At play in the space: the concept of ‘the social practice approach’ in the Scottish adult literacies field

Aileen Ackland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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 practitioner’s 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59 -84
Number of pages25
JournalLiteracy & numeracy studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2013


  • Adult Literacies
  • New Literacy Studies
  • Personal Construct Theory


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