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LRDG meetings held in 2011
18 January 2011
Julia Gillen, Lancaster University
Discussion of the Government's plans for a new phonics test for 6 year olds
The Coalition Government's Education White Paper contains plans for a phonics test for 6 year olds. The results of this test would be included in the RAISE online data analysis. This means the test would be very high stakes and that there will now be national reading assessments of children at 5, 6 and 7 years old in English schools. There is currently a consultation procedure underway. I will briefly introduce the plans and the response of the UK Literacy Association before opening a discussion. Whether interested as a parent, or as an academic concerned with literacy, early childhood education or processes of policy-making and public consultation we hope you will join us in discussion and indeed in responding to the consultation.
25 January 2011
Kevin Watson, Lancaster University / Patrick Honeybone, University of Edinburgh
On dialect spelling, social practice and sociolinguistic salience
[rescheduled from Term 1]
This talk reports on a recent investigation into a phenomenon in which non-standard spelling is common in professionally produced, published English. Specifically, we discuss a literary genre – which we label contemporary humorous localized dialect literature (CHLDL) – in which attempts are made at using semi-phonetic spellings to represent non-standard varieties of English in print. As we will see, there has been little systematic linguistic investigation of this particular genre of dialect writing, despite the fact that it represents an authentic linguistic and cultural phenomenon which is very popular throughout Britain and the United States. When similar writing has been investigated by linguists, it has often been criticized, in part because of its light-hearted nature and subjective, assumption-laden approach to the representation of linguistic detail (cf Preston 2002). In this paper, we show that the potential value of such writing has been overlooked. We argue that if orthography is conceived as a social practice in which spelling choices are the result of an author’s meaningful decisions (cf Sebba 2007, 2009), then any respellings have the potential to shed light on those linguistic features which have become ‘enregistered’ in a given variety (Agha 2003). With this view, avenues are opened up which allow a range of issues to be considered, such as the notion of sociolinguistic salience, and in particular how linguists can tap into and explore the relative salience of certain linguistic variables. We explore these avenues in this talk by investigating a small, newly compiled corpus of ‘folk dictionaries’, each of which attempts to represent the variety of English spoken in Liverpool, in the north-west of England. This particular variety of English, popularly called 'Scouse', is well known in England because it has a number of phonological characteristics which distinguish it from surrounding accents (see Knowles 1973, Honeybone 2001, Watson 2007), and also because it is stigmatised (Coupland & Bishop 2007, Montgomery 2007). However, whilst we know that a Scouse accent is stigmatised as a whole, we know little about which of its phonological features contribute to that stigma. We show how CHLDL can help contribute to a discussion of this issue, and provide a number of suggestions for how such writing might be incorporated into future variationist sociolinguistic work.
1 February 2011
“Texts, Text-Reader Conversations, and Institutional Discourse”:
Institutional Ethnography and Literacy Studies – a reading session
Facilitated by Karin Tusting and Mary Hamilton
The sociological field of ‘institutional ethnography’ is an approach to the study of social relations which has great potential interest for literacy studies. Smith’s concept of ‘textually mediated social organization’ (Smith 1990) has been drawn on and referenced in some of our more recent work. In this session, we will reflect together on a reading from Smith’s later (2005) work Institutional Ethnography, in which she develops the approach in detail. The chapter we will be discussing, chapter 5, “Texts, text-reader conversations, and institutional discourse”, looks particularly at the key role of texts in producing translocal co-ordination of local activities, and at how these processes can be approached from an ethnographic perspective.
Karin Tusting and Mary Hamilton will open the discussion with some brief framing comments. Copies of the reading are available from the Literacy Research Centre pigeonholes, C floor FASS building.
Smith, D. E. (1990). Textually Mediated Social Organization, in Texts, Facts and Femininity: Exploring the Relations of Ruling (pp. 209-224). London: Routledge.
8 February 2011
Julia Gillen, Lancaster University.
