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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; critical literacy; the interface between home and school literacies and academic literacies)

supporting 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


 Head of Department


Research Interests

My research is interdisciplinary, located at the boundaries between social anthropology, education and applied linguistics. A way to describe my work is to say that I am a linguistic anthropologist. Main areas of work are: literacy in education, supporting literacy (in particular English literacy) in countries of the Global South, academic literacies and critical literacy. Much of this work is focussed on critically examining policies and how they impact on the practices of teaching and learning in classrooms. 

Since I started working in Lancaster in 2002, my 'research home' has been the Literacy Research Centre. As an active member of the Centre, my research is guided by an understanding of literacy not primarily as a skill, but as a social practice and what this means for the teaching and learning of literacy. Much of my research is focussed on primary level literacy, where i critically examine policies, how they are developed and communicated, and how polocies are engaged with in practice, by teachers.

Beyond my work in educational contexts, I have a longstanding interest in the role of writing in everyday life, for example with regards to institutions and how they interact with the public and with individual citizens.  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). 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. To understand these power dynamics, i study for example how writing and texts (in the widest sense) shape urban spaces, looking at their role in gentrification and urban renewal.

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


Head of Department 

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