The discourse of selfhood: students negotiating their academic identities in a writing centre

  • Wilhelm van Rensburg Curriculum Studies, University of Johannesburg
Keywords: writing centre research, academic writing, authorial identities


Graduate students often have to negotiate their academic identities because of the manner in which they are positioned in the academy, and because of the ‘discourse of transparency' that often surrounds their academic writing. I argue that the Writing Centre is the best place that these students can use as ‘rehearsal space' to develop an alternative ‘discourse of selfhood' while negotiating their academic writing identities. This article reflects on a research project investigating how students negotiate academic identities in a faculty writing centre. The research attempts to answer such questions as what processes are involved in the negotiation of an own identity within an academic discourse community? How do students establish authority over the content of their work in their academic writing? A group of nine multicultural and multilingual Masters in Education students were observed in their interaction with Writing Centre tutors. They have been interviewed about their participation in the activities of the Writing Centre, and the written texts that they have composed while attending the Centre have all been sources of data. The interview data have been analyzed in accordance with the principles of Narrative Analysis. The data emanating from the interaction with tutors have been analyzed in terms of the principles of Mediated Discourse Analysis; and the students' written work has been analyzed in terms of an Appraisal System, identifying the specific ways in which writers establish authority in, through and over their own writing. What is clear from the narratives is the fact that students identify in almost periphrastic mode with certain elements in grand narratives. They do not model their narratives on archetypal ones, but rather ‘cut and paste' their own academic identities on to the general structure of a narrative. The mediated discourse analysis revealed that the students have an enormous range of actions that they perform, which, alongside interaction with the tutors, constitute a range of practices, forming a nexus of practice with an academic discourse community. In terms of the appraisal system it was noticeable that student writing is a very significant indicator of the degree to which these students adopt a specific and powerful attitudinal stance, inviting or deflecting dialogue with the reader, as well as adopting or refuting intertextual positionings.
Key Words: writing centre research, academic writing, authorial identities
Journal for Language Teaching Vol.38(2) 2004: 216-228

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eISSN: 0259-9570