Revisiting speech vs. writing in the age of the Internet
As long as people have been interested in thinking about language, the divide between speech and writing has been much debated. Contemporary researchers of language online are often taking the view that digital literacies entail a new reworking of distinctions. In this presentation I will give a brief history of some of the theorising of relationships between orality and literacy, outlining some of the arguments I have found particularly compelling. I will then argue that rather than opening up innovative points of view much contemporary work on language online is suffering from a damaging confusion. Finally in this exploratory paper I will attempt to map out some ways forward.
15 February 2011
David Barton, Lancaster University.
Fleeing from an ash cloud: Languages, literacies and technologies as resources in a coach hurtling across Europe.
This paper is about people’s decision-making and communication practices in times of uncertainty. It examines how people acted when flights were grounded in Europe in April 2010 as a result of the ash cloud, focussing on a group of people travelling from Norway to Britain in a hired coach. Drawing on literacy studies along with broader work on new technologies, it covers:
The paper emphasises the need to develop richer notions of networked interaction and mediated language use in a mobile world, and it highlights the importance of language issues for crisis management in a multilingual, multimodal world.
22 February 2011
Tomoya Iwatsuki, Visiting Research Fellow from Kyoto Women's University.
Discussant: Mary Hamilton, Lancaster University.
Adult literacy education in Japan: the history, methodology and philosophy.
The purpose of this paper is to clarify the history and methodology of adult literacy education in Japan by describing concrete classroom practices and to examine the philosophy behind the methodology with the help of the theory of literacy as social practice. Generally in Japan the problem of adult literacy has not been considered as a domestic issue and practices of adult literacy education in various places such as Buraku communities, night-junior high schools, dosshouse areas and communities of Koreans in Japan have been marginalized until now. But as I discuss in this paper on the basis of in-depth studies (including a longitudinal ethnographic study), Japanese literacy education seems to be quite interesting because it has emphasized not only simple skills of reading and writing but also speaking and writing for self-expression and interaction. In particular, from the viewpoint of the social practice theory of literacy the philosophy of Japanese literacy education appears to have notable characteristics in terms of the view of resources, writing activities and literacy.
1 March 2011
Mark Sebba, Lancaster University
Reading the multilingual textual space
Recently, a number of theoretical frameworks have been put forward which provide approaches to the interpretation of bilingual and multilingual public texts, with a particular focus on fixed public signage. For example, the notion of ‘linguistic landscapes’ (Landry and Bourhis 1997, Gorter 2006) provides a way of thinking about multilingual public texts as reflections of the multilingual composition of an urban area; Kress and van Leeuwen (1996/2006) provide a set of categories for analysing visual images which potentially occur alongside texts, while Scollon and Scollon (2003) analyse signs, including bilingual signage, in terms of their visual components as well as the ‘semiotics of place’. In this paper I will argue for a framework which recognises the interconnectedness of fixed signage with the rest of the textually mediated world. Public signage reflects not only (or not even) the languages in its environment but also, to a variable extent, public policy goals, market pressures and power relations between languages. But so too do other kinds of public texts, such as leaflets, wrappers, bus schedules and application forms. Furthermore, similar kinds of visual and linguistic strategy are used – for example, to construct languages as equal or less-than-equal – in fixed signage and in other public texts. Case studies from different countries are offered, illustrated by reproductions of public texts.
Kress, Gunther R. and T. van Leeuwen (1996/2006) Reading images : the grammar of visual design. Routledge.
8 March 2011
Rosie Flewitt, The Open University
Early literacy development in today's world: a multimodal perspective
There is little doubt that digital media now play a significant part in everyday literacy practices in the UK, but what impact do they have on young children's literacy learning at home and in early education? In this workshop I will report on a small-scale ESRC study that explored the range of traditional and digital literacy resources that 3 and 4-year-old children encountered at home and in one Sure Start early years nursery in the south of England. Drawing on questionnaire and interview data, along with ethnographic video case studies, I will discuss practitioner and parental beliefs about the role of new technologies in young children's present and future lives, and how the young children studied developed literacy knowledge and skills as they engaged with the different representational modes available to them in a range of media, from making marks with crayons on paper, to sharing illustrated story books, computers, interactive TV screens, games consoles and digital toys. The talk will then explore the implications of these findings for theories of literacy as social practice.
