22 September 2021

Unsettling critical literacy in digital childhoods

This event was part of the Digital Child Seminar Series Engaging(socio)materially: Critical literacy, children and media.

The ARC Center of Excellence for the Digital Child acknowledges the First Australian owners of the Lands where this seminar was recorded and the Lands where presenters and participants work, live and walk. We pay respect to their Elders, lores, customs and creation spirits. We recognise that these Lands have always been places of teaching, research and learning. The Centre acknowledges the important role Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people play within our communities.


Professor Cathy Burnett and Professor Guy Merchant (Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University)


Chief Investigators Professor Annette Woods and Professor Michael Dezuanni

About the seminar

Recognising the increasingly complex ways in which text entangles with social, political, economic and everyday life, it might well be that the need for an emphasis on critical literacy in education has never been more pressing. A sociomaterialist response to the precarity of our times however starts from the assumption that reality is always unstable and always subject to change, and that the work of educators and researchers is always unavoidably part of what is going on. Such perspectives have sometimes been criticised for sidelining the workings of human power and agency.

In this presentation, however, we argue that the radical contribution of a sociomaterial perspective is in: 1) unsettling established ways of knowing, ordering or understanding the world, 2) sensing possibilities to be otherwise, and 3) nurturing relations that are equitable and socially, politically and environmentally just. These combine, we suggest, to contribute to an ethic of caring. We consider how such ideas can help us reframe critical literacy practice with young children and reflect on how the relational work that teachers do with children may provide the foundations for working generously, generatively and ethically with possibility and potentiality in literacy education.

About the speakers

Cathy Burnett is Professor of Literacy and Education at Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University, UK, where she leads the Language and Literacy Education Research Group. Her research has focused predominantly on the relationship between new technologies and literacies within and beyond educational contexts from a sociomaterial perspective.  She has published widely for academic and professional readerships and her recent books include New Media in the Classroom: Rethinking Primary Literacy and Undoing the Digital: Literacy and Sociomaterialism (both with Guy Merchant). She is Immediate Past President of the United Kingdom Literacy Association.

Guy Merchant is Professor of Literacy and Education at the Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. His research explores the ways in which literacy and technology intersect in the lives of children and young people. Guy is a founding editor of the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy and has written extensively about literacy and new media. He is co-author, with Cathy Burnett, of Undoing the Digital (2020), and New Media in the Classroom (2019), and a contributing editor for Virtual Literacies (2013); New Literacies around the Globe (2014); Literacy, Media, Technology (2016) and The Case of the iPad (2016).