Changing words and worlds? : a phenomenological study of the acquisition of an academic literacy

Thomson, C. I. (2009) Changing words and worlds? : a phenomenological study of the acquisition of an academic literacy. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.




This study is contextualised within the field of post-graduate, continuing teacher education, and the vibrant and demanding policy context that has characterised higher education in post-apartheid South Africa. Situated within a module specifically designed to address what is commonly understood to be the academic literacy development needs of students in the Bachelor of Education Honours programme at the former University of Natal, it aims to unveil the lived experiences of students taking this module. The module, Reading and Writing Academic Texts (RWAT), was developed in direct response to academics’ call that something be done about the ‘problem’ of students’ reading and writing proficiency. As a core, compulsory module, RWAT was informed by Systemic Functional Linguistics and drew on Genre Theory for its conceptual and theoretical framework. It foregrounded the genre of the academic argument as the key academic literacy that was taught. The motivation for this study came from my own increasing concern that the theoretical and conceptual framework we had adopted for the module was emerging as an inherently limiting and formulaic model of literacy, and was resulting in students exiting the module with little or no ‘critical’ perspective on any aspect of literacy as social practice. I was also keen, in a climate of increasing de-personalisation and the massification of education, to reinstate the personal. Thus, I chose to focus on individual lives, and through an exploration of a small group of participants’ ‘lived’ experiences of the RWAT module, ascertain what it is like to acquire an academic literacy. The key research question is, therefore: What is it like to acquire an academic literacy? The secondary research question is: How is this experience influenced by the mode of delivery in which it occurs? For its conceptual and theoretical framing, this study draws on social literacy theory and phenomenology, the latter as both a philosophy and a methodology. However, although the study has drawn significantly on the phenomenological tradition for inspiration and direction, it has not done so uncritically. Thus, the study engages with phenomenology-as-philosophy in great depth before turning to phenomenology-as-methodology, in order to arrive at a point where the methods and procedures applied in it, are justified. The main findings of the study suggest that, despite the RWAT module espousing an ideological model (Street, 1984) of literacy in its learning materials and readings, participants came very much closer to experiencing an autonomous model of literacy (Street, 1984). The data shows that the RWAT module was largely inadequate to the task of inducting participants into the ‘situated practices’ and ‘situated meanings’ of the Discourse of Genre Theory and/or the academy, hence the many ‘lived’ difficulties participants experienced. The data also highlights the ease with which an autonomous model of literacy can come to govern practice and student experience even when curriculum intention is underpinned by an ideological position on literacy as social practice. Finally, the study suggests that the research community in South Africa, characterised as it is by such diversity, would be enriched by more studies derived from phenomenology, and a continuing engagement with phenomenology-as-a-movement in order to both challenge and expand its existing framework.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Phenomenology; academic literacy; discourses
Subjects:L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Education > Education
Supervisors:Boughey, C. (Prof.) and Van der Mescht, H. (Prof.)
ID Code:1625
Deposited By: Nicolene Mvinjelwa
Deposited On:26 Apr 2010 14:11
Last Modified:06 Jan 2012 16:20
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