3 May 2011
Helen Oughton University of Bolton
“220 Fatal Accidents”: Texts, Talk and Meaning in Adult Numeracy Classrooms
Audio-recordings from adult numeracy classrooms will be played to demonstrate how learners responded to two different texts, both of which presented numeracy problems which might be supposed to have socio-critical significance.
When working with the first text, a traditional worksheet of mathematical word-problems, the students appeared not to respond to the social “context” in which the problem was set. However, with the second text, of a very different nature and mediated by the teacher, they responded critically and playfully to the context presented to them.
In our discussion I hope to turn a social practice lens on the adult numeracy classroom, and interrogate the notion of “context”. I suggest that the classroom should be regarded as a context in itself, and that word-problems as a genre are associated with a specific set of numeracy practices embedded in their own social purposes.
In order to identify ways to make numeracy learning more relevant to adult learners lives, I want to consider which features of the second activity encouraged the students towards a socio-critical response. In particular, I would like to discuss whether the materiality of the text used, and its mediation by the teacher, can play a role in disrupting the normal expectations of classroom discourse.
You do not need any mathematical knowledge to participate in this session!
10 May 2011
Ana Tominc Lancaster University
Visuals in cookbooks: Jamie Oliver and recent transformations in selected Slovene cookbooks
Photographic material plays an essential role in contemporary instructional genres, such as cookbooks. Not only does such multimodality aid the reader’s understanding of the process of preparation, but they also represent a certain lifestyle. Increasingly, certain kinds of cookbooks include also representations of particular places, people and habits.
In this talk I focus on the visual aspect of cookbooks in Slovenia. While older cookbooks hardly contained a small amount of drawings, this changed as technological advancements in printing and photography allowed for photographs of food to be included in the books in a larger number. However, as Jamie Oliver’s books were first introduced to Slovenia in 2002, they contained not only food photography (and, some of them also ‘food-porn’) but also the images of the chef-celebrity, his friends and family, and representation of his daily habits. In the final section of my talk I compare Oliver’s visuals to those found in some very recent Slovene cookbooks. I argue that the visual element is just another part of transformation of cookbooks as genres in post 1989 Slovenia as it matches transformations found in linguistic material.
This talk will include a number of food photographs which are designed to make you hungry – you are very welcome to bring your lunch! :-)
17 May 2011
Daniel Cassany (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
Catalan Research on Adolescent and Adult Literacy
The aim of this talk is to introduce the research group LiteracitatCritica (Critical Literacy, in Catalan), from Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona). I’ll explain briefly its composition, major projects, publications and websites. As an example I will summarize three recent small research projects, using case study approaches and focusing on the reading practices of youth people, which have been published in Catalan in Catalan journals:
1. Reading aboutdrugson the web. Three boys (13-14 years) read three websites about marijuana (political, religious and scientific) and choose one to recommend to a friend. The transcript of the conversation shows that: a) the boys ignore the ideology of the websites; b) construct meaning when they connect what they read with their environment, c) use superficial criteria to solve the task. See: Martí (2008) Articles, 44: 59-74.
2. Reading political editorials. 9 college students (17-18 years) read two political editorials with opposite positions and have to guess their ideology, to justify it and to decide whether they agree or not. Data from the interviews and the responses show that: a) only 1 student fails and shows systematic inconsistencies, b) 4 students agree with 1 editorial and provide personal data and coherent reasoning; b) 4 students both agree with the two editorials and in their responses repeat ideas, say obvious things or erratic data. See: Cassany, Cortiñas, Hernández and Sala (2008) Temps d’Educació, 34: 11-28. http://www.raco.cat/index.php/TempsEducacio/article/view/126497
3. Internet: 1; School: 0? Ari_chan dedicates 2-3h per day to reading and writing on the Web: she is webmaster of a literary forum, has two photologs with 15 readers, writes a personal diary, etc. But she cannot pass several exams on Language and Arts for her final college course. Based on interviews and analysis of her writings and teaching materials at college, I’ll discuss whether the Internet provides a more significant and effective context (community of practice) than school for some learners for the purpose of developing their literate practices. See: Cassany and Hernández (2011), Articles, 53: 25-34.
