A Rhetorical Approach to Studying the Development of Habitus and Academic Identity Across Disciplinary Boundaries
AuthorLambrecht, Kathryn Mary
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Although one of the most recognizable aspects of academic identity is belonging to a particular field, institutions are growing increasingly interested in students who can communicate and operate beyond their own disciplinary boundaries. While working across disciplines has many benefits, communication in these settings can be difficult given the narrow and applied nature of expertise building in the academy. In A Rhetorical Approach to Studying the Development of Habitus and Academic Identity Across Disciplinary Boundaries, I respond to this tension, exploring the ways that disciplinary categories are defined, negotiated, and reconfigured in practice by students and professors working within unique disciplinary settings. Using Marilyn Stember’s disciplinary typology as a starting point, I map the values, norms, and beliefs (topoi) against different types of disciplinarity, revealing the way that students are habituated differently depending on the disciplinary setting in which they learn and operate. My dissertation uses a mixed methods approach to investigate the rhetorical nature of disciplinary categories and practices. First, I tracked disciplinary categories in the Corpus of Contemporary American English. Then, I collected writing samples, interviews, and observational data from four programs: Atmospheric Sciences, Basque Studies, Women’s Studies/Gender, Race, and Identity, and Engineering Communication/Technologies. I coded the data using KeyWord analysis and disciplinary terminology as a starting point to track which values were being attached to explanations of disciplinary identity, and how they converged or diverged across programs. Using a topological method to map similarities and differences, I showed how each program habituates students through a combination of common beliefs (shared across the programs) and special topics (unique to each individual community). Given the results of the study, I argue for expanding our language to account for the rich complexity of disciplinarity, which currently reflects a binary between intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary work. Not only will reframing how we think about disciplinarity be essential for WAC/WID scholars teaching the next generation of students, but also for scholars communicating and working with others in different fields. Rather than focus on disciplinarity as a hierarchy climbing towards transdisciplinarity, I argue that we should view each student, scholar, and situation as an accumulation of beliefs, norms, and values that exist on a disciplinary continuum ranging from work within a single discipline to work influenced by many different disciplines and experiences.