Negotiating institutional identity: ‘international’ doctoral students in an Australian university

2017-02-17T02:12:23Z (GMT) by Fotovatian, Sepideh
This study investigates the informal second language interactions of eight doctoral students in an Australian university. The students were from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The study seeks to understand the ties between language, identity and social representations through an analysis of recorded informal conversations and focus groups. Negotiation of identity, legitimacy and membership is discursively mediated in institutional interactions (Gee, 2005; Lave &Wenger, 1991; Norton, 2006). For many international doctoral students in Australia, this happens in an additional language and culture, in English. Construction of new social and academic identities for these students intersects with negotiations of language, power, culture and ‘social capital.’ As newcomers to Australia, the students in this study experienced multiple identity transitions, as well as serious challenges in interaction in informal multicultural cultural contexts. The study showed that institutional practices impose certain institutional identities on members which may be negotiated in and through interactions. Like ‘migrant’ and ‘refugee’, the label ‘international student’ imposes a social identity on the newcomer student. The students used an array of communication strategies to resist the label and the stereotypical features attached to it. They sought to renegotiate legitimacy and membership, and to reposition themselves in and through institutional interactions. The findings thus reflect the role of agency and intentionality in student participation and learning. The main contribution of the study is an illumination of the processes of negotiating legitimate institutional identities that occurred for each participant in a different way according to their varied goals, sources of sponsorship, and agendas for PhD education. The study also offers a new lens for the analysis of communication xiii strategies as indexes of agency, participation and intentionality. Finally, the study’s findings serve as evidence for universities and the scholarly community regarding the quality of the graduate student experience, and elements that enhance it.