Thursday, 29 November 2012

Denaturalizing Academic Writing

In two recent articles, Lisa Clughen and Matt Connell have explored some of the issues involved in promoting ways of helping students to gain access to what often seem to be 'mysterious' practices associated with academic writing.

In one chapter they consider the confusions wrought by academic work and embrace the frequently advanced notion that social interaction is crucial for dealing with the opacities of academic writing. It draws from critical interest in dialogic forms of learning, wherein knowledge, in this case knowledge about one’s subject, about the specific expectations of the writing task and group knowledge about the different understandings and difficulties facing students as they write, is seen as ‘emerging from interaction and the interpenetration of different voices’. In the interests of building supportive communities for writing, their chapter offers dialogic lecture analysis as a technique that aims, on the one hand, to promote a sense of solidarity and shared identity amongst students as, together, they face the challenges of academic writing and, on the other hand, to stimulate tutor–student dialogue that opens the ground for tutor understandings of student confusions around writing.

In their other article, they explore how, while support for writing instruction amongst lecturers in UK Universities is high, lecturers often prefer it to be provided by dedicated study skills specialists operating outside subject curricula. Yet because of the well-documented problems with the skills approach (where literacy support frequently becomes a generic add-on), American models such as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) and Writing in the Disciplines (WID) make a strong claim that writing stratagems and thinking/theorizing within disciplines are actually intrinsically linked. It is accordingly now a commonplace in such literacy research that writing development needs to be contextualized within the disciplines, and interest in adapting such approaches to the UK context is burgeoning. They discuss how a recent project at Nottingham Trent University set out to explore the prospects for such an adaption through the piloting of an embedded approach in the Social Theory subject area, but the project ran into a series of resistances that came close to thwarting it entirely. The initial challenge lay in convincing time-poor subject lecturers to engage with the literacy initiative and to find space for it in an already saturated curriculum. Yet it seemed that behind the surface perception that the embedding of literacy development would be onerous, or would squeeze out core subject content, there lay a deeper attitude that such development was both ‘beneath’ subject lecturers and unconnected to the specific concerns of their academic discipline. This reflection piece, co-written by the academic support coordinator championing the initiative and the Social Theory Subject Leader, seeks to understand some of these attitudes, using the work of Sigmund Freud and Theodor W. Adorno to probe various psycho-social aspects of the phenomenon of resistance to the embedding of writing development in a discipline. What emerges is a reflection on practice which arguably reveals a certain complex around the status of teaching as opposed to lecturing, alongside a process of displaced resistance to the managerialist and vocationalizing discourse which is on the ascendency within UK universities.

Lisa Clughen and Matt Connell (2012), ‘Using Dialogic Lecture Analysis to Clarify Disciplinary Requirements for Writing’ in Lisa Clughen and Christine Hardy (eds.) Writing in the Disciplines: building supportive cultures for student writing in UK higher education, Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing. 

Lisa Clughen and Matt Connell ‘Writing and resistance: Reflections on the practice of embedding writing in the curriculum', Arts and Humanities in Higher EducationVol 11.4, October 2012



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