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Professor Mary Hamilton

Emeritus Professor

Mary Hamilton

County South



Tel: +44 1524 592861

Research overview

My work explores communication and interaction in the everyday textually-mediated social world and how people negotiate changes in the resources and technologies available to them. My research approach involves close analysis of how texts, both print and digital, are used within social encounters and how texts circulate within institutional settings. I am interested in informal learning across the lifespan; how older people negotiate changing literacies and technologies making choices among communicative resources (face to face print and digital); the effects of digital literacies on social isolation and connectivity; how communicative and learning resources are built across the life span and can aid adaptability and strong social networks. In recent years I have become increasingly involved with historical and interpretative policy analysis exploring how international influences reach into local practice and the implications of this for tutor and student agency in adult literacy education.

PhD supervision

I am no longer available to supervise new students.


Career details

September 2014- Emerita Professor, Dept Educational Research, Lancaster University

October 2013 Distinguished Visiting Fellow, Centre for Research in Learning and Change, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.

June 2011 Visiting Fellow, School of Education, University of Western Ontario, Canada

2006-2009 Head of Department, Educational Research

Summer 2003 Visiting Professor Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

2000- Professor of Adult learning and Literacy Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University

1996-2002 Director of Faculty of Social Sciences Graduate School

1986- 1999 Senior Research Fellow Centre for the Study of Education and Training, Lancaster University

Summer 1986 Visiting Professor Department of Adult Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

1981-85 Research Fellow, IRDPCE, University of Lancaster: Mature Student Participation in Education Project and Outcomes of Post-experience courses in Further and Adult Education

1980-81 Research Associate, Stanford University: Cognitive Effects of Literacy (National Institute of Education)

1979-80 Senior Research Assistant, California State University at Hayward A Sociolinguistic Study of Classroom behaviour

Research Interests

I am based in the Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning within the Department of Educational Research and am an Associate Director of the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre which is a partner in the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy (NRDC). I am also a member of the Centre for Science and Technology Studies, The Centre for Gender and Womens' Studies and the Centre for Ageing Research at Lancaster.

My Interests are in language, old (print) and new (digital) literacies; informal adult Learning in everyday contexts; academic literacies in digital environments;globalisation and educational policy; and multimodal discourse. My most recent collaborations are around international tests of adult literacy and the growing field of the sociology of measurement.

I am known for the research I have done in developing a social practice approach to literacy studies and in 2012 a new edition of my book  Local Literacies (co-authored with David Barton) was issued by Routledge as a Linguistics Classic). Other recent books include Literacy and the Politics of Representation, Routledge and More Powerful Literacies, National Institute for Adult Continuing Education co-edited with Lyn Tett and Jim Crowther from the Unviersity of Edinburgh.

 In my research and theoretical work I draw on concepts from actor network theory, social semiotic theory, institutional ethnography and linguistic ethnography. I am interested in innovative research methodologies particularly qualitative and participatory models of research, on-line research, practitioner research, media analysis. I have a special interest in Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis and the use of visual images and multi-modal data sources in research.

I have taken part in UNESCO and European Community initiatives on literacy. I am a founder member of the national network, Research and Practice in Adult Literacy (RaPAL). Funded research projects have included literacy in the workplace (Leverhulme Trust); literacy practices in the local community (funded by the ESRC); Open Learning in Adult Basic Education (Universities Funding Council); Public Images of Literacy in the Press (Nuffield, Leverhulme) as well as a range of policy oriented and evaluation projects funded by UK government sources, local and national. I co-ordinated a DfES/ESF funded network of Practitioner-led Research Projects for the National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy.

I completed a book (with Yvonne Hillier at Brighton University) based on the ESRC funded project Changing Faces: A Critical History of Adult Literacy, Numeracy and ESOL in the UK 1970-2000. I am co-editor of a further book (with Lyn Tett at the University of Edinburgh and Yvonne Hillier ) based on the ESRC-funded seminar series on Adult Basic Education.

I am a member of the International Board of the International Journal of Literacy and Numeracy Sydney, Australia and Reading Research Quarterly, USA. Board member of Studies in the Education of Adults, NIACE, UK.

I was a commissioner for the National Literacy Inquiry co-ordinated by the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education and chaired by Lord Tim Boswell. The inquiry reviewed what has been achieved by recent government policy on literacy and examined the literacy demands for individuals, organisations, communities and families in a period of economic challenge. The final report of this  inquiry was published  on International Literacy Day, 8 September 2011.

Current Teaching

I teach on the on-line collaborative Doctoral Programme in Technology Enhanced Learning. I convene the research methods module on this programme and an undergraduate module on Learning in a Digital Age. I supervise research students and undergraduate dissertations.

I place a high priority on collaborative research and development activities with teachers and practitioners in the learning skills sector, which include advice and support in carrying out action research projects, running in-service training workshops, giving talks, organising meetings and conferences (see for example my current involvement with the oral history project run by the Pecket Learning Group).

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