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Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies

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Negotiating between past and present discourse values in a postgraduate law course: implications for writing

Bongi Bangeni

Abstract


This article reports on some of the findings from a year-long qualitative case study which explores the transition experiences of seven ESL students from the Humanities into postgraduate studies located in the Law and Commerce faculties at a historically white university. Here I focus on two of the students who were registered for honours in Criminology and explore the ways in which undergraduate discourse values manifest in their writing. Focusing on one course, Criminal Law, and within that the legal problem question answer (PQA) genre, I draw on Toulmin’s (1958) model of argumentation to investigate how the students established links between warrants and claims in adapting to the genre conventions and modes of argument construction within their new discipline. The data reflect that, in addition to struggles around form, the challenges encountered by the students can be attributed broadly to a tension  between their embodied habitus and the epistemological characteristics of the new discipline. One manifestation of this is in their challenges with negotiating the communicative purposes of the PQA where they explore available spaces for Social Science oriented reasoning in a genre shaped by ‘objective’ tests and legal principles. The findings underscore the importance of actively engaging students on how their prior literacies impact on the process of negotiating the intellectual and cultural demands of specialised genres at postgraduate level.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2009, 27(1): 65–76



http://dx.doi.org/10.2989/SALALS.2009.27.1.6.754
AJOL African Journals Online