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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Writing your way into a new South Africa: "Intersubjectivity" and cultural dynamism in a University-based Writing Centre

Vivien Linington, Pamela Nichols.

This paper argues that any approach to the teaching of writing at a University-based Writing Centre, particularly in the current South African context, must take cognisance of the social, cultural and linguistic resources that consultants and clients bring to the practice. The paper will contend that an approach to the teaching of writing that draws on these resources will enhance "intersubjectivity" which, according to Wertsch (1985), is a central element of effective communication during mediation. Wertsch believes that "intersubjectivity" exists when interlocutors share a common understanding and definition of the situation. The paper will argue that this common understanding cannot be established without a consideration of each participant’s current understanding of writing in the university.

A dialogic process where degrees of "intersubjectivity" between speaker and hearer are constantly under review can lead to a dynamic examination of students and consultants’ current perceptions of university writing practice. The new understandings that are co-constructed during the process can inform the transformation process to which the University of the Witwatersrand is committed. The authors of this paper have established that many students entering "Wits" at this time feel alienated by the non negotiable nature of the norms and standards of current academic written discourse.

The approach to the teaching of writing proposed in this paper draws on Street’s (2003) "academic literacies" model of writing. This model argues that writing cannot be separated from the negotiations and contestations within the social context in which it is crafted. The proposed approach will also be informed by a social constructivist perspective on learning and Lave and Wenger’s (1991) notion of a "community of practice".


Vivien Linington  (South Africa)
Lecturer in Educational Studies
Department of Educational Studies
University of the Witwatersrand

Pamela Nichols  (South Africa)
Director of the Wits Writing Centre
Writs Writing Centre
University of the Witwatersrand

  • Dialogue
  • Inclusion
  • "Intersubjectivity"
  • Cultural diversity and dynamism
  • Writing Centres

(30 min Conference Paper, English)