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Literacy Research Discussion Group (LRDG)

Co-organisers: Uta Papen and Virginie Theriault

Meetings are generally held every Tuesday during term time, 1.00 - 2.00 pm.

Room C89 (Meeting Room 7)
County South
Linguistics Department
Lancaster University

The entrance to this building is near the Conference Centre on the North Spine.


Summer term program 2014

6 May

Colleen Cotter, Queen Mary University of London
Language Attitudes and Practice in Newswriting Contexts
Journalists have a very conscious awareness of language as the primary tool of their craft, correlating prescriptive usage with professional literacy and skill and emphasizing these points at all stages of professional development, starting in newswriting classes and continuing throughout their careers. On one level, as self-identified “protectors” of the language (Cotter 2010, 2014), they explicitly follow prescriptive norms and operate as arbiters of usage, in the process functioning as an active partner in society’s language standardization dynamic, fostered by the written variety (cf. Milroy and Milroy 1999).
On another level, they respond to social and cultural change, promoting (or reacting to) linguistic innovation in ways that other standard-language-based registers (e.g., in education, academic publishing) do not. The state of the language is very much part of journalists’ professional discourse or metatalk, as I will show. Examples are drawn from The Associated Press stylebooks and online commentary from journalists. The data show the degree to which there is an ongoing conversation or metatalk about language within the news profession; the expansion of this engagement that online discussion formats have afforded; and the active role the news media expect themselves to play in the linguistic and social support and maintenance of the standard variety.

13 May

PhD students’ session
Literacies on the spot: roots, methods, and future of the New Literacy Studies
This session aims at providing an opportunity for postgraduate students to ask questions and discuss current issues with the academic community working on literacies. The session has been organised by a group of PhD students working on literacies and sociolinguistics at Lancaster University. The group of PhD students have been meeting informally for a few months (we call it the “Literacy café”) and have discussed key concepts, methods, and data analysis in their fields of study. This LRDG session arose from these dynamic and fruitful meetings.
PhD students have been invited to provide questions which will then be put to the literacy researchers during the session. Four main topics will be discussed: 1) the roots of the New Literacy Studies, 2) the methodologies and methods, 3) digital literacies, and 4) the future of the NLS. The session will combine open discussions with an interactive workshop about the future of the NLS. Postgraduate students, staff and everyone interested in literacy studies are very welcome to join this informal and friendly session. Please bring any questions you have about the field of literacy studies.

20 May

Uta Papen, Lancaster University
C-a-t makes cat: teaching literacy with phonics. What is an NLS researcher to make of this?

Since October 2013 I have spent one morning per week in a local primary school researching how literacy is taught to five and six year olds. The main approach used by the teachers is what is called ‘synthetic phonics’, a way of teaching reading and writing that is strongly supported by the government. I did not come to this study with a completely open mind. My views on synthetic phonics are complex and at times not clear at all. When I first began to read about phonics, for me as an NLS researcher, this method seemed to tick all the boxes in terms of being heavily skills focussed, treating literacy as context free, forgetting about meaning and forcing children to undergo countless hours of boring drills in sounds and letters. Since then I have read a lot more about the approach, I have studied the politics surrounding it and the concepts of reading it is based on. Most importantly, thanks to my time with the 30 children in the classroom, I have seen how it works in practice and what it can (and cannot) achieve. So the question in my title is genuine and I haven’t got an answer yet. There is one thing though I am more and more certain about: if phonics works, it does so, only in part because of what it is. What works, I will suggest in my talk, is the combination of phonics with all the other things the teachers do throughout the school day, from songs, to prayers, play and paint. So the magic ingredient for literacy teaching politicians are searching for might be something like ‘phonics plus’.

27 May

no session

3 June

no session

10 June

Angela Brzeski, Lancaster University
'Daddy's girl', the 'good' student and others … the multi-faceted identities of college students

My talk focuses on a theme which emerged during my PhD study which investigated the relationship between home and college literacy practices of Further Education students and their engagement in learning. This theme was literacy, learning and identity which, initially, I found to be a real challenge but it turned out to be absolutely fascinating.My starting point was to ask myself are there specific literacy practices associated with specific identities? If so, how far do these relate to students' engagement or disengagement?This talk provides my answers to these questions.

In my study, I took an ethnographic approach to research the literacy practices of eight students at a college in the North West of England.I carried out observations, interviews and analysis of their work, which generated a wealth of interesting data.

My talk will also reveal my contributions to the theory of literacy and education together with classroom practice.

