Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Education and Arts

First Advisor

Associate Professor Doctor Deslea Konza

Second Advisor

Doctor Brian Moon


In 2004, the Western Australian government signalled its intention to increase the school leaving age from 15 to 17 by 2008 (Carpenter, 2004). During the period from 2004 to 2006, increasing numbers of young Western Australians completed twelve years of secondary school. For English faculties in Western Australian schools, this resulted in a notably diverse cohort of students undertaking compulsory English studies in their final two years of school. The central aim of this thesis was to examine what it means to be a writer in senior school English. In doing so, the thesis investigated the construction of student writing identities in an environment where increasing numbers of students progressed through senior school with the intention of pursuing pathways other than university. In this setting, students were offered a range of English subjects, each of which represented and promoted particular writing identities, and access to specific opportunities for learning about genre. The thesis explored the role of environmental and discursive features in shaping student writing identities through the selection, presentation and construction of genre. In this process, it examined the discursive framing of writers through the key features of writing in curricula, policy, seminal discourses of the English subject area, teacher interpretation of curricula and the texts students construct. A review of the literature, particularly the recent work of Kress (2005, 2006), Bourne (2003) and Kress, Jewitt, Bourne, Hardcastle, Jones, and Reid (2005) suggests that the factors shaping writing identity in the English subject area emanate from both the local contexts of the classroom and broader cultural and institutional contexts. In order to analyse and interpret the influence of broader social and cultural values and practices, a discourse analysis (Bernstein, 1990, 1996, 2000) has been applied to policy, curriculum and classroom practice. To do this specifically, Bernstein’s notion of pedagogic discourse has been used to explain how educational contexts were framed through regulative discourses that shape social order and outline how learning takes place. Additionally, using Bernstein’s framework, the thesis explored how opportunities for learning and access to particular forms of genre were framed at the level of policy and curriculum. Central to this investigation of identity has been an analysis of how the selection, presentation and construction of genre discursively positions students. It drew upon the theoretical framing of genres as culturally embedded templates, which influence the features of texts and the parameters of successfully constructed texts (Feez, 2002; Macken-Horarik, 2002, 2006a; Martin, 1985, 2002, 2009). The thesis examined the discourse roles (Smidt, 2002, 2009) offered to students and their own attempts to establish identities as they engaged with the genres they encountered. To examine the nexus between identity, genre and discourse, the thesis has utilised Bakhtin’s (1986) notion of the discourse community and its use in studies of genre (Hyland, 2010; Ivanic, 2006; Smidt, 2009). Aspects of systemic functional linguistics (Butt, Fahey, Feez, Spinks & Yallop, 2000; Halliday, 1978, 1994; Halliday & Hasan, 1985) have been employed to identify and interpret some of the linguistic resources presented to students and the ways students appropriated and transformed these. In doing so, the research drew upon investigations of the positioning of students writers in subject English through a number of discourses and practices (Bourne, 2003; Christie, 2002b, 2005a, Christie & Derewianka, 2008; Christie & Macken-Horarik, 2007; Kress et al., 2005). A case study methodology provided the primary research design. Elements of the ethnography were used as interpretative tools, and the thesis incorporated the social semiotic ethnography (van Leeuwen, 2005a, Vannini, 2007). Data from a range of sources were used including policy and curriculum documents, teacher and student interviews, classroom observations and text analysis.