'Authority is everything': A study of the politics of textual ownership


  • Celia Thompson




intertextuality, politics of text and knowledge, identity


The relationships between text, knowledge and power in the construction of writer identities have been the source of much debate among philosophers,literary scholars and language educators (e.g., Bakhtin 1981; Kristeva 1986; Pennycook 2001). Such interrelationships are played out in the transcultural encounters that occur between students and their lecturers on a daily basis in our contemporary university classrooms. This article explores how two undergraduate students from different language backgrounds, studying at a major Australian university, struggle to deal with the politics of text/knowledge construction in their quest for a sense of ownership and authorial control over the assignments they produce. Data consisting of interviews and assignments by students from different disciplinary fields have been selected from a larger study into plagiarism and intertextuality. Drawing on the work of Bakhtin (1981), Kristeva (1986) and Howard (1992; 1995; 1999), my analysis indicates firstly, that students feel constrained by the homogenising (Holton 2000) forces of the academic writing conventions that they feel obliged to imitate; and secondly, confused by unified and autonomous concepts of authorship and originality that fail to take account of the 'shared' nature of the processes of text/knowledge production. I conclude by suggesting that the development of writer identity needs to be seen as part of the ongoing epistemological negotiations that occur between students and lecturers as they struggle to construct desired meanings across texts. I then consider the implications of these findings for academic writing pedagogy.