17 June

A discussion session on writing and academic literacies with Teresa Lillis (Open University) and Roz Ivanic (LAEL).

Following the success of our recent discussion session (13th May 2014), this will be another opportunity to get together to talk about current issues in literacy studies, this time focussing in particular on writing and academic literacies. We have invited Teresa Lillis, Professor of English Language and Applied Linguistics in the Centre for Language and Communication at The Open University and Director of the Research Group, Language and Literacies. She will be joined by Roz Ivanic, Professor Emerita at LAEL.

The session will be an open discussions about the New Literacies Studies and in particular research into academic writing (student and staff). We hope that many of you, postgraduate students, staff and everyone interested in literacy studies will join us for  this informal and friendly session. If you have any specific questions that you would like to discuss during the session please send these to Virginie ( or Uta ( by Tuesday 10th June at the latest.

24 June

Jennifer Rowsell, Brock University & Cheryl McLean, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words:  Im/materializing Literacies in the 21st century classroom
 We explore material and immaterial aesthetics in two parallel research studies in the US and Canada on literacy and interpretative photography, making the argument that taken as a visual concept, photography shifts how students think about narrative to how they think about image. Immaterial relations created across both sets of data enrich our presentation of ‘lines of flight’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) while Rosenblatt’s (1978) theory of transaction frames our discussion of the process of meaning making. Our discussion addresses the value of aesthetics and multimodality in facilitating students’ representation of complex meanings, and acknowledging their diverse literacies, backgrounds, and environments. 

1 July

Johanna Woydack, King’s College London
“You have to make the script your own”:  the question of language commodification, control and agency in a multilingual London call centre
Ever since their creation, call centres have been the focus of controversy partly because they are widely seen as the new sweatshops but also the epitome of the perfect panopticon.  Key to this control and symbolic of this are said to be pre-written corporate scripts that impose a specific branded corporate persona on call centre workers. It is assumed that agents follow them through continuous surveillance. Drawing on several years of fieldwork in a London multilingual call centre in this paper it is argued that the role of call centre scripts has not only been widely misunderstood but also misrepresented for historical, methodological and epistemological reasons and that instead the control mechanism and point of struggle are targets. This research suggests that call centre agents experience scripts as tools they can personalise and which allow them to do their jobs well and acquire new linguistic capital.


View all forthcoming events for the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre


Lent term program 2014

12 January

Arshad Ali, Institute of Education, University of London
Reading the World: Political Literacy and Muslim Youth Citizenship in Post 9-11 America
In this talk Dr. Arshad Ali explore questions of citizenship, liberalism, and gender to examine the contours of identity formation among Muslim youth in the United States. Drawing upon five years of ethnographic research with Muslim youth in Southern California and New York City between 2008 and 2013, this research situates itself at the intersections of socio-cultural learning theory, post-colonialism and critical theories of race to examine how young Muslims utilize social, cultural and political literacies to understand the opportunities they have for participation in American forms of democracy and civic life. This research asks how the context of post 9-11 anti-Muslim paranoia and state surveillance altered and re-figured the way young Muslims understand their participation in community, political and social life, and how they use language to construct, re-imagine and re-figure lexicons of social practice and identity formation between racial, gender, and religious narratives of self.

28 January

Ulla Lundqvist, University of Copenhagen
Children as Linguistic Landscapers
I present preliminary findings from a recent case study on children’s language socialization in Copenhagen, Denmark. The project falls within the frames of Linguistic Ethnography (Rampton 2007, Creese 2008), and sees language and literacy as social practice, which exists in multiple forms (Barton 2010). The study includes Linguistic Landscaping. I draw on recent research within the field (Malinowski 2009, Papen 2012, Blommaert 2013), and expand the traditional approach of Linguistic Landscaping by including children as participants in the data production. This presentation discusses urban children’s understandings of language and literacy in their everyday spaces seen through the lens of Linguistic Landscaping. My findings raises questions like how is our landscape made through language, how is language and literacy represented in urban children’s pictures of their everyday spaces, and how do children author the landscape?

