Developing agency in a writing centre context: A Social Realist interpretation

Keywords: Social Realism, writing centres, autoethnography, reflexivity, agency


The aim of this article is to explore how aspects of a Social Realist theoretical framework could be understood in relation to my professional development as a writing centre consultant and manager. I share the view that a Social Realist framework could enable consideration about processes of developing or extending knowledge about ourselves in relation to cultural and structural phenomena in society, and may explain how or why changes occur or remain unchanged in socio-cultural settings. The research question that this article sets out to address is: How can my internal reflexive conversations help explain my professional development? I begin the theoretical framing for this paper by means of a brief introduction to Critical Realism (Bhaskar 1998, 2008, 2009). This is followed by a discussion of Social Realism (Archer 1995, 1996, 2000, 2007, 2010). I present introductory explanations of the major concepts used in the Social Realist theoretical framework, namely ‘structure’, ‘culture and ‘agency’, and I explain related concepts necessary for analytical sense-making. The article focuses on the concept of ‘agency’ (Archer 2007, 2010), at which point the concepts of ‘reflexivity’ and ‘internal conversations’ are discussed. The research approach used is qualitative research, utilising an autoethnographic methodology developed from ethnographic records of my professional life over a period of 25 years. I use mini-narratives based on self-interviews as the research method. Part theoretical explanation, part reflexive account, this article attempts to convey a narrative about how I have used Social Realism to make sense of aspects of my development as a writing centre practitioner-researcher in South African higher education.
Theme 3: The writing centre and power