Making meaning in academic writing : mature women students in higher education
This study was motivated both by my own experiences as a working class student at university and as a tutor working with so called 'non-traditional' students studying on higher education courses. The central focus is the experience of making meaning in academic writing of ten women students with whom I met on an individual basis over a period of between 1 and 3 years to talk about specific instances of their writing for undergraduate course work. Most of the study reported here is based on discussions of their academic writing at first year undergraduate level. In exploring the student-writers' experience my analysis has been significantly informed by the following writers and notions: Fairclough's three levelled framework for analyzing the production and interpretation of texts which builds on Halliday's contexts of situation and culture (see Halliday 1978; Fairclough 1989, 1992a); the work of Clark and Ivanic on critical language awareness about academic writing (see for example Clark and Ivanic 1991); the work of Ivanic on social identity and authorship in student academic writing (1993; 1998); the notion of literacy practices as developed by a number of writers (Street 1993; Barton 1994) and in particular the notion of essayist literacy (Scollon and Scollon 1981; Gee 1996); Bakhtin's dialogic notion of language and, in particular, the significance he attaches to addressivity in, and for, meaning making (1981). The central argument in this thesis is that any exploration of students' writing at university should be premised on a view of student-writers as meaning makers. This perspective has implications for the methodology necessary in order to carry out such an exploration, as well as for the specific arguments about the student-writers' experience made in this thesis. In relation to methodology, I argue for the centrality of dialogue and present a methodological framework for constructing this dialogue. In relation to the student-writers' experience of meaning making, I argue the following specific points: i.The demands surrounding student academic writing are embedded in an institutional practice of mystery. This practice of mystery is ideologically inscribed in that it works against those least familiar with the conventions surrounding academic writing, limiting their participation in higher education as currently configured. ii.Although the conventions surrounding student academic writing remain implicit, they constitute a particular literacy practice, essayist literacy, which is privileged within the university. The conventions of this practice work towards regulating individual student meaning making in specific ways. iii.The type of student/tutor addressivity surrounding student meaning making in academic writing significantly contributes to both the nature of the students' possible participation in HE and to the meanings that they make. I end by discussing the pedagogical implications of the arguments made in the study.