4 February

Reading session chaired by Uta Papen, Lancaster University
Discussion on Collin’s article (2013) ‘Revisiting Jack Goody to Rethink Determinisms in Literacy Studies’
Abstract: ‘This article revisits Goody's arguments about literacy's influence on social arrangements, culture, cognition, economics, and other domains of existence. Whereas some of his arguments tend toward technological determinism (i.e., literacy causes change in the world), other of his arguments construe literacy as a force that shapes and is shaped by disparate social processes. This article also reviews the critiques of Goody's work developed in the subfield of sociocultural literacy studies. Although the critics are right to object to the elements of technological determinism in his work, their rejection of his larger project leads them to miss ideas that can help clarify literacy's role in the transformation of society. Moreover, their misreading of Goody's work contributes to the field's underestimation of the distinct force of literacy and overestimation of the force of local cultures. In other words, how they misread Goody's work limits the depth of the answers that they provide to questions about literacy and its relations to culture, economics, politics, and other social spheres. These relations can be better understood when Goody's work is reread with an interaction model of literacy that figures changes in literacy as conditions of and conditional upon changes in other domains. Equipped with this model, researchers may rectify the supposed technological determinism of Goody's approach and the cultural determinism of some sociocultural accounts of literacy. Researchers may then synthesize these ideas to develop approaches that clarify literacy's evolving relations with other aspects of the world. This article concludes by explaining how a revised understanding of genre may bring into view the interplay between literacy and different social processes.’
Collin, R. (2013). Revisiting Jack Goody to Rethink Determinisms in Literacy Studies. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(1), 27–38.

11 February

Pamela Olmos Lopez, Lancaster University
Analysing authorial identity and communicative purposes in EFL writing: the case of undergraduate dissertations
Thesis writing is an endeavour which integrates diverse academic skills covering writing and researching skills as well as the writer’s stance (Read, et al. 2001; Bartholomae, 1985).That is why it is seen as one of the most challenging tasks students face (Bunton, 2005). Thesis writing becomes more challenging when the writing is in a foreign language since the writer deals with other language systems different from their own. In undergraduate study in Mexico, students are often required to write a thesis. However, researching writing at undergraduate level has been undervalued as undergraduates are considered lack of authorial voice (Stapleton, 2002). Based on the premise that every piece of writing contains writer’s voice (Ivanic, 1998), my study presents a framework for the analysis of authorial stance and communicative functions along the five chapters of the dissertation. The study comprises a corpus of 30 dissertations written by Non-native speakers of English. WordSmith Tools (Scott, 2010) is used to identify linguistic indicators which display both expression of authorial identity and communicative functions.

18 February

Vicky Duckworth, Edge Hill University
Book launch: Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners
‘Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners offers deep insights into the lives of marginalised communities and the link between learning, literacy and violence, not previously carried out in-depth in a small scale study. It breaks the negative stereo-types of adults who struggle to read and write, who are often labelled and stigmatised by dominant discourses, and in doing so exposes why and how Basic Skills Learners often find themselves in marginal positions. The structural inequalities many face from childhood to adulthood across the private and public domains of their lives are revealed and probed, thus challenging neo-liberalism claims of an apparently egalitarian social field. The learners’ narratives expose the contradiction, complexities and ambivalences they experience in their daily lives, and how they try to make sense of them from their structural positioning as basic skills learners in a society based on inequality of opportunity and choice.’
Vicky Duckworh will introduce her book, followed by comments and discussions from Virginie Theriault, Murray Saunders and Mary Hamilton.
(Full description available here:

25 February

Jing Huang, Lancaster University
Migrants' Bilingual Discourses and Identity Construction within Competing Language Ideologies in Guangzhou, China
This study employs a sequential conversation analysis (Auer, 1995) within the discourse-historical approach (Reisigl & Wodak, 2009) to examine the construction of Putonghua, Cantonese and migrants’ identity in the context of conflicting local and national language attitudes and ideologies. At the local level, I will show a pervasive correlation which ties the Cantonese language to being a Cantonese, to the territory of Guangzhou, and to morality and civilisation through analysing texts in pro-Cantonese banners in recent language protests and migrants’ biographical narratives in interviews and focus groups. At the national level, this study will focus on a document commemorating the policy of promoting Putonghua and the Law on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language, in which ‘disorder’ and diversity of languages can ostensibly be transformed into something ordered and harmonious. Against such background, migrants affiliate themselves to certain groups by switching codes, negotiating the language-of-interaction and employing discursive strategies.

