Disciplinary places, epistemological space; English for Specific Academic Purposes

Lisa McGrath
Sheffield Hallam University

English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) is an approach to English language teaching which has specificity at its heart. While English for Academic Purposes (EAP) is tailored to the general needs of university students and scholars, ESAP holds that academic discourse is not a monolithic entity. Writers in the academy operate as members of disciplinary groupings (e.g. Becher, 1989), and their disciplinary discourse is shaped by and shapes their practices, beliefs, and purposes (Hyland, 2004). The role of the ESAP lecturer is to investigate these disciplinary discourses in order to deliver language courses that meet the specific needs of learners. This process of investigation, course design and delivery entails entering into both the physical and cognitive spaces of these disciplinary groupings as an outsider (Belcher, 2009). My aim in this paper is to explore how the physical place, the departmental classrooms and buildings, feed into an understanding of the ‘epistemological space’ a discipline inhabits, and how this informs ESAP course design. Through a description of a course for postgraduates in design skills, I will illustrate how the departmental site at Hallam influenced the various course activities, and how the epistemology of the discipline was integral to the course design. It is hoped that the presentation will raise awareness of the discipline-specific nature of academic discourse, and how students can benefit from targeted ESAP input.
Becher, Tony. 1989. Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.
Belcher, Diane. 2009
. “What ESP is and can be: An Introduction.” Chap. 1 in English for Specific Purposes in Theory and Practice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hyland, Ken. 2004. Disciplinary Discourses: Social Interactions in Academic Writing. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.