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Professor Uta Papen

Head of Department, Professor of Literacy Studies

Uta Papen

County South



Tel: +44 1524 593245

Research overview

My main research interests are:

literacy and education (the politics and practices of teaching reading and writing, specifically the debates around the use of phonics; critical literacy and the use of picture books to engage children in critical thinking and analysis, academic literacies (student writing and mental health,  literacy development in countries of the Global South; 

collaborative action research 

Writing and urban spaces (linguistic landscapes)

PhD supervision

Literacy policy, specifically phonics, and how it is implemented in schools The role of written texts in health care contexts (including studies of patients' information searching and learning strategies) 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

My Role


 Professor of Literacy Studies, Co-Director of the Literacy Research Centre


Research Interests

My research is interdisciplinary, located at the boundaries between social anthropology, education and applied linguistics. Main areas of work are: literacy in education, developing literacy education (in particular English literacy) in countries of the Global South, academic literacies and critical literacy. 

Since I started working in Lancaster in 2002, my 'research home' has been the Literacy Research Centre. As an active member and Co-Director of the Centre, my research is guided by an understanding of literacy not primarily as a skill, but as a social and cultural practice and what this means for the teaching and learning of literacy. An example is my involvement in an initiative to develop new approaches to teaching English literacy to deaf children and young adults. 

Related to my work on literacy in educational contexts, I have a longstanding interest in examining policy, specifically current policies to teach reading and writing to children in primary schools and how specific understandings of literacy and of 'evidence' about literacy teaching shape governmental policies. 

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



External role

I am co-editor, with Julia Gillen, of the Routledge series 'Literacies' and 'Routledge Research in Literacy'.


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