4 March

Mark Sebba, Lancaster University
Absence of Evidence? Researching minority language texts at the margins of the global economy
The study of Linguistic Landscapes has moved from a largely quantitative to a more methodologically diverse, often qualitative, approach, with many studies incorporating ethnographic, multimodal and critical methodology. Despite this, not much attention has been given to the extent and the intensity of the researcher’s gaze: exactly where, and how carefully, must the researcher look for the public texts which form the data for LL research?
This paper, which is mainly concerned with methodological issues, discusses the author’s attempts to study the linguistic landscape of an economically and socially disadvantaged area of a British seaside town, with a relatively high (> 5%) concentration of recent (post-2004) migrants from Poland. In numerical, social, economic, linguistic and even geographical terms, this community can reasonably be called ‘marginal’. A survey of ‘public road signs, […] commercial shop signs, and public signs on government buildings’ (Bourhis and Landry 1997: 25) will reveal some, but not much, evidence of the Polish language. A more detailed exploration of the public space shows that Polish is often inserted into more marginal spaces using less prestigious or technologically advanced materials, e.g. in the form of home-made, hand-lettered, one-off signs and small notices at eye level in shop windows and notice boards.
Findings from this research suggest that ‘marginal texts’ may be distinctive in terms of their location, substance and content, and that the often-used dichotomy of ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ is less useful than an understanding of ‘for whom’.
It will be argued that a nuanced, ethnographic and multimodal approach is essential for discovering and analysing public texts in marginalised languages.

11 March

Julia Davies, University of Sheffield
"(Im)material girls living in (im)material worlds: identiy curation through time and space"

This paper describes the role of Facebook in the lives of a group of fashion conscious trainee hairdressers living in a city in the north of England. The research looks at vernacular digital literacy practices in the lives of these Facebook friends. Following Leander and McKim (2003) I used a connected approach, tracing narratives as they flowed across the spaces of my friends’ lives.
These women were not interested in academic reading or writing but invested time reading and writing using their smartphones.  Their literacy practices were integral to their social and working lives; Facebook mediated and constituted social acts, evolving as a material reality, something to be curated (Potter, 2012) as well as a means through which they composed (Latta Kirby, 2013) their lives.
The friends crafted textual identity performances which reflected and impacted how they saw themselves, their world and their place within it.  The boundedness of different spaces were porous as images of bedrooms, nightclubs and bars, the salon and the college were displayed in online albums. I argue that this dynamic gave rise to complex interactions and relationships bringing about new ways of performing and understanding the self .  

18 March

Steve Wright, Lancaster University
Provisional Title: “Innovative methods for capturing and analysing sequential and categorical practices”
This is a methods-focussed session. I will present novel approaches and tools I have used in my PhD research on tasting assessment practices for capturing writing,  form-filling and speaking practices and their sequential organisation. Through using “LiveScribe” pens and then analysing them using Atlas.ti I focus on the opportunities these devices create for capturing sequential writing and audio that can inform and extend Conversation Analysis, Multi-modal methods and  ethnographic practices. There will be opportunities to use and engage with the devices and an introduction to processes (and challenges) of translating and preparing the outputs data for analysis in CAQDAS software.
I will then turn to consider how sequential analysis can be supported through using Atlas.ti and ways of breaking out of the implicit grounded-theory paradigm that informs much CAQDAS analysis. Through using ethnomethodologically-related and actor-network informed approaches I present some of the methods for coding, searching and retrieving data I have developed. These methods are particularly applicable to literacy research especially for those interested in the relationship of talk to writing. They also extend to other areas including those interested in the practices of completing standardised forms and questionnaires, and those interested in devolving data capture to participants.



For info: Michaelmas term program 2013

15 October

David Barton and Virginie Thériault, Lancaster University
Informal discussion session
The first meeting of this academic year will be held on Tuesday 15th October. It will be an informal discussion where members of the Literacy Research Centre will report back with news of conferences they have attended during the summer, including the BAAL annual conference and a Language in the Media conference. Everyone is welcome to attend and to contribute their news.

22 October

Nikolaj Frydensbjerg Elf, University of Southern Denmark
Writing to learn, learning to write: literacy and disciplinarity in Danish upper secondary education
During the latest decades the technological development in communication has altered the nature and practice of writing and brought with it a dramatic increase in the spread and significance of writing. There is a call to know what this means for the individual in the context of a learner biography and how the challenge is met at subject and schooling levels (Bazerman 2008).  The presentation will present design, methodology, analytical framework and findings from the explorative, longitudinal ethnographic research project Writing to Learn, Learning to Write (WLLW). The aim of the project is to explore Danish students’ trajectories as writers through their secondary and upper secondary education, and the patterns of identification (Ivanič 1998, 2006) inherent in the processes of learning to write in school subjects as well as in learning subjects through writing. Two heuristic models are presented and demonstrated on two students writing in Science in the transition from a secondary school setting (grade 9) to an upper secondary school setting (grade 10-12).

