Writing and general education (Russell 2002, Part II): a response to the widespread desire that education should foster community and social harmony in a society where knowledge and work were becoming increasingly specialised (p. 136)
One of my research questions is:
- what are the academic values that determine the shape(s) of academic writing(s)?
This is why conversations like these really interest me (available from here and here):
My other questions include:
- What values are informing our current academic practices, eg the REF?
- What shifts are currently taking place and what impact will these shifts have on our academic writing practices?
Part II of Russell’s book examines what educational visions/values have determined American academic writing (or composition, as it is referred to in the US) during the 1900s. On page 136, he claims:
In those first crucial years of the new century (1900s) (…) a new cadre of professional administrators, preaching the gospel of social efficiency, wholeheartedly embraced curricular specialisation and institutional differentiation, stressing the democratic values of variety and choice
- Chapter 5 deals with Writing and Social Efficiency: the principles of efficiency and cost-effectiveness guide educational decisions. This results in the essay genre being replaced by objective tests. These are easier to mark, but the educational process is obscured.
- Chapter 6 deals with Writing and the Great Books: the humanities react to the over-specialisation of the scientific disciplines by returning to the past, and to tradition. Writing becomes inspired by literary masterpieces (conservatism).
- Chapter 7 deals with Writing and Progressive Education: inspired by the Deweyan ‘social perspective’, “oriented towards contemporary problems and convinced of the schools’ role in bringing about rational social change” (p.137). Writing becomes an individual and student-centred activity.
Russell’s portrayal of writing coheres into a social practice approach to understanding what academic writing is, and, consequently, to how it ought to be taught. It also shows that academic writing(s) change over time because of shifts in social, and therefore academic, values. Social change shapes academic writing (Bazerman). Society is shaped by individuals (critical realism (Margaret Archer) and methodological indivdualism (Rom Harre) ergo individuals can cause/bring about change …. develop this for how individual can cause academic writing to change).
Do you have examples of social contexts that have shaped the academic writing you do and teach? Please feel free to share and comment.
Ref. ‘Writing in the Academic Disciplines: a Curricular History’ (2002) by David Russell, Southern Illinois Press ISBN 0809324679