Pedagogic possibilities of diasporic texts in a Contemporary Literature Classroom: A postcolonial analysis

Level 3, Room 372 234 Queensberry Street, Carlton, VIC 3053

PhD Completion Seminar

Mary Purcell

Supervisor: Prof Fazal Rizvi and Dr  Dianne Mulcahy
Chair: Professor Nikos Papastergiadis

This project is situated within the broader context of the emerging policy discourses of “Asia Literacy” and “Intercultural Understanding” expressed in the Australian Curriculum, and the changing demography of Australian classrooms resulting from expanding cultural diversities, mobilities and transnational connectivities. It seeks to examine the ways in which a text produced by an Australian-Asian diaspora writer has the potential to contribute to the development in students of what Spivak (1992) refers to as “Transnational Literacy” – helping contemporary students to negotiate their identities and understand their “worldliness” (Said, 2003) in relational, critical and reflexive ways. Using a range of critical tools from recent postcolonial theory, this project involves the researcher teaching a postcolonial text to Year 11 students, observing student responses to the text, and interviewing them, producing data that is analysed through a constant movement between theory and data, privileging neither. This data suggests that, within the transnationalised and hybridised space of contemporary Australian society, some students find difficulty negotiating the dominant norms of Australian-ness and that they identify nation-centric narratives as key sources of feelings of confusion and exclusion. This implies a need for a pedagogy that responds to contemporary social changes. By the end of the course of study, some students reported changes in their epistemic constructions of themselves and of others after contesting these norms. Based on this insight, this thesis proposes a new form of literary pedagogy that considers each student’s orientation to the space, the way that social labels stick to students’ bodies and make them feel out of place in particular settings. It shows that the teaching of diaspora literature is a useful tool in steering students towards transnational literacy as it enables affectivity to be brought into the centre of literary analysis. It highlights the ambiguities, ambivalences, and the hybridities that they experience and it gives useful insights into how 'reading otherwise' is essential for the development of transnational literacy.