29 October

Sue Grief, PhD student, Institute of Education, University of London
Writing in small businesses
This study involves a series of case studies of micro businesses, located within a small East Anglian town. Using a mix of semi-structured interviews, observation, and analysis of texts I am attempting to describe the ways in which writing is used in the course of the everyday work of these businesses.
The analysis is ongoing. To date, this suggests that the businesses prefer to keep writing to a minimum but, at the same time, the participants are aware that written texts play a vital role in co-ordinating their day to day work. The element of time is important in their literacy practices, (Tusting, 2000) while the ‘horizontal’ movements of ‘small texts’, across space and time, (Kell, 2011) are central to the efficient organisation of the work. Drawing on a social semiotic theory of multimodality (Kress, 2010) also permits a focus on the creativity of participants in their use of the affordances of a range of semiotic resources to achieve their purposes (Mavers, 2011) and avoids a discourse of deficit in relation to what could be regarded as mundane written texts.

5 November

Kristof Savski, Lancaster University
The Slovenian tradition of language cultivation: history and potential
Language cultivation is an approach to language planning which was originally designed in the early 20th Century by linguists of the Prague Circle. In order to support social modernisation within a nation-state, they advocated proactive development of the standard language, with the aim of preparing it to fulfil the widest possible array of functions. This approach to language planning was very quickly taken up by scholars in Slovenia, where it blended together with a tradition of aggressive purism. In my talk, I examine the legacy of this tradition in current Slovenian society against the background of a critical approach to language policy. I briefly present more traditional means of prescription before analysing a recent interactive quiz about grammar and orthography. I conclude by presenting the potential of this tradition to support social transformation towards a more inclusive and democratic multilingual society.

12 November

Alexander David Pask-Hughes, Lancaster University
Critical discourse analysis, language ideologies and activist digital literacy practices

Due to wholesale reforms to welfare in the UK under the current Coalition government, many people, organisations and networks have utilised the affordances of online platforms in order to challenge austerity measures, the assumptions upon which such policies are built and the effects of such policies. Given the history of research discourse of welfare reform from a CDA perspective (e.g. Fairclough 2000; Connor 2007, 2010), it seems to be a useful approach to examining the practices of resistance to welfare reform. However, not only has CDA been slow to utilise computer-mediated data, questions remain over the approach with regard to how much has been said about resistance (Martin 2004), practices of reception (Pennycook 2001) and the language used by critical discourse analysts (Billig 2008). In this paper, I have two aims. Firstly, I outline these criticism of CDA and offer some suggestions for an alternative but complementary approach drawing upon both literacy studies and folk linguistics. Secondly, I show how such an approach might illuminate examples of online practices of resistance to welfare reforms. Such examples are predominantly drawn from the continued resistance to reforms to disability and sickness benefits, and the role of the French IT services corporation AtoS in delivering work capability assessments.

19 November

Discussion session chaired by Julia Gillen, Lancaster University
Qualitative interviews and focus groups in literacy research

For many researchers in literacy studies, talk around texts is not only part of literacy practices themselves, but also part of our research methodology. In this discussion session we will share some experiences of the benefits and challenges, pitfalls and surprises of researching with interviews and focus groups. The session will be introduced by Julia Gillen. Following this there will be a few planned short contributions and then the floor will be open. The session will include some advice on resources.

26 November

Cindy Schneider, University of New England, Australia
Reading and writing around the edges: ‘fringe-dwelling’ in a PNG community
One indicator of a region’s social and economic well-being is its literacy rate. But in fact, research has shown that the links between literacy and development are far from straightforward (Hamilton 2012: 4-5). Graff and Duffy (2010: 41-42) refer to this as the ‘Literacy Myth’ – the assumption that being literate confers advantage, and by corollary, that being non-literate leads to disadvantage.
But what does it mean to be ‘literate’? In this talk I will discuss individual and institutional literacy practices within a small Papua New Guinean community, based on observations and interviews conducted over a 9-month period. From this research, three generalisations can be made. Local literacies are: (1) multilingual; (2) shared and public; (3) ignored and/or undervalued.
Social exclusion is something that literacy development is ostensibly meant to address. Yet, the lack of validation of grassroots literacy practices actually helps to perpetuate inequality by producing an underclass of literacy ‘fringe-dwellers’. If governments could lead by example and embrace a more inclusive view of literacy, this could empower individuals and communities, which may, in turn, foster genuine social and economic development.

3 December

This session is postponed to next term because members of Unison, Unite and the UCU at Lancaster University will be on strike on the 3rd December.

10 December

Mary Hamilton, Lancaster University
Methodological issues in tracking media coverage of the international survey of adult skills PIAAC


LRDG Meeting Record

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