Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Questioning the givens in academic writing across the disciplines: a theoretical and pedagogical approach - take 2

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Writing Symposium

Who this event is for

  • Everyone


FH101, Fuller Lecture Theatre, Fuller Building, Headington Campus


What is academic writing? In this symposium we undertake a transdisciplinary stance to examining the tightly regulated practices of disciplinary writing. So doing, we will shed light on some of the hidden dynamics and tensions within.

Our intention is to position academic writing as an object of inquiry from different methodological and epistemological perspectives such that alternative theoretical and pedagogical approaches to this central aspect of both student and educator everyday life might be facilitated.


 10:00-10:15 Registration & refreshments
 10:15-10:30 Welcome
 10:30-11:15 Keynote Presentation: Karin Tusting
 11:15-12:30 Panel Discussion I: 
 Juliet Henderson, Julia Molinari, Rachel Stubley
 12:30-13:30 Lunch

 Panel discussion II (Goldsmiths):
 Carole Maddern, Jocelyn Page, Tamar Steinitz & Alex Laffer

 14:30-15:00 Workshop discussion
 15:00-15:15 Summary and Closing



Karin Tusting

For professional academics, writing is a central part of the work they are employed to do. And yet often, in our conceptualisations of academic writing, we fail to incorporate the notion of writing as material labour in and for employing institutions. At a moment of industrial turmoil in universities in the UK, I will reflect on the importance of holding on to and developing this understanding. Drawing on an ESRC-funded study of the writing practices of 70 staff in higher education institutions (Tusting, McCulloch et al. 2019), I will highlight the significance of the material conditions of and resources for writing, as well as exploring how the power relations within and across universities as institutions shape and influence the disciplinary writing that academics do. I will draw out implications for the management of departments and universities, and open up discussion of possibilities for resistance.

Karin Tusting is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics at Lancaster University, and is a longstanding member of the Lancaster Literacy Research Centre.


Juliet Henderson

This contribution to the symposium considers one small way ‘the art of critique’ in writing (Foucault 1997) might be taught in the humanities and social sciences. The centrality of this focus is based in the idea that education lacks vigour without an understanding of how to play with and disrupt the rules of Western reason, as well as respect them. A practice of playing and interrupting the same that generates something new that is beyond ‘use-value’ (Derrida 2006:201) yet can also be used to signify ‘use-value’. Fundamental to this idea is the question of the ‘agency’ of the subject in orders of discourse, oscillating between consent and resistance. To conceptualise the dynamics of interrupting the historical traditions of academic writing more closely, Foucault’s notion of ‘care of the self’ and Derrida’s field of analysis, deconstruction, are briefly interrogated. Examples of such dynamics in student writing are then tentatively presented as possible heuristics for indeterminate teaching of the ‘art of critique’.

Juliet Henderson is a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Oxford Brookes University.

Julia Molinari

Drawing from research on multimodality in writing, higher education, and a doctoral thesis (2019), this contribution to the symposium showcases the varied nature of academic writings and explains the ‘conditions of possibility’ (Fransman, 2012) that can allow these to be re-imagined. This is because “what is seen as ‘academic’ writing is contestable and always emergent” (Archer & Breuer, 2016, p. 2) as well as ‘innovative’ (Tardy, 2016), ‘mobile’ (Blommaert & Horner, 2017) and evolving alongside changing academic and professional ‘contexts’ (Paré, 2018). By mobilising the philosophical and sociological concepts of Complexity Theory (Kuhn, 2008), Critical Realism and Open Systems (Collier, 1994), and Emergence (Sawyer, 2001), it is proposed that the academy re-imagine writing as a non-reductive, non-linear dynamic social practice.

Julia Molinari teaches EAP and Academic Writing at the University of Nottingham.

