The recasting of education as an economic rather than a social good means that governments around the world will continue to pursue agendas to show that schooling systems are effective in raising standards. Literacy is a key area of comparison on the world stage, placing literacy educators under enormous pressure to perform in this culture of accountability and visibility. We use Archer’s theory of reflexivity and morphogenesis to identify the work of nine literacy teachers and leaders in Australia as both enabling and constraining with personal, structural and cultural emergent properties needing to be constantly negotiated. Our findings show that mediation of these emergent properties occurred in different ways. Mostly teachers acted in ways that accepted ‘the way things are’ rather than mobilising as corporate agents or social actors to enact change. We argue that literacy educators can find ways to harness enablements to reclaim their professional autonomy.