Using history to understand academic writing(s)

Below is my conference abstract for EATAW 2015 this coming June. I am sharing it to invite reactions and suggestions. All the conference abstracts are available here.

An Archaeology of Academic Writing(s): Using History to Understand the Present and Future of Academic Writing

In this presentation, I reflect on what it means for writing(s) to be ‘academic’ in the 21st century. This is a question born of recent discussions in the literature relating to regenring (English 2011), including the extent to which multimodal discourses can be considered ‘academic’; to creativity (Besley and Peters 2013); to peripheral genres (Bennett 2014); and to risk-taking in the ‘contact zone’ (Thesen and Cooper, 2013). Accordingly, my own experience of re-designing Nottingham University’s EAP (English for Academic Purposes) curriculum to reflect current academic social practices may also be of interest to other teachers. I will draw on the work of Bazerman (1998) – who has highlighted how academic genres have been shaped by the knowledge perspectives they embody – in order to reflect on what knowledge perspectives are shaping the genres we currently engage with and what knowledge perspectives could shape or be shaping emerging (peripheral?) genres. For example, what determines the length and focus of an academic article, or the grammar of a reflective essay, and why? I adopt a historiographic approach to knowledge (relying mainly on Foucault and Fayerabend) in order to conclude that our understanding of what makes a text ‘academic’ also depends on an awareness of its history, specifically the history of the knowledge(s) and social values that have shaped higher education. Such a historical approach may allow both researchers and practitioners to view academic writing through a different lens, a lens that highlights the contingency of academic genres, rather than their necessity.


Bazerman, C. (1988) Shaping Written Knowledge: the Genre and Activity of the Experimental Article in Science. The University of Wisconsin Press: Wisconsin

Bennett, K. (2014) The Semiperiphery of Academic Writing: Discourses, Communities and Practices. Palgrave MacMillan: London

Besley, T. and Peters, M. (Eds.) (2013) Re-imagining the Creative University for the 21st Century. Sense Publishers: Rotterdam

English, F. (2011) Student Writing and Genre: Reconfiguring Academic Knowledge. Continuum Press: London

Thesen, L. and Cooper, L. (Eds.) (2013) Risk in Academic Writing: Postgraduate Students, their Teachers and the Making of Knowledge. Multiligual Matters: Bristol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *