In “Inventing the University,” David Bartholomae argues that learning to write for college students means learning to “appropriate (or be appropriated by) a specialized discourse.” In other words, students must learn the convention of academic discourse in becoming part of the academic community. Bartholomae thus puts the process of learning and teaching academic discourse into two stages. First, the conventions are taught to students. Second, students learn to “approximate” the discourse. An example of this development given by Bartholomae is his students’ learning to approximate the language of a literary critic in writing about Bleak House. In this regard, Bartholomae asserts that academic discourse is the language of “the privileged community,” the language of “insiders,” setting it apart from common discourse or what he calls “commonplaces.” Students’ learning to write is the process of leaving behind the commonplaces and adopting the discourse of the “privileged” group. Bartholomae supports his argument by looking at freshmen placement essays on the topic of creativity. The students who were successful were able to get beyond the commonplaces and take risks to venture into the unfamiliar terrain of a new discourse.
Using the theoretical framework of poststructuralists, Bartholomae talks about what we already know in a new way. He reminds us that everything, even the writer’s subjectivity, is constituted within discourse. According to Bartholomae, writing is thus not an invention; it is in fact the process of working within the convention, within a specific discourse. The discourse defined by Bartholomae seems to be rigid and fixed. I think academic discourse is more fluid and constantly changes. Bartholomae’s intentional or unintentional reference to T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and Individual Talent” does point to the fact that tradition is constantly modified by the individual. The question of agency is again an issue here.