The slides for this talk are available at: http://www.slideshare.net/DanielCassany/lancaster-11-def
24 May 2011
Claire Coulton Lancaster University
“You know, they’re things with paper? They haven’t got an off button.” Reading, writing and risky literacies at home.
In public and mainstream discourse, children’s literacy skills are frequently viewed as being under threat by new modes of interpersonal communication conducted through media such as SMS text messaging, synchronous chat (i.e. MSN) and social networking (i.e. Facebook). However, alongside these powerful messages that highlight a threat to traditional literacy standards, parents are also encouraged to provide ICTs and the internet for their children in order for them to make the most of the educational opportunities digital technologies can offer. This talk presents findings from a research project which aims to highlight these conflicting discourses and how families negotiate them in their day-to-day lives. I argue that new literate practices with ICTs are considered risky by parents who value traditional print literacy and the perceived needs of the market place, “rather than the everyday social and relational needs of communicators” (Thurlow & Bell, 2009).
31 May 2011
Awena Carter Lancaster University
Competing Discourses Embedded in a Dyslexic Child’s Story Writing
The significant difficulties dyslexic children experience with reading, writing and spelling mean that often what they write on the page does not reflect what they think and understand. This dislocation between their literacy and conceptual development can lead to their being constructed in different and sometimes conflicting ways, both by teachers from different pedagogical standpoints, and by researchers. In this talk I use textual analysis and ethnographic approaches to reveal the three conflicting discoursal constructions of one dyslexic child’s identity in her story writing. I use the materiality of a story book she wrote during the time when I was her dyslexia support teacher to reveal the ways the child is constructed by:
Reference: Ivanič, R. 2004. ‘Discourses of Writing and Learning to Write’. Language and Education, Vol. 18, No. 3, pp.220-245.
14 June 2011
Paper discussion session:
From variation to heteroglossia in the study of computer-mediated discourse
Forthcoming in C. Thurlow & K. Mroczek (eds.) Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media, OUP (due July 2011).
In this paper Androutsopoulos identifies five qualities, or "limits" of a language variation approach to the study of language online – or, more particularly Web 2.0 environments. He argues that the "semiotic patchworks" of social networking texts "exhaust the potential of variation analysis" and proposes that heteroglossia offers a richer perspective. We will discuss his paper, possibly focussing on questions such as:
What does Androutsopoulos mean by his contrasting characterisations of a variationist approach and one centred on heteroglossia?
What challenges arise in the discussion of highly multimodal, multilingual data such as that which he samples in this chapter and what does his approach offer?
Is heteroglossia more applicable to Web 2.0 analysis than language encountered in other contexts?
The discussion will be introduced and chaired by Julia Gillen.
The paper is available online at
21 June 2011
Negotiating discipline and politics: How students draw on diverse practices when ‘doing a dissertation’
Kathrin Kaufhold (Lancaster University)
Master’s level dissertations provide opportunities for students to draw on diverse writing-related practices. However, this process is not a linear transfer. It can entail conflicts that students need to solve in order to successfully complete their dissertations. This talk reports on aspects of research into master’s level dissertation writing at Lancaster University. It focuses on two cases in which students experienced discrepancies between their disciplinary background and their current master’s programme in terms of writing practices and it examines how these conflicts were resolved. I will suggest that understanding writing as part of social practices – and social practices as essentially defined by their inherent meaning (Schatzki 1996) – can help to uncover the complex interrelations of different literacy practices. On this basis, I will demonstrate the role of appropriating elements of previously encountered practices into ‘doing a dissertation’ within a specific academic discipline.
11 October 2011
In week 1 we held an informal session to catch up on what people have been doing over the summer: conferences attended, interesting books read (and written?), fieldwork undertaken and the like. Everyone welcome!
