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Uta Papen supervises 4 postgraduate research students. Some of the students have produced research profiles, these are listed below:

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Dr Uta Papen

Senior Lecturer

Uta Papen

County South

Lancaster University


Lancaster LA1 4YL

United Kingdom

Tel: +44 1524 593245


Research overview

I am a social anthropologist whose research focuses on the role of written language in everyday life, work and education. I study literacy as a cultural and social practice, thus seeing it primarily as an activity people engage in and not just a skill individuals possess. Within this broad area, my research covers a variety of topics: literacy and health, digital literacies, writing in the public sphere and the role of writing in relation to citizens' engagement and protest, literacy and tourism and others. My second main field of research is looking at the role of literacy in relation to education. I understand teaching and learning to be cultural processes shaped by institutional practices and learner identities and requiring in-depth investigations through for example ethnography.

PhD supervision

The role of written texts in health care contexts (including studies of patients' information searching and learning strategies via for example websites)

Ethnographic studies of literacy practices in various settings (e.g. institutions, workplaces, communities, etc.)

Linguistic landscape research: the role of writing and visual in the cultural production of space

Literacy teaching and learning in schools

Academic literacies

Adult literacy education in the so-called developing countries

Current Teaching

In 2014/15  I  teach the following modules:

LING 432 Language, literacies and digital communication

LING 209 Literacy and education

FASS 506 Designing, undertaking and surviving doctoral research

FASS510 Qualitative Methods in the Sociel Sciences (+510d)

FASS 522 Ethics in Social Science and Humanities Research

FASS 617 How to get the most our of your supervision

LING 542 Qualitative Methods for Applied Linguists

Research Interests

My research is interdisciplinary, located at the boundaries between social anthropology, medical anthropology, education and applied linguistics. I sometimes label myself as a linguistic anthropologist who does, however, pursue work in several areas, including health and health care as well as urban studies and education. Within this broad area, I focus on the role of literacy (i.e. reading and writing) in relation to the cultures, places and institutions of everyday life. I start from the idea that our contemporary world is 'textually mediated', to borrow a phrase coined by Dorothy Smith. Thus, I see literacy as a central aspect of many contemporary social practices (including spatial practices) and it is the role of reading and writing in these practices that I investigate. I am particularly interested in exploring how writing and texts are implicated in power relations between individuals and groups as well as individuals, groups and institutions. In my research I explore the role written texts (and what people do with them) plays in relation to for example health care provision in England or local tourism in Namibia. More recently, I have looked at writing and texts (in the widest sense) in the context of urban spaces, looking at their role in the social production of spaces.More generally, I would summarize my interests by saying that I use literacy as a lense to study cultures (as in local cultures or institutional cultures), social relations and power.

I use primarily ethnographic methods which I complement with various other research approaches, including critical discourse analysis and multimodal analysis.

Currently, my research work focuses on two projects: I continue to work on the linguistic/semiotic landscape of Berlin, looking at the relationship between language, image, the social construction of urban spaces and their commodification. I also examine how language and images on signs relate to the construction of specific communities and their territorial claims.

My second focus at the moment is the role of literacy in education, with a specific interest in the teaching of reading and writing at primary and secondary level. This includes an analysis of policies in relation to literacy as well as looking at classroom practices and the experiences of pupils and children. This will lead to a book to be published by Routledge in 2015.

I am very interested in the development of new research methods, in particular ways in which ethnographic tools can be used in action research with communities and people of different backgrounds. I am part of an initiative, called LETTER, which introduces adult literacy teachers and curriculum developers to the use of ethnographic methods as tools to study learners' reading and writing practices and how these can be drawn on to develop curricula for adult literacy classes.


 External role

I am a member of the editorial board of Compare - a journal of comparative and international education.


I am Director of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences' Research Training Programme (RTP).

Additional Information

Book in preparation

Literacy and education: policy, practice and public opinion. To be published by Routledge in July 2015.

New article

Signs in cities: the discursive production and commodification of urban spaces. Sociolinguistic studies (see my publications for the full text)

Recent publications

Papen, U. 2013. Conceptualising information literacy as social practice: a study of pregnant women's information practices. Information Research 15 (2), http://informationr.net/ir/18-2/paper580.html#.Ub8tVOe-rwo

Papen, U. 2012. 'Informal, incidental and ad hoc: the information seeking and learning strategies of health care patients, Language and Education 26 (2): 105-119


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