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Discourses of (De)Merit in Narratives of Support for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students

Wednesday 3 July: 5:30pm – 7:00pm, poster session



Dr Megan McIntosh
University of Melbourne, Australia



The use of online modalities to communicate with students in higher education is increasingly common, and institutional websites are often primary sources of information for students. However, despite their visibility and importance, critical and introspective research examining the discourses employed on university websites is scarce (Hoang & Rojas, 2015, p. 3). This poster presents data gleaned from a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of 12 institutional websites focused on student support in four Anglophone countries. Specifically, this work examines the discourses of writing centres or student success centres in descriptions of their work as it pertains to multilingual students. Fairclough’s (2013) three-dimensional model is used in this analysis, which includes that of “the relationship between texts, processes, and social conditions, both at the immediate conditions of the situational context and the more remote conditions of institutions and social structures” (p.21). The findings suggest the situational discourses on the websites sampled “are ideologically shaped by relations of power and struggles over power” within broader social and cultural structures (Fairclough, 1993, p. 135). Namely, the CDA demonstrates that student support websites pay little attention to the needs of linguistically diverse students as language support is rarely mentioned and/or particular types of support that multilingual students may value (language support, editing) are deemed beyond the purview of available services. Indeed, many of the websites sampled engage in “negative talk” (Schendel, 2012, p. 4) or parameter setting (“we don’t edit”), which, when placed in broader ideological frames of language support, are arguably leveraged to meet “the needs of the institution at the expense of multilingual writers” (Olson, 2013, p. 2) who may value and require editing and language support (Babcock, 2008; Grimm, 2009). Thus, this poster reveals the challenges this narrow discourse presents for linguistically diverse students and addresses the ways writing/success centres may adapt language and practice to represent both “students and the literacy demands of the academy” (Carter, 2009, p. 138).



Babcock, R. (2008). Outlaw tutoring: Editing and proofreading revisited. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 38(2), pp. 63 – 70.
Barkas, L. (2011). ‘Teaching’ or ‘support’? The poisoned chalice of the role of Students’ Skills Centres. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 35(2), 265–286.
Carter, S. (2009). The writing center paradox: Talk about legitimacy and the problem of institutional change. College Composition and Communication, 61(1), 133-152. Fairclough, N. (1993). Critical discourse analysis and the marketization of public discourse: The universities. Discourse and Society, 4, 122-169.
Fairclough, Norman. (2013). Language and Power. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.Grimm, N. (2009). New conceptual frameworks for writing centre work. The Writing Center Journal, 29(2), 11-27.
Hoang, T. V. Y., & Rojas-Lizana, I. (2015). Promotional Discourse in the Websites of Two Australian Universities: A Discourse Analytic Approach. Cogent Education2(1).1-19.
McIntosh, M. (2016). ‘Fixing’ the writer, the writing or the institution? Writing centres, multilingualism and ‘new’ literacies in Anglophone academies. (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.Olson, B. (2013). Rethinking our work with multilingual writers: The ethics and responsibility of language teaching in the writing center. Praxis: A Writing Center Journal, 10(2), 1-6.
Schendel, E. (2012). We don’t proofread, so what do we do? A report on survey results. The Writing Lab Newsletter, 37(3-4), 1-6.


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