Reflexive writing (and researching)

My main, and haunting, research question is “what makes writing academic?”.

The reason for asking this stems from the recognition that there is:

a) a fluid writing landscape in which there are academic ‘writings’ (multiple activities/genres, rather than a static form)

b) a plurivocality in the research of the globalised and networked multiversity that somehow requires more flexibility (aka creativity?) in what we label as ‘academic writing’


c) a restless academic identity in which the values, purposes and roles of univeristies are being questioned (i.e. are unis there to train or to educate? Discusssssssss……..)

I’ve just read an article by Mary Ryan (2014) on recognising reflexivity in the assessment of writing. Hers is research on primary school children, but she makes the following claims which can easily be applied to academic writing, as I see it, anyway …. (key concepts to develop are in bold):

I consider the writer as a self-conscious designer of text (2014: 61)

This means that writers … must necessarily be positioned as self-conscious designers of writing, not just learners of grammar, processes and structures (2014: 61)

Current conditions in writing classrooms … engender reductionist approaches to form and feature at the expense of identity and voice (2014: 72)

New and changing conditions require a meta-reflexive approach to writing … The time invested in robust, reflexive self-assessment strategies is well spent to provide students with the confidence and skills to negotiate uncertain writing conditions (2014: 73)

This approach rejects a singular focus on an idealised writing product in writing assessment. Instead, it repositions the writer as agentic and adaptable as they interrogate self in relation to context and product (2014: 73)

She says that for writers to have this degree of choice and agency they need to have opportunities for purposeful and creative writing (and, therefore, I’m thinking of different forms of writing, and of what theoretical underpinnings we would need to allow us to still call these writings ‘academic’, and of how we can teach them and assess them).

Ryan then identifies four types of reflexive writing (communicative; autonomous; meta; fractured, all on page 64), drawn from Margaret Archer’s critical realism. Of these four, it is the meta-reflexive type which makes for the best writer because it creates the optimal conditions for morphogenesis (i.e. opportunites for the transformation of knowledge, which is what academic writing should allow for?):

Meta-indicators – mediates appropriateness and creativity; uses unsusal or interesting language and techniques; subverts genre; hybridises; talks about self as writer; writes outside school; pleases others and self; questions teacher (2014: 64)

To develop: how does one assess the ‘academicness’ of a product which shows evidence of the writer’s/agent’s ability to ‘mediate appropriateness and creativity’, ‘subvert genre’, ‘please others and self’?

Any reactions/qualifications to the above are most welcome!

References: Ryan, M. (2014) ‘Reflexive writers: rethinking writing development and assessment in schools’ in Assessing Writing (22) 60-74

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