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Making Spaces for Writing in Higher Education

Rockerfeller 337 David Sachs (University Street, London)
13 May 2009 15:30-17:00

A space that is empty yet a source: this duality resonates with our thinking about the Writing and Learning Mentors (WLM) programme at UCL which has been running since 2003 with the aim of supporting a network of graduate student mentors to work on writing with undergraduates in their departments as well as exploring with mentors their own writing practices and development. One of the core features of the programme is its capacity for creating space(s) in which to reflect upon writing within the institution. We also draw attention to the transitional spaces occupied by participants at this stage in their academic careers.

In terms of institutional space, the WLM programme allows us to construct a space which is simultaneously populated by many disciplines and none; one in which participants can think beyond or across the discipline(s). For us, this fostering of a space that recognises and embraces such differences has been one of the most rewarding aspects of the programme and we think, too, it's been one of the most enabling for participants.

In terms of space occupied by the participants, they are situated excitingly and perhaps precariously on several thresholds. From the perspective of their own research writing they are often located on threshold between student and professional/authority. Similarly, the WLM programme positions them as subject 'experts', yet much of the early work in the programme tends towards the defamiliarisation of writing practices.

Following a brief description of the WLM programme, this paper will consider ways in which the programme has opened up an interdisciplinary, institutional space in which aspects of writing are explored. We will be asking what type of space this is (that is, is it subversive, playful, neutral, transitional, peripheral?)

We will also consider how the programme helps graduate students articulate the liminal space they occupy as emergent experts in their fields while still being relative novices as professional academic writers. We will also talk about the link between the awareness of these spaces and participants' sense of writerly identity. In particular, we will consider how they might be coming into new identities through writing and their encounters with each other in this space. Theoretically, this paper will draw on work by Seamus Heaney (The Place of Writing), Gaston Bachelard (The Poetics of Space), Land and Meyer (liminal spaces and threshold knowledge) and D W Winnicott (play spaces).

Speakers: Dr Colleen McKenna & Dr Phyllis Creme, UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching

Venue: Rockefeller 337 David Sachs. (The Rockefeller Building can be found on University Street at the Gower Street end)

Contact Name:
Peter Phillips
Contact Telephone:
020 7679 (4) 1792
Contact Email:

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