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Manuscript deadline
01 November 2020

Cover image - International Studies in Sociology of Education

International Studies in Sociology of Education

Special Issue Editor(s)

Chris Bailey, Sheffield Hallam University
[email protected]

Cathy Burnett, Sheffield Hallam University
[email protected]

Claire Lee, University of Bristol
[email protected]

Jennifer Rowsell, University of Bristol
[email protected]

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Methodological Imperatives and Perplexities for Literacy Research in Uncertain Times

Over the last fifty years, research in New Literacy Studies has expanded understandings of the role of literacy in people’s lives largely through ethnographic studies exploring literacies as social, material and cultural practices. While theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches continue to diversify, an enduring feature of this work has been to document nuanced insights into the literacies of people’s lives, foregrounding the plurality and complexity of everyday literacies, understanding relationships between literacy, power and social injustice, and challenging the deficit perspectives on ‘illiteracy’ that inflect much policy discourse. Such work has an important contribution to make in understanding the complex and multiple ways in which texts – on and off screens – weave through people’s social, cultural, political, economic and personal lives. It has also drawn attention to the inertia of educational literacy policies which have often failed to keep pace with children’s and young people’s creative, active – and increasingly activist - literacy practices. As seen recently with the global COVID-19 pandemic, such practices evolve and diversify at a pace as people find new ways to communicate and coordinate in challenging times.

Times have always been uncertain, yet a hopeful insight is that people always find a way to express and communicate. This special issue explores the many uncertainties that we have faced over the past year as literacy researchers and the ways that methodological reflections on past research gives us insights about reimagined methods and methodological imperatives. It explores the methodological challenges associated with researching literacies in a rapidly changing, interconnected world characterised by political unrest, the rise of nationalism, big data, climate change, threats to personal security and health, rampant social injustice and a post truth society.  Literacy researchers must wrestle with complex procedural and pragmatic concerns as texts move far and fast, practices quickly spring up and fade away again, practices span hybrid on/offline sites, and reaching and working with research participants entails considerable practical difficulties. Face-to-face research may be impossible (for reasons of personal safety and security or physical distance) and institutional procedures (such as ethics approval) lack the agility to respond to fast-moving contexts. They must also address complex ethical considerations linked not just to the conduct of research but to the appropriateness of conducting research when people are grappling with complex demands and pressures in their lives.

We invite submissions that explore diverse ways in which researchers have responded to the challenge of researching literacy in an uncertain world by considering: What is the mandate for literacy research at times of precarity? How might literacy research be conceived and constituted as an activist project? How should ethical considerations be understood and addressed? What methodological approaches are possible, and which kinds of research collaborations are appropriate? Which enduring principles of New Literacy Studies should hold fast? In interrogating these questions, we encourage a range of submissions, including those which: revisit previous studies in order to reflect on possible approaches; methodological papers drawn from studies that have directly addressed some of the challenges explored here; conceptual pieces that explore newer practices that have emerged from uncertainty. This special issue provides an exciting and timely opportunity to cast a sociological gaze on researching in times of precarity.

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Submission Instructions

Methodological Imperatives and Perplexities for Literacy Research in Uncertain Times

Prospective authors are very welcome to contact the guest-editors directly to Drs. Chris Bailey, Cathy Burnett and Jennifer Rowsell and Claire Lee to informally discuss their possible contribution or seek feedback on their abstract.

To formally express an interest in contributing to the Special Issue, please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words to [email protected] by 1 June 2020. Successful authors will be notified by 25th June 2020, and full drafts are required for submission and peer review by 1 November 2020.

The word length for an article is 8000 words including references.


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