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Assoc Prof Catherine Kell


Associate Professor

Room 5.03.3
Telephone: (021) 650 3821

Stream Language and Literacy in Education

literacy studies, literacy as social practice, linguistic ethnography, digital literacies, trans-contextual analysis, materiality, sociolinguistics of mobility



I am an Associate Professor of Language and Literacy Education, specialising in literacy studies. I focus on understanding literacy as everyday social practice through a linguistic anthropological lens, using ethnographic methods. My interests lie in the need to understand the world and learning as textually-mediated, the variable ways in which people (both adults and children) take hold of different means and modes of communication and the wider communicative ecologies and economies within which this happens. My work spans across early literacy, schooling and adult education and I have worked on teaching, research and development projects in development contexts, higher education, workplaces, media studies and communities, including informal settlements in Cape Town.



Research project

  • 2014 – 2016 Member of cross-institution research team, NRF Education Research Grant for project ‘Digital Resources in children’s and youth’s learning and networking’ (Mastin Prinsloo (PI), Ana Deumert, Marion Walton, Cathy Kell and Xolisa Guzula).

Special Issues

  • Social Semiotics 25 (4) 2015. Special Issue on Objects, Language and Transcontextual Communication. Guest Editors: G. Budach, C. Kell and D. Patrick

Journal articles

  • Kell, C. (2015) “Making people happen”: Materiality and movement in meaning-making trajectories’. Social Semiotics 25 (4)  Budach, G.,
  • Kell, C. and Patrick, D. (2015) Objects, language and trans-contextual communication: Introduction to Special Issue. Social Semiotics 25 (4)
  • Kell, C. (2011) ‘Inequalities and Crossings: Literacy and the Spaces-in-between’. International Journal of Educational Development. (Invited paper for Special Issue based on Literacy Inequalities: Conference Proceedings).
  • Hastwell, K., Strauss, P. and Kell, C. (2011) ‘‘But pasta is pasta: it is all the same’: The literacy, language and numeracy challenges of supermarket work.’ Journal of Education and Work 1-22 iFirst.
  • Kell, C. (2008) ‘Making Things Happen: Meaning Making, Agency and Literacy in Housing Struggles in South Africa’.  Journal of Development Studies. 44:6  (Please note this special edition was also published as a book by Routledge  in 2009)
  • Hamer, J., Kell, C. and Spence, F. (2007) ‘Peer Assessment Using Aropa’. Proceedings of the Ninth Australasian conference on Computing education - Volume 60. 2007,  Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, January 30 - February 02, 2007
  • Kell, C. (2005) Review Essay of ‘Literacy in Development: Ethnographic Perspectives’ by Brian Street (ed) In: International  Journal. of Educational Development, 25 (1).
  • Kell, C. (2004) ‘Writing Wrong: Conundrums of Literacy and Human Rights’ Invited contribution to Convergence Special Issue: Putting adults back in the frame. Vol XXXVII (3) 2004. NIACE and ICAE.)
  • Kell, C. (2004) Review Essay of ‘Literacy in the New Media Age’ by Gunther Kress. In E-learning Vol 1:3. Viewable at:
  • Kell, C. (2004)  ‘The ins and outs of Context’ In FinePrint: A Journal of the Victoria Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Education Coalition (VALBEC). Canberra: Australia.
  • Kell, C. (2001) ‘Ciphers and Currencies: Shifting Knowledges and Literacy Dilemmas’. In Language and Education. 15:2&3 Popular monographs
  • Trotter, H., Kell, C., Willmers, M., Gray, E. and King T. (2014) Seeking impact and visibility: Scholarly communication in southern Africa. Cape Town: African Minds.

Book Chapters

  • Kell, C. (2016) Literacy, mobile texts and translocal literacies. In Canagarajah, S. (ed) The Routledge Handbook of Migration and Language. Routledge: London and New York. 
  • Kell, C, Czerniewicz, L. and Trotter, H.  (2016) Visibility of Scholarly Research and Changing Research Communication Practices: A Case Study from Namibia. In A. Esposito. (ed) Research 2.0 and the Impact of Digital Technologies on Scholarly Inquiry. Advances in Knowledge Acquisition, Transfer, and Management (AKATM) Book Series. IGI Global.
  • Kell, C. (2015) ‘Ariadne’s thread: Literacy, scale and meaning making across time and space.’ In Stroud, C. and Prinsloo, M. Language, literacy and diversity: Moving Words. Routledge: London and New York.
  • Kell, C. (2010) ‘New Literacy Studies and ethnographic perspectives from South Africa’ (trans). In J. Kalman, J. & Street, B. Lectura, escritura, y matématicas como practicas sociales. Dialogos con Latinoamerica. Siglo XXI Editores, México
  • Kell, C. (2009) ‘Ethnographic Perspectives and literacy studies in South Africa: A Long View’. In C. Coffin., T. Lillis, and K. O’Halloran. (eds) Investigating language in action: tools for analysis. Open University Press and Routledge: London and New York. (216-233).
  • Kell, C. (2009) ‘Placing practices: Literacy and meaning making across space and time’. In M. Baynham and M. Prinsloo. The Future of Literacy Studies. Palgrave: London and New York. (75-99).
  • Kell, C. (2009) ‘Weighing the scales: Recontextualisation as horizontal scaling’. In M. Baynham, J. Collins and S. Slembrouck. (eds) Globalisation and Language Contact:  Spatiotemporal Scales, Migration Flows, and Communicative Practices. New York: Continuum.
  • Kell, C. (2009), ‘Making things happen: Meaning Making, Agency and Literacy in Housing Struggles in South Africa.’ In K. Basu, B. Maddox and A. Robinson Pant (eds) Literacies, identity and social change; interdisciplinary approaches to literacy and development. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Kell, C. (2006) ‘Crossing the margins: Literacy, semiotics and the recontextualisation of meanings’. In K. Pahl and J. Rowsell (eds) Travel Notes from the New Literacy Studies: Instances of Practice. Clevedon, Buffalo, Toronto: Multilingual Matters
  • Kell, C. (2005) ‘Moment to Moment: Texts, Movement and Participation’. In A. Rogers (ed) Urban Literacy: Communication, identity and learning in development contexts. Hamburg:  Unesco Institute of Education Keynotes, colloquia organised and invited public lectures and presentations (from 2011)
  • Kell, C and Budach, G. ‘Moment to moment: Literacy and activity across time, space and scale’. A Colloquium at Sociolinguistics Symposium, Jyvaskyla, Finland, 15-18 June 2014.
  • Kell, C. (2014) From instances to sequences: A framework for trans-contextual analysis. Paper presented at Colloquium at Sociolinguistics Symposium 20, Jyvaskyla, Finland, June 15 – 18, 2014.
  • Kell, C. (2013)  ‘Tracing text trajectories across time and space’. Invited presentation at British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL), Cambridge University Press and the Open University, Special Seminar on Text trajectories: Developing dynamic approaches to textual analysis. Open University, UK, April 2013.
  • Kell, C. (2012) ‘Rethinking literacy events and literacy practices: Tracing text trajectories.’ Keynote address at ‘Literacy without borders’ Conference, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, October 2012.

Invited Plenary Panel address

  • Kell, C (2011) “Ariadne’s Thread: Mobility, Scale and The New Literacy Studies”. Presented at International Association of Applied Linguistics Conference: Mobility, Language and Literacy, University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa. January 19 – 21, 2011.