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Special edition of Reading & Writing 2016 with the theme ‘Imagination and Literacy: Theory and practice’

Guest editors: Associate Professors Karin Murris (University of Cape Town) and Catherine Kell (University of the Western Cape)

Background to the theme - Imagination and Literacy: Theory and practice

The theme for this special edition arose from noticing that, in the context of literacy education, the imagination as a meaning-making faculty receives remarkably little attention. Standardised national curricula have certain assumptions about how people’s minds develop and how literacy should be taught – a focus that is mainly on cognitive development. Aristotelian philosophy, cognitive psychology and certain strands of sociology have informed a curriculum that includes pedagogical instruction from the ‘simple’ to the ‘complex’, the ‘concrete’ to the ‘abstract’, the ‘familiar’ to the ‘unfamiliar’, and moves from active manipulation to symbolic conceptualisation and from perception-dominated thinking to conceptual freedom (Egan, 2002). The ‘essay text’ form of writing is viewed as the epitome of such moves, and literacy instruction is geared ultimately to its achievement.

These Western educational philosophies and orthodoxies have informed literacy curricula, the texts we choose for literacy (e.g. reading schemes, children’s literature, adult education primers, comprehension tasks, the production of essays), sequencing and pacing of classes, how we make room for the body, and for affect and emotion in teaching. But to what extent is the imagination an essential part of how the intellect operates? If it is, how is the imagination expressed and realised in literacy learning, and in contexts of social diversity what cross-cultural variations might there be? Is it indeed true that the imagination is merely the capacity to produce images – imagination as visualisation (after all, the Latin ‘imago’ means ‘image’)? This special issue has as its goal interrogation of these conceptual issues with the aim of shedding light on the role of the imagination in literacy practices in all phases of education.

The imagination is often associated with aesthetic, playful, creative modes of being, knowing and re-presentation, and viewed as belonging to creative subjects and disciplines such as the arts. With the growing acknowledgement of the importance of other modes of expression and communication, like the visual, aural and gestural and the convergence of these modes in digital technologies, how realistic or useful are such conceptualisations?

Some people associate the imagination with romantic ideas about young children and not with the real business of knowledge acquisition and communication. Literacy – it is therefore assumed – is about words, language, particular types of texts and genres of written texts, and so is our teaching of the subject in schools, our communities and institutions that prepare teachers. In educational institutions the role of digital technologies and the increase in visual and other modes of communication and expression tend to be sidelined. What are we missing as formal and informal educators when literacy is conceptualised in such a narrow way?

The theme of this special edition invites contributors to interpret, interrogate or deconstruct what imagination means in relation to literacy in the context of literacy education in the broad sense and across all phases of education. Contributions to this edition may begin from an examination of the following conceptual questions in the context of the theme:

  • The concepts of imagination and cognition, literacy learning and teaching. What does imagination mean? Is it more than the creation of images with the mind’s ‘eye’? Is it possible to teach or learn without the use of the imagination? Is imagination the same as fantasy?
  • How do concepts such as imagination, knowledge and literacy relate? Does the imagination play a role in the construction and representation of knowledge and why is this relevant for how we conceptualise literacy? What are the resources and repertoires for the development of imagination? How does imagination act as part of the resources and repertoires for learning?
  • Given the growing salience of the visual, aural, spatial and embodied modes of communication, and the growing use of digital technologies, how can a rethinking of imagination contribute to literacy and multimodal pedagogies?
  • What is the relationship between the concepts ‘imagination’ and ‘child’. Are children more imaginative than adults? If imagination includes a connection between play and learning what does this mean for teenagers, adults, the elderly? Is it possible to argue that all intellectual activity requires imagination, and if so, what are the implications for literacy learning across the lifespan?
  • If the imagination is a thinking that resists closure and opens up unexpected lines of thought and new ideas (i.e. divergent thinking), then what are the tensions with a national literacy curriculum that assumes convergent thinking? Globally curricula focus on the production of right answers (known by the teachers and others in authority). What are the implications for how comprehension is conceptualised and the resources we use to teach it?
  • What kind of imagination do we need in order start rethinking education outside traditional Western schooling – a proposal for teacher education that resists neoliberal governmental agendas and standardising policies offering fresh solutions for Southern contexts? What and who is literacy education for and how can it contribute to the sort of communities we could and should be creating together?

