Voices in a university : a critical exploration of black students' responses to institutional discourse.
Clarence-Fincham, Jennifer Anne.
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The context for this study is the period leading up to and the four years since the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. It is a critical exploration of black students' responses to university discourses as they begin their degrees, and an analysis of the extent to which Critical Language Awareness can be used to facilitate a greater understanding of institutional conventions and practices. It includes a brief consideration of students' school experiences and then explores their perceptions of the university as a whole as well as of individual texts. The way in which language encodes asymmetrical power relations and is used to construct students' subjectivities within the institution is of central concern. The research methodology adopted here is critical action research. The study consists of two research cycles, a short pilot study and a longer eight week language teaching programme. This second cycle was carried out in 1991 at the University of Natal during a time marked by unprecedented political fluidity and the establishment of new institutional and social structures. The impact of these changes has been felt at every level as racial separation, uniformity and ethnic homogeneity, which were once dominant social norms, have been replaced by the movement towards an integrated social order defined by its diversity, difference, and multiplicity. Because the research process is inseparable from its socio-political context, a theoretical perspective which attempts to theorise multiplicity and contradiction has been adopted here. Insights from postmodern thought are therefore central to this work and have facilitated the interrogation and, at times, the rewriting of many aspects of critical social theory, critical pedagogy and critical action research. The immediate context for this study is Learning, Language and Logic, a first-year course whose primary aim is the acquisition of academic literacy. Over a period of four years, the two action research cycles were developed and integrated into the curriculum. The first was a short intervention during which students analysed three university texts and the second, central cycle was an eight week programme which introduced them to the central principles of Critical Language Awareness. It was designed to provide students entering the university with the opportunity to explore unfamiliar aspects of the university environment and to analyse a range of texts drawn from its discourses. The primary method of analysis of the data was Critical Discourse Analysis but a content analysis of some of the data was also undertaken. The results of this research provide a strong indication that the integration of the principles of Critical Language Awareness into a first year course in academic literacy adds a crucial dimension to students' understanding of the university environment. It provides them with linguistic insights from which they can further develop the ability to analyse their educational context, to respond critically to academic texts and to understand the roles that they can play within the university.