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The social life of literacy education: how the 2018 #phonicsdebate is reshaping the field


This paper provides an overview of the Reading Wars as a site of discursive struggle. Using a digital sociological account of online events associated with the 2018 Phonics Debate hosted by the Australian Centre for Educational Research and the think tank the Centre for Independent Studies, this paper works to illuminate and challenge contemporary understanding of the politics of literacy teaching. If educational researchers are to clarify the relationship between politics and literacy in the twenty-first century we must understand how boundaries are negotiated using digital tools and how the literacy professional community is imagined. Using a Bourdieu-facilitated digital sociology, this paper will present a case study of the 2018 Phonics Debate to illustrate how literacy researchers and cognitive scientists have used social media as a space to navigate, negotiate and reimagine the contours of the field of literacy itself.

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    This study was approved by the Human Ethics process at Queensland University of Technology (Code: 1900000567).


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I would like to acknowledge the team at the Australian Digital Observatory: Sam Hames, Betsy Alpert, Alison Miller and Marissa Takahashi. I also acknowledge the Turrbal and Yuggara as the First Nations owners of the lands where I work. I pay respect to their Elders, lores, customs and creation spirits. I recognise that these lands have always been places of teaching, research and learning. I acknowledge the important role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people play within my community.

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Correspondence to Naomi Barnes.

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Barnes, N. The social life of literacy education: how the 2018 #phonicsdebate is reshaping the field. Aust. Educ. Res. (2021).

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  • #Phonicsdebate
  • Reading wars
  • Bourdieu
  • Digital sociology
  • Literacy