18 October 2011
Commercial discourses, gentrification and citizens' protest: the linguistic landscape of Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin
Uta Papen, Lancaster University
Since reunification in 1990, Prenzlauer Berg, located in the former East Berlin, has turned from a cheap and neglected area into a popular middle class neighbourhood. The area’s new character is reflected in its linguistic landscape. These days the signs of posh shops and trendy bars adorn its streets. But alternative views are noticeable too. Graffiti is present even on the most expensively refurbished buildings and residents put up slogans to protest against their flats being refurbished and sold to new owners. In my talk, I present examples of the changing graphic environment of Prenzlauer Berg. These show that despite the strong influence of commercial discourses the public space remains an area of contestation between civil society and the state. More generally, I will argue that linguistic landscape research, used primarily to shed light on aspects of multilingualism, can be harnessed to seek insights into much broader issues relating to social change, urban renewal and gentrification.
25 October 2011
Phonics or Fun?
Helen Horton, University of Sunderland
Is our preoccupation with decoding and analysis in the teaching of reading killing our children’s sheer enjoyment of engaging with books?
The announcement of Michael Grove in November 2010 that there will be ‘a light–touch phonics-based test for all year 1 pupils in England’ is predicated on the premise that failure to achieve in reading is directly correlated to phonemic awareness. This initiative follows as a direct result of the recommendations of the Rose report (2008) that the Searchlights approach to the teaching of reading should be replaced by programmes designed to teach purely synthetic phonics.
1 November 2011
How texts travel across space and time: African Readings of The Pilgrim's Progress
The reading Mata’s Hermeneutic: Internationally Made Ways of Reading Bunyan, is part of an study by Isabel Hofmeyer tracing the travels of one of the world's best-selling books, The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. Since it was written in the seventeenth century, The Pilgrim's Progress has been translated into some 200 languages, reaching most corners of the globe through the activities of evangelical protestant missions. The missionaries promoted the book using a variety of oral and visual props which encouraged new converts to identify with characters in the book and this chapter examines how the book was interpreted and re-made by African readers.
Isabel Hofmeyer's study is engagingly written and is part of a rich tradition of historical research that can inform literacy studies in new and fascinating ways. It sheds light on some of key debates in the field, such as how texts travel across time and space, and should be a good stimulus to this discussion session.
Led by Mary Hamilton, Lancaster University. Copies of the reading are available in the LRDG pigeonhole, C floor FASS building, or contact Kathrin Kaufhold firstname.lastname@example.org .
8 November 2011
Internet forum as community of practice and as political voice: Researching Mumsnet
Karin Tusting, Lancaster University
(This is a version of a paper first given at the New Methods for New Literacies conference at the University of Sheffield, 8-9 July 2011.)
Mumsnet is a UK parenting forum which attracts 20,000 posts a day. Many aspects of this site are potentially of interest to New Literacies research. For a start, there is its distinctive community identity. Practices signalling ‘fluffiness’ are resisted, while practices such as swearing and robust discussion, frowned upon by competing sites, are actively encouraged. The old-school, single-modality appearance of the site, made up of text and a few static emoticons, is part of this ‘spikier’ identity, which is explicit, self-reflexive, and often discussed. In addition being a distinctive community of practice, Mumsnet has more recently become a force in the public sphere. As a site thought to give access to a key ‘floating voter’ electoral demographic, engagement on Mumsnet has become a necessary part of political campaigning and activity. Every major party leader participated in a Mumsnet webchat before the last election. The site also runs its own campaigns, and discussions occasionally have the power to shape the news agenda.
This paper will discuss Mumsnet both as a self-reflexive community and as a voice in the public sphere. There is potentially great value in approaching analysis of these issues by drawing on literacy studies perspectives and methodologies, particularly ethnographically-informed participant-observation. However, this raises significant ethical and methodological questions. These include participants’ understandings of the nature of their postings on an (admittedly public) site; difficulties around anonymising participants; and the particular personal and relational challenges associated with participant-observation in a community in which I have been participating not as a researcher for several years. This paper will address the ethical and personal dilemmas that this raises.
