In-between access and transformation: Analysing a university writing centre’s academic support programme for education students as third space

  • Halima Namakula University of the Witwatersrand
  • Maria Prozesky Division of Languages, Literacies and Literatures, University of the Witwatersrand
Keywords: access to higher education, academic literacy, third space, peer tutors, decolonial transformation


This paper reports on ongoing research into how an embedded academic support programme, based in a South African university’s writing centre, shapes the academic literacy practices of first-year B.Ed. students. This paper focuses specifically on the peer tutors who implement the programme. Our data collection and analysis methods are informed by socio-cultural theories of literacy and the notion of ‘discursive third space’. The tutors’ discursive reconstructions of the intervention programme are understood to reveal the dynamics of how the intervention functions as third space. Peer tutors were selected purposefully for the study; they needed to have had at least one year of experience tutoring and mentoring in the intervention programme, and five peer tutors agreed to take part. Data was collected using an audio-recorded focus-group interview, and the transcription analysed; data was coded into meaning units within which key themes, patterns, and categories informed by the study’s theoretical frameworks were identified in a recursive process. The analysis reveals that the tutors use the intervention programme as a third space in which they draw on the students’ varied “funds of knowledge and Discourse” (Moje, Ciechanowski, Kramer, Ellis, Carillo and Collazo 2004), with three main results evident. Firstly, because the students’ learning is scaffolded, and their skills in navigating between different spaces, Discourses, and funds improved, their epistemological access to dominant Discourses around academic literacy and course content increases. Secondly, the tutorial third space offers potential for reshaping dominant Discourses, and so for decolonial transformation. Thirdly, however, the strain of working in-between competing funds of knowledge can be inhibiting rather than generative, resulting in “post-colonial splitting” (Bhabha 1994). If we are to engage meaningfully with the academic-support access paradox, the insights that the tutorial third space generates have to be taken seriously.