UEA UNESCO Chair’s Education and Development | BOOK LAUNCH: Literacy in the lives of working-class adults in Australia: Dominant versus local voices by Stephen Black

22nd February 2024

Guest Speaker: Dr Stephen Black, Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney


Adopting a ‘social practice’ approach to literacy research based on ethnographic methods, this book provides a strong critique of dominant understandings of the role of literacy in the lives of adults in Australia. It explores how groups of working-class adults can manage the literacy practices of their everyday lives, often by drawing on social networks of support. It is based on research conducted by the author over a forty-year career in adult literacy education, featuring the voices of varied adult groups, including: prisoners, the long-term unemployed, local council workers, manufacturing workers, adult literacy students, marginalised young people, vocational students, and patients living with a chronic illness (type 2 diabetes). Each chapter explains how dominant society views these adult groups in relation to literacy and counters these views with a qualitative examination at the local level of how members of these groups manage the literacy practices of their everyday lives. Invariably, members of these adult groups display agency and live satisfactory and productive lives. The book concludes that dominant constructions of literacy serve, in effect, to oppress working-class adults by defining them as inadequate and non-functioning members of society.

Speaker’s biography

Stephen Black is an educational research fellow at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), specialising in the field of adult literacy education. He obtained his first degree (B.Ed) at the University of London, and after moving to Australia, obtained post graduate degrees at the University of New South Wales (M.Ed), Sydney University (MA Honours), and the University of Technology Sydney (PhD). He began his professional career as a high school history teacher in Basildon (UK) and then Melbourne, before working in the field of adult literacy, firstly in prisons in Sydney, and then in the TAFE (FE equivalent) system in New South Wales. Since retiring from TAFE in 2009, he has focused primarily on educational research, adopting a social practice approach to literacy studies. His most recent publication, Literacy in the lives of working-class adults in Australia, draws on his previous literacy research studies with adult groups.