Reference: Egan, K. (2002) Getting it wrong from the beginning: Our progressivist inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Submission procedure

Authors are invited to submit an 800-word abstract online at 01 September to 14 September 2015. It should explain the concerns of their proposed paper and how it relates to the theme of this special issue, including a tentative structure and at least three references. Include a separate, one-page curriculum vitae along with an email, mailing address, and phone number.

Authors will be notified by 21 September 2015 about the status of their proposal. Full papers are expected to be submitted by 26 October 2015. All submitted papers will be double blind peer reviewed, with the principal aim of providing feedback to strengthen the work. When abstracts have been accepted we look forward to working critically and constructively with authors to produce a strong and stimulating contribution to scholarship, discussion and practice.

Page fees will be payable on notification that an article has been accepted for publication. Page fees details are available on the journal website. In cases where institutions do not pay (directly or indirectly) for page fees, RASA Western Cape might be able to contribute towards the cost (depending on a written motivation).

Due to the nature of this special edition of Reading & Writing, the normal submission process as described on the homepage of the journal do not apply. Authors should submit electronic versions of their initial proposals before 14 September 2015. Go to and select Special Issue 2016: Imagination and Literacy.

Format of submissions

Given the proposed theme of the special edition, we invite contributors to consider ways of working collaboratively with their students (whether school students, higher education students or trainee professionals) to develop ideas and writing. The theme seems to lend itself well to dialogical and multivocal forms of representation.

A title page should carry the full title (12 words) of the article, its author(s) and relevant institutional affiliation and contact details (mailing address, telephone and fax numbers and email address). The first page of the text proper should carry the title of the article but not the name(s) of the author(s). The article should be typed in Microsoft Word in double spacing (including all notes and references, and between 5 000 and 6 000 words in length). All notes should be kept to a minimum and appear at the end of the article before the list of references.

Figures and tables should not be embedded in the text, but be saved as separate files at the end of each article with their position clearly marked in the text. Indicate clearly in which format they were generated. Please supply typed captions including sources and acknowledgements.

An abstract of 100-150 words covering the main argument(s), methodologies and

conclusions, should accompany an article plus a list of at least six keywords for abstracting and indexing services.

References: Begin the reference list on a separate page. Reading & Writing uses the Harvard referencing style, details of which can be downloaded from the journal website. No other style will be permitted. The list of references should include every work cited in the text. Ensure that dates, spelling and titles used in the text are accurate and consistent with those listed in the references.

Proposed timetable

  • 14 September 2015: online abstract (1000 words) submission of manuscripts
  • 14-21 September 2015: feedback to authors if their abstract is accepted
  • 26 October 2015: full-length papers submitted to Reading & Writing
  • 2 November: articles go to the reviewers
  • 4 December: feedback to the authors by the guest editors
  • 11 January 2016: deadline for revised manuscripts
  • 29 January 2016: final decision on manuscript
  • May 2016 – publication


Karin Murris: Karin Murris (PhD) is Chair of the Reading Association of South Africa Western Cape and Associate Professor at the School of Education, University of Cape Town (UCT). Her research interests include philosophy of education, philosophy with children (P4C), Reggio Emilia, early literacy, childhood studies and children’s literature. Karin is an international pioneer in the use of picturebooks for the teaching of critical and creative thinking and uses picturebooks as an integral part of all her teaching and lecturing, including at university. She has published more than 55 professional articles, book chapters and academic papers (see: as well as special issues of journals and the following books: Teaching Philosophy with Picture Books (1992), and (with Joanna Haynes) Storywise: Thinking through Stories (2002), Picturebooks, Pedagogy and Philosophy (2012). She is currently co-editing the Routledge International Handbook on Philosophy for Children, and her book The Posthuman Child: Educational Transformation through Philosophy with Picturebooks will be published by Routledge in February 2016.

Catherine Kell : Catherine Kell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of the Western Cape, specialising in literacy studies. Her research focuses on understanding the world as textually mediated, the variable ways in which people take hold of different means and modes of communication and the wider communicative ecologies and economies within which this happens.  Her recent work has focused on changing notions of authorship, and the ways in which people produce and project material and digital texts to ‘make things happen’. Her publications include over 35 journal articles, book chapters and professional papers, anda number of popular case studies and reports. She recently co-edited a special issue of Social Semiotics on ‘Objects and language in transcontextual communication’ (with Gabi Budach and Donna Patrick) and co-authored a popular monograph (published by African Minds) called Seeking impact and visibility: Scholarly communication in southern Africa with Henry Trotter,  Michelle Willmers, Eve Grey and Thomas King (2014).

ISSN: 2079-8245 (print) | ISSN: 2308-1422 (online)

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