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Becoming academic writers: Author identity in a Malawian university

Nsanja, Geoffrey Wisdom (2018) Becoming academic writers: Author identity in a Malawian university. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This project explores the dialectic between the identities which social essayist literacy traditions encourage and novice writers’ view of such identities (Lillis, 2001) as novices transition to university education in a Malawian university. To do this, the study adopts the view of academic writing as social semiosis with identity implications (Ivanič, 1998). This position is predicated on the view that saying something is a performative act which hails a social being (Gee, 1996). Therefore, in asking novice writers to write in a certain way, the academy implicitly asks them to take on new discoursal identities. The study examines the dialectic that ensues from this. Such dialectic is largely examined from an Ubuntu perspective which stipulates that selfhood is brought about in interaction with and because of the “other” (cf., Swanson, 2007, 2009). To achieve this, the study adopts “ethnography as method” (Lillis, 2008) or “talk around text”. Novice academic texts were analysed to isolate the identity positions which they performatively enacted. Then, in a discourse based interview set up (Hyland, 2012a), participants were given an opportunity to explicate why as well as how they created the positions identified. The emerging data from these talks were then analysed using Bamberg’s (1997) model of interactive positioning to explore further how these novices perceive themselves in light of the emerging positions in their written texts. The findings of this study point to academic writing as a “stage managed form of interaction” (Thompson, 2001) in which what goes into the essay is hardly determined by the individual writer. The study’s findings highlight that the contents of most novice essays are determined by “the reader/assessor” (Ivanič, 1998) and the impressions novices want to create for this authoritative “other”. Novice writers’ attempts to performatively take up authoritative positions in their writing are however hampered by both a lack of knowledge of academic writing conventions as well as a reverence for secondary discourse. This makes their writing to be either “voiceless” or mildly assertive. They thus struggle to dialogically assert themselves as authoritative since authoritativeness in academic writing is contingent on the “other”. This is something novice academic writers in Malawi struggle to negotiate.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.762513
Depositing User: Dr. Geoffrey Wisdom Nsanja
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2018 12:02
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2020 12:49
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/22373

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