n Journal for Language Teaching = Ijenali Yekufundzisa Lulwimi = Tydskrif vir Taalonderrig - Academic literacies and the question of knowledge

Volume 47, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0259-9570



This conceptual paper attempts to map the terrains of academic literacies work as it has evolved over the past twenty or so years in South Africa. In mapping these terrains, one of the areas the paper considers is how the dominant 'skills' Discourse continues to frame the way in which academic literacies work is implemented in South Africa. Drawing on the New Literacies Studies the paper also explores how academic literacies as a body of work defines itself, as well as the range of conceptualisations that inform such definitions. The paper then turns to a consideration of how different contextual agendas drive academic literacies work in different ways across the higher education sector in South Africa. The paper then goes on to explore the different frameworks that academic literacies work in South Africa draws on to theorise this field, as well as some of the premises underlying our thinking and informing our practices, such as: generic and disciplinary-specific approaches to academic literacies development; the role of collaborative partnerships between academic literacies and disciplinary specialists; and how to shift from tacit knowledge of the norms and conventions of disciplines to explicit teaching of these norms and conventions.

Drawing on academic literacies research emanating from the United Kingdom, the paper then argues for a shift from normative to transformative approaches to the development of academic literacies in South African higher education. Finally the paper turns to the question of knowledge and its place in debates about how to develop academic literacies. My conclusions point to the need for a shared ontology within which to frame academic literacies work and research in South Africa. I am suggesting that by placing knowledge at the centre of how we understand our work, we might move closer to such a shared ontology.

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