I started my academic career interested in immigrants’ – particularly Muslim women’s – experiences of migrating into the EU. This was the focus of my initial postgraduate research at Honours and Masters level. But, jobs in gender studies and politics were hard to come by at that stage, and I was offered part-time work teaching literacy and writing to first year students struggling to bridge the gap between school and university. This work led me to a university-based writing centre in Cape Town, which I managed for 6 years, learning a great deal about academic literacies, writing, and the politics of knowledge and knowing in higher education.
This led me to my doctoral research, which explored the ways in which knowledge is created through teaching, and whether and how students are brought into crucial conversations about what knowledge is, how it is created in disciplinary (and extra-disciplinary) ways, and how they can join (and eventually challenge) conversations within their fields of practice and research. My initial postdoctoral work extended on this, and I am now planning a book for lecturers looking at turning access to higher education into greater success, through making pedagogies more explicit, and open to student engagement.
Much of my practical work for the last 14 years has been with student-writers, post- and under-graduate, and with lecturers, all focused on writing, and pedagogical means of knowledge-building and meaning-making in higher education. Underpinning my initial research in politics and gender studies, and my practical and research work in higher education studies has been a concern about social justice and how to better create, enable or enhance this: in essence, how do we truly make people feel at home in unfamiliar places, and open out those places so that others can become part of them not through becoming like those who already belong, but through changing the place as they become part of it? How can students change our practices of writing, knowing and speaking about knowledge as they come to know it, and to become knowledge-makers too, for example? How do we challenge, and change, hegemonic notions of academic socialisation, student deficit, and reified forms of knowledge and meaning-making? How do we enable student-writers to use writing, and related forms of meaning-making, to both join and speak into and back to the university as it is currently constructed? How do we meaningfully make it possible for more students to truly succeed in higher education? These are some of the broader questions my current research is concerned with.