At Play in the Space: The concept of 'the social practice approach' in the Scottish adult literacies field

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Aileen Ackland


This paper focuses on Scotland’s policy response to the International Adult Literacy Survey (1994-1998) and the ‘grand experiment’ (Merrifield 2005) to implement a social practices perspective of literacies.This radical perspective, derived from the New Literacy Studies (NLS), has profound implications for pedagogy and is promoted in Scotland as ‘the social practice approach’.

The paper begins with a discussion of the distinctive developments in Scottish policy in the context of the international interest in Adult Literacy. The rhetorical claims made in Scotland are then examined through a study which used a methodology drawn from Personal Construct Theory (PCT) to explore how practitioners understand ‘the social practice approach’. This research found little connection between the theoretical concepts of the New Literacy Studies and practitioners’ interpretations. Dissonances in the data highlighted power issues between policy and practice.In the latter part of the paper, Bernstein’s (2000) ideas about how theoretical knowledge is translated into pedagogical knowledge are used to explore the dissonances further.The paper concludes that there is an ideological conflict of purpose within the discourses of adult literacies in Scotland and that the critical pedagogy implied by the New Literacy Studies is also necessary within teacher education if practice is to be transformed in response to the radical social theory.

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Author Biography

Aileen Ackland, University of Aberdeen

Aileen Ackland is a teacher educator at the School of Education, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. From 2006 to 2012 she was the Curriculum and Research Leader for the Scottish Consortium which developed and delivered the first professional qualification for Scottish Adult Literacies practitioners. Prior to joining the university, she worked in Adult and Community Education, mainly in the voluntary sector.