15 November 2011
Local literac(ies) at the general store: Catechism, cantaloupe and calico at the Mennomex
Wendy Crocker, University of Western Ontario, Canada
On the outskirts of a rural town in southwestern Ontario, Canada is a very special general store: Mennomex. Its name is a hybrid construction taken from one of the local cultures (Mennonite) and the country of transnational migration of the Low German speaking Mennonites (Mexico). Drawing upon the notion of “local literacies” (Barton & Hamilton, 1997), this presentation takes participants on a photo walk into Mennomex to identify and discuss the vernacular literacies that are represented on the store shelves. Additionally, the importance of Mennomex as a source of socially constructed literacies for a cultural group whose first language is predominantly oral (Plautdietsch) and not written nor read will be explored.
22 November 2011
What can ethnomethodology do for academic literacies?
Paul Smith, Manchester University
One could be forgiven for thinking that ethnomethodology (EM) offers little to the study of literacy beyond the contribution of conversation analysis (CA), which is often seen as a mode of ‘discourse analysis’, i.e. a formal mode of analysis. This is to ignore EM’s radical respecification of the social sciences, which sees in social life that there is already always “order at all points”.
EM studies tend to replicate and address concerns also found in the work in the New Literacy Studies, and has generally concluded these concerns to its own satisfaction through methods suggested by its very point of departure from formal social science. Prominent examples are its abandoning of common social science dualisms; dissolving the text/context distinction; and its distinctive approach to ‘situated’ phenomena. Moreover, ideas such as reflexivity, indexicality and orientation reach their fullest expression in EM.
This paper will outline some ways in which EM has confronted and – for its own purposes – solved such issues. I suggest that these solutions could be of benefit to related practice disciplines. The paper also examines a draft student essay with accompanying feedback, with the aim of finding practices rather than analysing text.
29 November 2011
Translating Education Policy into Practice: using Actor-Network Theory to Explore Practitioners' Literacy Practices.
Amy Burgess, University of Exeter
This talk reports on research I am currently engaged in which explores how a new policy initiative for literacy education in England, Functional Skills, is being implemented by adult literacy practitioners. I have carried out a pilot study involving interviews with eight practitioners with various roles who are implementing FS in a range of contexts. The part of the analysis reported here focuses on exploring practitioners’ accounts of some of the literacy practices they engage in as they implement Functional Skills. Previous research in adult literacy, as in other areas of education, has shown that if policies are to be effectively translated into practice it is important that practitioners not only feel included, but share ownership of the reform initiatives. In other words, they need to feel able to act as agents of change. However, they often perceive their agency to be constrained, and this was the case with the participants in my study. I have drawn on Actor-Network Theory, in particular the concept of ‘translation’, to explore the nature of the practitioners’ literacy practices, looking at the extent to which they were able to exercise agency in and through these practices, and the ways in which they did so. Close examination of their accounts shows that they could sometimes exercise agency in small yet significant ways.
6 December 2011
13 December 2011
1001 images from Tahrir Square: Developing a quantitative approach to extract and analyse linguistic data from visual material
Mariam Aboelezz, Lancaster University
The wave of pro-democracy protests which swept through the Arab world in 2011 has afforded a unique opportunity for researchers from a wide array of academic disciplines including linguistics. During the January 25 revolution in Egypt, the extensive media attention on Tahrir Square as the epicentre of anti-government protests has yielded a rich collection of images which capture the verbal expression of protesters’ views through the messages they display. The interplay of features such as rhyme and humour, the multilingual presentation of many messages, and the linguistic and visual innovation in the display of protest signs provide data which is ripe for research.
This presentation explores how such data can be extracted and quantified for the purpose of linguistic research. Having collected 1000+ images of protest signs from Tahrir square, I discuss the pitfalls of relying on images that I have not taken myself, and how I address copyright issues. I also explain the various stages of data collection and analysis, from harvesting images to statistical analysis. Finally, I present the findings from my study of multilingualism and linguistic innovation in protest signs in Tahrir Square, placing great emphasis on the notion of geosemiotics – that signs must be understood in the context of how and where they are displayed.
LRDG Meeting Record
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