Defining academic literacies research: issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy

Lillis, Theresa and Scott, Mary (2007). Defining academic literacies research: issues of epistemology, ideology and strategy. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 4(1) pp. 5–32.



Academic literacies research has developed over the past 20 years as a significant field of study that draws on a number of disciplinary fields and subfields such as applied linguistics and sociolinguistics, anthropology, sociocultural theories of learning, new literacy studies and discourse studies. Whilst there is fluidity and even confusion surrounding the use of the term ‘academic literacies’, we argue in this paper that it is a field of enquiry with a specific epistemological and ideological stance towards the study of academic communication and particularly, to date, writing. To define this field we situate the emergence of academic literacies research within a specific historical moment in higher education and offer an overview of the questions that the research has set out to explore. We consider debates surrounding the uses of the singular or plural forms, academic literacy/ies, and, given its position at the juncture of research/theory building and application, we acknowledge the need for strategic as well as epistemological and ideological understandings of its uses. We conclude by summarising the methodological and theoretical orientations that have developed as ‘academic literacies’, conceptualised as a field of inquiry, has expanded, and we point to areas that merit further theoretical consideration and empirical research.

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