Literary Practices and the Curriculum Context: Exploring the Production of Assignments in a South African Vocational Higher Education Institution

Coleman, Lynn (2014). Literary Practices and the Curriculum Context: Exploring the Production of Assignments in a South African Vocational Higher Education Institution. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explores curriculum construction and the production of assignments in two courses at a vocational higher education institution in South Africa, namely Film and Video Technology and Graphic Design. The influence of the vocational curriculum context on student and lecturer practices is examined through two analytical frameworks, literacy as social practice and Bernstein's concept of recontextualisation.

An ethnographic methodology was used to investigate the broader curriculum context and literacy practices engaged in by students and lecturers. Fieldwork was carried out over a six-month period, while generating and collecting fieldnote, interview, documentary and photographic data. The analysis is presented as two separate case studies, one in each department. The study's interpretive approach is used to bring together the Bernstein focus on recontextualisation and curriculum with the Academic Literacies notion of literacy practice. The significant role of the curriculum context in the patterning of the literacy practices students engage in when producing their assignments is therefore recognised. The findings highlight the way the university of technology sectoral domain operates as a third aspect in the recontextualisation process alongside the professional and disciplinary domains, resulting in conflicting messages. Primacy is given to texts and literacy practices that resemble those in the professional domains. However, essayist literacies are also foregrounded and reflect generic and decontextualized understandings of writing that function as an important mechanism through which the sectoral domain asserts its position in the academy.

The research demonstrates that the Academic Literacies and Bernsteinian frames can successfully be combined in empirical research, allowing the individual students' experiences to be located within broader institutional and sectoral structures in a way that challenges deficit views of the student. A further conclusion drawn is how an Academic Literacies lens can help to identify the workings of the sectoral domain thus broadening the analytical frame beyond individual institutional conditions.

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