The new literacy studies: From ‘socially situated’ to the work of the social

James Paul Gee

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

26 Scopus citations


Over the last several decades, in and across a wide variety of disciplines, there has been a massive ‘social turn’ away from a focus on individual behaviour (e.g. the behaviourism of the first half of the twentieth century) and individual minds (e.g. the cognitivism of the middle part of the century) toward a focus on social and cultural interaction. The New Literacy Studies (NLS) was one movement among a great many others that took part in this ‘social turn’ (see Barton 1994; Gee 1996; and Street 1995 for programmatic statements; see Heath 1983 and Street 1984 for seminal ‘early’ examples of the NLS). The NLS are based on the view that reading and writing only make sense when studied in the context of social and cultural (and we can add historical, political and economic) practices of which they are but a part. The NLS arose alongside a heady mix of other movements, some of which were incorporated into the NLS. These movements argued their own case for the importance of the ‘social’, each with their own take on what ‘social’ was to mean. I list fourteen of these movements below (NLS makes fifteen, and there are more). The order in which I list the areas below is entirely arbitrary: 1 Ethnomethodology and conversational analysis, and related work in interactional sociolinguistics (Heritage 1984; Goodwin and Heritage 1990; Schiffrin 1994, Ch. 4) has argued that social and institutional order is the product of the moment-by-moment intricacies of social and verbal interaction which produces and reproduces that order. ‘Knowing’ is a matter of ‘knowing how to proceed’ (‘go on’) in specific social interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSituated Literacies
Subtitle of host publicationTheorising Reading and Writing in Context
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781134624232
ISBN (Print)020398496X, 9780415206716
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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