Rachel Stubley

Drawing on doctoral research, this paper examines the attitudes and practices of tutors and student teachers in a post-compulsory (further, adult and vocational) teacher education department at a university in South Wales. An ‘academic literacies’ perspective (Lea and Street 2006) is taken , which recognises that writing is not (just) a technical process but involves issues of identity and power, including individual language and literacy histories, practices and aspirations (Barton et al 2007). The aim is to make more visible the underlying attitudes and beliefs of students and teacher educators regarding academic writing, and to extend the possibilities for dialogic, student-centred approaches to writing which support developing professional identities.Tutors and student teachers in this study have both ‘normative’ and ‘transformative’ aspirations for professional and academic writing (Lillis and Scott 2007), which relate to ideas about the relationships between teacher identity, ‘professional image’, education and social class.

Rachel Stubley is a senior lecturer in Education at The University of South Wales.

Teaching on an international distance learning programme throws up its own set of challenges. Part of my job as Learning Support Co-ordinator for the English Programme involves running a dedicated online Learning Support Forum. This covers traditional study skills and presentational conventions (referencing, bibliographies etc.) aiming to enable learners to understand and meet UK assessment criteria for formative and summative work. In the light of a diverse student body, occupying a variety of educational, social and cultural contexts, questions emerge about the imposition of a monolithic standard. Does one size fit all? Are international students disadvantaged by the existing criteria, which, for instance, values highly evidence of ‘independent’ thought and breadth of research?

Carole Maddern is a Lecturer in English and Director of Academic Skills in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths. She is also Deputy Programme Director of the English Programme of the University of London Worldwide.

Jocelyn Page

Many students on an English course simply don’t see themselves as natural, confident writers. In response to this observation: what are the givens of academic writing and how can we, as educators, prioritize the development of a sense of self-esteem in students as writers, especially those who are first-year, first-generation participants? Fundamentally, what shape should our ‘help’ look like in order to best meet the needs of our students: should we focus in a limited fashion on only their time on our course, or project beyond? Collaborative activities, varied measurements of ‘success’ and self-reflective practice might be explored and trialled in order to find ways to challenge and create flexibility in regard to existing assessment. This discussion might lead to questions surrounding the likely contexts in which our graduates might be asked to write in their future lives and careers.?

Jocelyn Page is an Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths and University of London Worldwide, teaching poetry, academic writing and creative writing.

Tamar Steinitz

In Effective Academic Writing tutorials, mature students beginning their undergraduate degree often express a common anxiety: ‘I haven’t written an essay in 12 years – I’m terrified!’ ‘Mature student’ is a broad category that encompasses all students over 21. According to HESA data, between 17% and 13% of undergraduate enrolments in 2013-2018 were of students over the age of 30, and around 7% were between the ages of 25 and 29. What are the challenges facing mature students returning to education after a significant gap, and how we can tailor our academic writing support to their needs?

Tamar Steinitz is a Lecturer in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, and has been involved in the development and delivery of the department’s Practical Academic Skills and Strategies (PASS) programme.

Alex Laffer

Digital technology can provide both an entry point and barrier for non-traditional students. If mobilised correctly it can afford new collaborative ways of working and foster the structured development of best practice. Importantly, it can encourage educators to rethink assessment, moving away from traditional and potentially exclusionary modes, to focus on narrower developmental pathways or allow greater creativity. This is particularly effective for students who have limited experience of academic writing – which is becoming the norm – or are writing in new disciplines. However, as digital technology becomes an integral element in students’ learning experiences, from enrolment through to final feedback, we need to be careful in its application. It is necessary to question the givens around digital technology and, particularly, assumptions we may have on its provision, availability and familiarity for different student groups. We also need to consider the burden on educators and consider how best to balance our investment in new digital technologies with the value it represents to students. I will reflect on my own teaching, including the use of WordPress and Miro, to illustrate this discussion and welcome examples of other educators' digital practice.

Alex Laffer is a Lecturer in Linguistics with an interest in empathy, digital discourse and reading. He also conducts professional research in the arts looking at audience perception.