Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty of Education
James, Bronwyn Ann, Silences, voices, negotiations: becoming a postgraduate research writer, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, 2011. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3395
Within the context of postgraduate research education and training in the Australian higher education sector, drafting might be understood as ‘not quite the final product’ produced by a student who is ‘not yet the final product’ of the university. At odds with this outcomes focused framing, I suggest that writing and subject formation, in the context of postgraduate research student becoming and pedagogy, are mutually constitutive but not identical. The ‘appearance’ of competent writing is, I argue, an effect of the repeated performance of a particular academic writing subject, instantiated in text, over time.
The concepts of the social subject and the relational subject are central to the work of this thesis and I draw on Judith Butler’s work on subject formation and performativity to rethink identity within a ‘relational framing’. For Butler, the subject is an unstable, social and psychic ‘self’, formed in and through discourse and language, over time, through ‘doing’ within certain boundaries or ‘norms’.
The view of drafting/writing that I develop in this thesis is implicated in the construction of a particular academic writing subject brought into being through the mundane and iterative practices of writing, review and critique. These practices position the student as writer in a vulnerable relationship to the real or internalised Other (the supervisor and others who might view, critique and assess the drafts or the final thesis). Drafting, critique and review engage the participants in moments of address within which the addressee (the student) is called into being as a subject in particular ways through the language used to describe the student text. In these moments, the student as writing subject must respond, and perhaps write a reconfigured self onto the page. This writing subject is linguistically and performatively constituted – neither fully determined, nor fully agentive.
The starting point for the project reported in this thesis is the changes that students make across drafts and those students’ accounts of the provocations for what they include, erase, or write differently. Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) is employed to analyse these written changes and Butler’s understandings of the performative subject moves this analysis beyond the written text and into the area of subject formation. The changes and students’ accounts become visible as moments of textual, epistemological and ontological importance. They become moments of pedagogical interest.
In taking these changes and accounts seriously, I draw out a relationship between writing and subject formation that is rarely taken into account in text biased writing pedagogies employed in the Australian university context. A staple of these writing pedagogies is the use of discourse analytic techniques such as SFL to deconstruct ‘exemplary’ texts in order to teach students how to write. SFL is a valuable resource to do this sort of work, however, even with the knowledge of how texts work in a particular discourse community, students make seemingly unexpected decisions about text structure, their ‘voice’ in the text, and particular choices in the lexicogrammar. This project attends to those decisions in order to explore what else might be of interest for a reconfigured postgraduate research writing pedagogy that is as much concerned with who is written as what is written.
On one level, then, this thesis investigates the influences on student writing, traced through changes in writing over a series of reworked drafts. On another level, this thesis attempts a rapprochement between open-ended ‘post’ theorisations of subject formation and the highly structured discourse analytic technologies arising from SFL. Both inspired and provoked by Butler’s understanding of subject formation, this thesis attempts to proliferate ideas about what it means to become a postgraduate research writer and the processes that are involved in this becoming, and to consider what might then be of interest for writing pedagogy.