice.

This ethnographic project investigates the specific ways in which university policy-making with regard to “internationalisation at home” is unfolding in two universities in Brazil, and the specific ways in which the use and production of texts in English, online and offline, is mediating this process, in different areas of academic life: research, teaching/learning (in different disciplines), and administration.
Professor Maria Lucia Castanheira Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil
Dr Izabel Magalhães University of Brasilia, Brazil
Professor Marilyn Martin-Jones University of Birmingham, UK
Dr Gilcinei T. Carvalho Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil
Dr Andrea Machado de Almeida Mattos Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil
Dr Ana Souza University of Brasilia, Brazil

Tuesday 18 June 1-2 C89 Eilidh Rose McEwan, UCLan Agency and empowerment amongst participants in a Deaf Multiliteracies Project

Many deaf people in India attain low levels of literacy in English. This subsequently can affect access to educational and employment opportunities, with a subsequent impact on quality of life across other areas. A wider Deaf Multiliteracies project across India, Uganda and Ghana sought to address low levels of literacy by teaching everyday literacies to deaf learners. This project also recruited deaf research assistants and peer tutors, and employed local sign languages in the efforts to promote learning in English. This study sought to establish how project participation is affecting the expression of agency amongst deaf participants in various roles from research assistants to learners.

Drawing on a series of face-to-face interviews and focus groups with Indian participants in the Deaf Multiliteracies project, the study sought to establish if participant involvement had led to greater emancipation or empowerment. Many discussed the development of new skills such as Peer to Peer teaching, English literacy, data collection and conference presentations skills. Others discussed how involvement in the Multiliteracies project had enhanced their skill-set, giving concrete examples of where they had made empowering choices and their methods had empowered their students in turn.