University of Sussex
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Policing the boundaries: the writing, representation and regulation of criminology

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:48 authored by Jane Creaton
Writing has a central role in UK higher education as a technology for, and signifier of, the learning, teaching and assessment of students. The nature and quality of student writing has also become an important issue outside the academy, particularly in the context of a globalised neo-liberal knowledge economy discourse which emphasises the importance of transferable and employability skills. Although there is a considerable body of research relating to student writing, the work that I undertook for earlier professional doctorate assignments suggested that the role of academic staff in regulating student writing was under-researched and under-theorised. The research carried out for this thesis sought to address this gap in knowledge by focussing on two central questions. Firstly, what role do academic staff play in regulating student writing? Secondly, how is this role shaped by the specific departmental, disciplinary and institutional contexts in which they are located? The research was undertaken in a criminology department in a post-1992 university in the UK. It was positioned in an academic literacies framework which conceptualises writing as a social practice, and drew on linguistic ethnographic methodologies to explore the written feedback that staff give on student writing. The written feedback encounter is where staff and student expectations about academic writing practices intersect, and is therefore a telling site for the study of educational discourses relating to knowledge and how it is represented. Data were collected from three main sources: written feedback and comments given by academic staff on 120 pieces of student work; 18 interviews with staff about academic writing; and institutional policies and procedures relating to marking, assessment and feedback. Employing a range of theoretical perspectives, including those informed by feminist and poststructuralist analysis, these texts were analysed to explore the relationship between institutional discourses, pedagogical practices and identity construction. My research showed that there was a considerable disjuncture between the institutional discourses which governed marking, assessment and feedback and the actual feedback practices of staff. Despite the strong scientific and positivist discourse that pervaded institutional documentation on assessment and feedback, some staff drew on a range of alternative pedagogical discourses and engaged in assessment practices which were more subjective and localised in nature. This gap between the institutional discourse and the situated literacy practices was mediated to some extent by the assessment coversheet and marking procedures which worked to provide an appearance of consistency and agreement to external audiences. This promoted a technical rational approach to feedback which obscured the epistemological and gatekeeping functions of feedback. The thesis concludes that the effective theorisation and teaching of student writing rests on an understanding of how academic staff construct and police the boundaries of appropriate knowledge in their discipline. This approach draws on existing academic literacies theories but argues for a more holistic model which understands academic writing as co-constructed through the practices of both students who produce the written work and the academic staff who mark it.


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