Voices in discourse: Re-thinking shared meaning in academic writing

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

As a teacher of academic literacy, the researcher is involved in initiating non-traditional students into academic language practices--the academic 'conversation'. This study approaches mediation in a way that takes student diversity into account. This is done through an exploration of the relationship between the biographies of speakers of English as an additional language and their experience of writing academic essays in the faculties of Arts and Social Science at the University of Cape Town. In order to explore this relationship, the research draws on ethnographic methodology, and takes place in different locations. The first is in the curriculum in the form of a discourse analysis of an assignment which required personal writing in an introductory course to English I. The focus is on meaning exchange in context (discourse). The second involves biographical interviews with 13 students on the same course. Here the focus is on the transitions in their lives, and on their views on academic writing and identity. The emphasis is on the voice of the individual. The third area involves bringing voice and discourse together in interviews with three students about their assignments on the introductory course. Students were asked about the influences visible in the linguistic surface of their writing. The study concludes that if the academic conversation is to be open to a full exchange of meaning which includes the participation of voices traditionally excluded, there need to be new ways of thinking about discourse while emphasising the importance of voice and agency. The consequences of this are examined in three areas: a) research, b) research-as-curriculum and c) curriculum in the areas of task design, referencing and evaluation.