Home > Research > Researchers > Uta Papen

Current Postgraduate Research Students

Uta Papen supervises 3 postgraduate research students. Some of the students have produced research profiles, these are listed below:

View graph of relations

Dr Uta Papen

Senior Lecturer

Uta Papen


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.

Current Teaching

In 2015/16  I  teach the following modules:

MA teaching

LING 432 Language, literacies and digital communication

PhD teaching

LING 432tc Digital language and literacies (3 sessions)

FASS 506 Designing, undertaking and surviving doctoral research

FASS510 Qualitative Methods in the Sociel Sciences 

FASS 522 Ethics in Social Science and Humanities Research

FASS 617 How to get the most our of your supervision

FASS 633 Writing a literature review

FASS 618 The viva: tragedy or triumph

FASS 611d Ethnography and participant observation (distance module)

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.



 External role

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


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

I am member of UREC, the University's research ethics committee.

Additional Information

New book

Literacy and education: policy, practice and public opinion. 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)


View all (31) »