Academic literacies is a field of enquiry is commonly described by its focus on student writing in higher education. The field emerged in the mid 1990s through practitioner-led empirical engagements that sought to challenge the deficit conceptualisations of the student directing many university driven interventions that sought to address the perceived ‘problem’ of student writing (Lea, 1994; Lillis, 1999; Lillis and Scott, 2007). Aligned to the New Literacy Studies these early academic literacies researchers viewed language, literacy and communication as social and cultural practices rather than decontextualized cognitive skills and activities (Lea, 2008). The field’s opposition frame to dominant deficit views of the student and its analytical framework that allowed for rich insights into the student’s experience of transition and access to the academic environment, presented South African higher education practitioners and researchers with a rich resource to explore and understand student writing and learning. In particular, the research framework offered South African researchers a means of breaking the ties with apartheid ideology and allowed for alignment with access and equity agendas regarded as imperative for promoting more inclusive participation in the higher education context. In South Africa research undertaken under the academic literacies framework has been particularly generative in acknowledging the many identities, discourses and practices students bring to the academic environment and how these have contributed to shaping student encounters with the academic literacies of their courses (Gough, 2000; Leibowitz, 2004; Thesen, 1997; 2007; Paxton, 2004; Jacobs, 2005; Archer, 2006; Bangeni and Kapp, 2006; Coleman, 2006; Boughey, 2007; Kapp and Bangeni, 2009; Clarence, 2012)
Despite this rich and varied body of work, South African researchers (Boughey, 2014 and Jacobs, 2014) have recently raised questions about the impact and extent to which this research approach has contributed to any significant change in how practitioners and the university sector as a whole, continue to conceptualise academic literacies and approaches to student writing. These critical considerations provide an opportune moment to revisit and rethink academic literacies within the South African context – the central theme of this colloquium. The colloquium aims to reignite this important debate. It provides a space for collegial engagement and invites colleagues from all the universities in the Western Cape to participate in a conversation that will attempt to mark-out, reclaim and re-assert a possible role for an academic literacies research perspective within our higher education context. The colloquium brings together an interesting mix of established scholars and emerging voices connected by their adoption and use of an academic literacies perspective to frame and direct their explorations of student writing and learning in the South African higher education context.