Seminar 5

Critical perspectives on sociomaterial approaches

Tuesday 17th May, 2016: 15.00 – 17.00
Venue: Room 941 Owen Building, Sheffield Hallam University

Professor Tara Fenwick, University of Stirling
What can ‘sociomateriality’ offer to education?

Professor Cathy Burnett, Sheffield Hallam University
Points of view:  a sociomaterial perspective on literacies

Discussant: Dr. Mark Boylan, Sheffield Hallam University

Abstracts and Resources

What can ‘sociomateriality’ offer to education?
Professor Tara Fenwick, University of Stirling (

Notions of ‘sociomateriality’ have, over the past decade or so, been steadily permeating educational research as well as other fields interested in practices and change in organisations, technology, health care, and so forth. Unsurprisingly, a variety of definitions, positions and approaches – as well as unhelpful misunderstandings and blurrings – now jostle for attention under the sociomaterial banner. In this talk I reflect on particular sociomaterial perspectives that seem to be influencing educational research, and my own engagements with them. My aim is to explore broad questions and critiques that deserve debate. What are important distinctions among these sociomaterial perspectives? What sorts of research questions can they help us pursue? Are they really a-critical and a-political, as some claim? Overall, what can they do for educational research and practice (and what can’t they do)? Such questions can lead to overly generalised or abstract theoretical discussions, so I will rely upon stories of empirical research to show how different enthusiasts have worked through what they consider to be sociomateriality.

Tara Fenwick Presentation Recording

Points of view:  a sociomaterial perspective on literacies
Professor Cathy Burnett, Sheffield Hallam University ( )

Drawing on a co-authored paper with Guy Merchant, I explore the use of sociomaterial theoretical and methodological perspectives in literacy studies. I take as an example theoretical and methodological issues arising from an investigation of how adults and children make meaning in virtual worlds embedded in classroom contexts. I highlight the importance of interrogating multiplicity in examining interactions in and around texts. The implications of this go beyond research into literacies in virtual environments to raise questions about how we theorise and research literacy and beyond this education more generally. These issues are particularly important at time when diverse and multiple literacies collide with reductive and prescriptive educational policies.

Cathy Burnett Presentation Recording

Panel Discussion: led by Dr. Mark Boylan ( )

Panel Recording


Tara Fenwick is a Professor of Professional Education at the University of Stirling, UK, where she also is Director of ProPEL (international network for research in professional practice, education and learning). Currently she is a member of the ESRC Council and chairs the ESRC Capability Committee. Her research has focused on professional work and knowledge, with particular interest in actor-network and complexity theories to understand the sociomaterial dimensions of practice. Her most recent book is Professional Responsibility and Professionalism: a sociomaterial examination (Routledge 2016), and selected others include Reconceptualising Professional Learning: Sociomaterial knowledges, practices, responsibilities (edited with M Nerland, Routledge 2014); Governing Knowledge: comparison, knowledge-based technologies and expertise in the regulation of education (edited with J Ozga and E Mangez, Routledge 2014); Emerging Educational Approaches: Tracing the Sociomaterial(with R Edwards and P Sawchuk, Routledge 2011); and Actor Network Theory in Education (with R Edwards, Routledge 2010).

Cathy Burnett is Professor of Literacy and Education at Sheffield Hallam University. Her research focuses on new technologies and literacies with a particular interest in relationships between literacies within and beyond educational contexts. Cathy has published widely for academic and professional readerships on themes including digital literacies, literacy and identity, and on/offline space. Her most recent book, New Literacies around the Globe (published by Routledge and co-edited with Julia Davies, Guy Merchant and Jennifer Rowsell), draws on cutting-edge research to argue for new conceptualisations of literacy in pedagogy and policy. Cathy is Vice President of the United Kingdom Literacy Association.

Mark Boylan is a Reader in Teacher Education at Sheffield Hallam University.  He leads the Practice, Innovation and Professional Learning Research Group. Currently, his research includes the evaluation of large funded professional and curriculum development projects as well as the innovative Embodying Mathematics project in collaboration with Complicite Theatre Company. An important strand of his research focuses on issues of social justice and ethics in teacher education.