Doctor of Education
Faculty of Education
Chatterjee-Padmanabhan, M., Identity and textual engagement: experiences of three international students writing a doctoral thesis in EAL, Doctor of Education thesis, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, 2011. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3368
The integration of the voices of other researchers is central to displaying scholarship in a doctoral thesis. It entails complex negotiation of prior texts in the context of one's own study. While, there is an expectation that such work results in an 'objective' tone, self-representation or identity is rarely absent in theses in most disciplines. For international students, who use English as an Additional Language (EAL), being objective and yet projecting an identity and a voice can pose considerable challenges. The present study draws on findings from a qualitative inquiry that has involved interviews with three international students and analysis of excerpts from drafts of their doctoral writing to examine how identity is constructed in the act of textual engagement. The term 'textual engagement' embraces acts such as integration of quotations in texts using conventions of citations and the evaluation of the quoted text/s as evident in the drafts. In the present thesis 'identity' has been discussed using Ivanič's (1998) concept of self-representation. Ivanič‘s (1998) construct of a writer's identity in terms of the autobiographical self, possibilities of selfhood, the discoursal self and the self as author dimensions in academic writing has been applied as the overarching theoretical framework in the present study. The thesis explores issues faced by international EAL students as they negotiate other texts and simultaneously project an identity of their own. It particularly focuses on how EAL writers position themselves in relation to other texts to construct a discoursal self and how they negotiate with other texts, consciously or unconsciously, to project the self as author dimension in their doctoral writing.
The literature on the incorporation of prior studies in academic writing is rich in studies on plagiarism. However, many of these studies do not take into account the complexities that quoting from source texts involve, particularly for students writing in EAL. Other strands of the literature point out that using the voices of others‘ to negotiate space for one‘s own research or engaging with other texts to construct one‘s argument requires an understanding of the discursive practices of a discipline. Scholarship becomes the basis on which an original contribution to a discipline can be made. Displaying this scholarship can be challenging for many EAL doctoral writers who may have had limited exposure to reading in English prior to undertaking doctoral studies. Consequently, in incorporating other texts, they may struggle to present an appropriate voice in their writing. Drawing on the larger theory of intertextuality and the tools afforded by genre theory to analyse the construction of arguments, the present study seeks to understand these difficulties. The exploration of evaluation to deconstruct the self as author in the student writers‘ texts has involved the use of the APPRAISAL theory (Martin and White, 2005).
The findings of the study suggests that in the writing of a thesis, a common possibility of selfhood is envisioned by the writers – that of being bilingual scholars and original contributors to the field. The autobiographical selves that the writers bring to the act of writing shape every aspect of the writing. In the context of the present study, where textual engagement and identity projection are investigated, interviews and the examination of the participants‘ texts suggested that the doctoral writers were not naïve about the demands of engaging with other texts in their work. However, the imperative to be objective and to take up a stance in relation to other texts was confusing. This issue in conjunction with anxieties about their competence in English is responsible for the varying degrees of self-assurance evident in the texts analysed in the study. The textual analysis suggests that textual transformation is seen as a major difficulty. However, positioning oneself in relation to the collective voices in the discipline is less so. Nevertheless, despite these infelicities in their work, the discoursal self projected is that of emerging scholars attempting to make an original contribution in their field. In all three texts, a non-adversarial stance is adopted. However, the self as author is different in each text and is related to the reading positions adopted by the individual writers. Surface irregularities in terms of grammar, syntax, semantics, inappropriate citation practices and the lack of critical analysis may diminish the quality of doctoral writing produced by EAL users. Nevertheless, the struggle to be bilingual scholars and original contributors is evident in the texts analysed.
Pedagogical responses to difficulties in the area of textual engagement need to be addressed in the larger context of critical inquiry, knowledge construction, disciplinary practices and self-representation/identity discussions in texts. A triple-layered doctoral writing pedagogy is suggested. Harnessing linguistic theory and providing opportunities for social interaction and meaning negotiation is crucial in helping students develop rhetorical knowledge that would enable them to project a confident identity and facilitate competent textual engagement.