Writing & Pedagogy, Vol 10, No 3 (2018)

Researching writing across the lifespan: The value of literacy studies for highlighting social and contextual aspects of change

Karin Tusting, David Barton, Sharon McCulloch, Uta Papen, Diane Potts
Issued Date: 25 Feb 2019


This paper highlights the importance, when researching writing across the lifespan, of addressing a range of aspects of social context which change over time, particularly focusing on tools, values, relationships and identities. It illustrates this argument by drawing on a range of empirical studies exploring different aspects of writing in university settings, working with adults at a range of levels from Masters through doctoral study to academics' working lives, and reflects on the implications of this research for lifespan writing studies more generally. The projects drawn on include a study of multimodal feedback on postgraduate student writing and students' responses to this; a detailed study of academics' writing practices in the context of structural changes in Higher Education; and an interview study with PhD students participating in writing retreats, reflecting on their writing experiences. Drawing on findings from this work, we argue that shifts in material, social and institutional dimensions of context have a significant impact on what individuals write and on the writing practices that they develop. We particularly highlight the role of changing tools for writing and values around writing, and the importance of transformations in identity and relationships. We argue that the tradition of literacy studies research, drawn on by all the projects described in this paper, provides the theoretical and methodological resources to approach such aspects of academic writing development across the lifespan, by adopting a holistic perspective on writing which locates writing as situated practice and thereby provides insight into these social and contextual influences.

Download Media

PDF Subscribers Only

DOI: 10.1558/wap.34589


Aitchison, C., Catterall, J., Ross, P., and Burgin, S. (2012). ‘Tough love and tears’: Learning doctoral writing in the sciences. Higher Education Research & Development 31 (4): 435–447. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2011.559195

Barton, D. (1994/2007). Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language, London and New York: Routledge.

Barton, D. and Hamilton, M. (1998/2012). Local Literacies. London and New York: Routledge.

Barton, D. and Hamilton, M. (2000). Literacy practices. In D. Barton, M. Hamilton and R. Ivanič (Eds), Situated Literacies: Reading and Writing in Context, 7–15. London and New York: Routledge.

Barton, D. and Lee, C. (2013). Language Online: Investigating Digital Texts and Practices. London and New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203552308

Barton, D. and McCulloch, S. (2018). Negotiating tensions around new forms of academic writing. Discourse, Context and Media 24, 8–15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2018.01.006

Barton, D. and Papen, U. (2010). The Anthropology of Writing: Understanding Textually Mediated Worlds. London: Continuum.

Bazerman, C., Applebee, V. W., Berninger, D., Brandt, S. G., Matsuda, P. K., Murphy, S., Wells, D. W., and Schleppergrell, M. (2017). Taking the long view on writing development. Research in the Teaching of English 51 (3): 351–360.

Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity: Theory, Research, Critique. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Besse, J.-M. (1995). L’écrit, l’école et l’illettrisme. Paris, France: Éditions Magnard.

Burgess, A. (2010). Doing time: An exploration of timescapes in literacy learning and research. Language and Education 24 (5): 353–365. https://doi.org/10.1080/09500781003633170

Deem, R., Hillyard, S., and Reed, M. (2007). Knowledge, Higher Education, and the New Managerialism: The Changing Management of UK Universities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Elola, I. and Oskoz, A. (2016). Supporting second language writing using multimodal feedback. Foreign Language Annals 49 (1): 58–74. https://doi.org/10.1111/flan.12183

Ene, E. and Upton, T. (2014). Learner uptake of teacher electronic feedback in ESL composition. System 46: 80–95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2014.07.011

Fawcett, H. and Oldfield, J. (2016). Investigating expectations and experiences of audio and written assignment feedback in first-year undergraduate students. Teaching in Higher Education 21 (1): 79–93.


Ferguson, T. (2009). The ‘write’ skills and more: A thesis writing group for doctoral students. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 33 (2): 285–297.

Gee, J. (2000). The New Literacy Studies: From socially situated to the work of the social. In D. Barton, M. Hamilton, and R. Ivanič (Eds), Situated Literacies: Reading and Writing in Context, 180–196. London and New York: Routledge.

Grant, B. (2006). Writing in the company of other women: Exceeding the boundaries. Studies in Higher Education 31 (4): 483–495. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070600800624

Gutiérrez, K. D. (2008). Developing a sociocritical literacy in the third space. Reading Research Quarterly 43 (2): 148–164. https://doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.43.2.3

Hall, L. and Burns, L. (2009). Identity development and mentoring in doctoral education. Harvard Educational Review 79 (1): 49–70. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.79.1.wr25486891279345

Hamilton, M. (2006). Just do it: Literacies, everyday learning and the irrelevance of pedagogy. Studies in the Education of Adults 38 (2): 125–140. https://doi.org/10.1080/02660830.2006.11661529

Heath, S. B. (1983). Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511841057

Hodge, R. and Jones, K. (2001). Photography in collaborative research on multilingual literacy practices: Images and understanding of researcher and researched. In M. Martin-Jones and K. E. Jones (Eds), Multilingual Literacies: Reading and Writing Different Worlds, 299–318. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/swll.10.26hod

Hull, G. A. (2003). At last: Youth culture and digital media: New literacies for new times. Research in the Teaching of English 38 (2): 229–233.

Ice, P., Swan, K., Diaz, S., Kupczynski, L., and Swan Dagen, A. (2010). An analysis of students’ perceptions of the value and efficacy of instructors’ auditory and text-based feedback modalities across multiple conceptual levels. Journal of Educational Computing Research 43 (1): 113–134. https://doi.org/10.2190/EC.43.1.g

Ivanič, R. (1998). Writing and Identity: The Discoursal Construction of Identity in Academic Writing. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. https://doi.org/10.1075/swll.5

Kaufhold, K. (2017). Tracing interacting literacy practices in master’s dissertation writing. London Review of Education 15 (1): 73–84.

Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality. New York: Routledge.

Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (1996/2006). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York: Routledge.

Lankshear, C. and Knobel, M. (2011). New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning (3rd edition). Maidenhead: Open University Press and McGraw-Hill.

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1988). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lee, C. K. M. and Barton, D. (2011). Constructing glocal identities through multilingual writing practices on Flickr.com®. International Multilingual Research Journal 5 (1): 39–59. https://doi.org/10.1080/19313152.2011.541331

Mann, S. (2015). Using screen capture software to improve the value of feedback on academic assignments in teacher education. In T. Farell (Ed.), International Perspectives on English Language Teacher Education, 160–180. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137440068_10

Mannion, G. and Ivanič, R, (2007). Mapping literacy practices: Theory, methodology, methods. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 20 (1): 15–30. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518390600924063

Rowsell, J. and Pahl, K. (2007). Sedimented identities in texts: Instances of practice. Reading Research Quarterly 42 (3): 388–404. https://doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.42.3.3

Papen, U. (2005). Adult Literacy as Social Practice: More than Skills. London and New York: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203347119

Strathern, M. (2000). Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy. London and New York: Routledge.

Street, B. (1984). Literacy in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tusting, K., Barton, D., and McCulloch, S. (2015). The Dynamics of Knowledge Creation: Academics Writing in the Contemporary University Workplace. Lancaster: Lancaster University.

Wolf, A. (2004). Education and economic performance: Simplistic theories and their policy consequences. Oxford Review of Economic Policy 20 (2): 315–333. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxrep/grh018


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email: [email protected]

Privacy Policy