‘Academic literacies’: sustaining a critical space on writing in academia

Lillis, Theresa (2019). ‘Academic literacies’: sustaining a critical space on writing in academia. Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education(15)

DOI: https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.v0i15.565


In this paper, I briefly track the emergence and foci of academic literacies as a field of inquiry, summarising its contributions to understandings about writing and meaning making in academia. Writing from my specific geohistorical location in the UK, I foreground the importance of early key works that encapsulated concerns about deficit orientations to students’ language and literacy practices (e.g. Ivanič, 1998; Lea and Street,1998). I also underline the transnational dimension to the development of academic literacies which has helped drive forward intellectual debates about the relationship between academic language and literacy practices, and participation in academia. I argue that academic literacies provides an important space for critically exploring what are often taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature and value of academic writing conventions, and the ways these (both assumptions and conventions) impact on opportunities for participation in knowledge making. This critical thinking space continues to serve as an intellectual resource for researchers, teachers and students in contemporary neo-liberal higher education, where regimes of evaluation are super-normative, even in (or because of) a context of super-diversity, that is increased mobility of peoples and semiotic practices. Academic literacies as praxis necessarily involves straddling both normative and transformative orientations (Lillis and Scott, 2007) or what Hall (1992) refers to as the ‘academic’ and ‘intellectual’ dimensions to academia.

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