Research into tutoring: exploring agency and intersubjectivity

Pirini, Jesse
Norris, Sigrid
Hinckson, Erica
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

This thesis explores the notions of agency and intersubjectivity, using knowledge communication in research into high school tutoring as an example. Both agency and intersubjectivity are central to communication, but thus far, empirically applicable theoretical and methodological tools to investigate these notions have been lacking. This thesis attempts to fill this gap.

Using multimodal (inter)action analysis as the underlying theoretical and methodological framework and recorded tutoring research sessions as the data, this thesis develops three theoretical/methodological tools:

  1. Primary agency; 2. Handing primary agency from one social actor to another; and 3. Tiers of intersubjectivity.

The analytical part of the thesis comprises four analysis chapters and one discussion chapter. The first three analysis chapters establish the new theoretical/methodological tools; the fourth analysis chapter showcases what these tools have to offer; and the discussion chapter entails some further analysis in order to engage with and critically examine current literature.

First, the thesis demonstrates that one social actor often expresses primary agency over a co-produced higher-level action. Primary agency is recognisable through an identification of agency over the most relevant meditational means, and thus becomes an applicable methodological tool. The thesis proposes that successful knowledge communication may rely on a social actor producing an action with primary agency.

Second, the thesis develops the notion of co-production by showing that social actors hand primary agency to one another during dyadic and triadic interaction. By linking semantic/pragmatic means that indicate shifts in attention/awareness to the notion of handing of primary agency, handing (or taking on) primary agency becomes a methodological tool.

Third, the thesis illustrates how students establish intersubjectivity with tutors. Here, it is theorised that social actors in interaction first establish a stable and adjustable intersubjectivity, before going on to establish more fleeting intersubjectivity. By taking the notion of modal configurations as the starting point, these three levels of intersubjectivity build an empirically applicable methodological tool, i.e.: tiers of intersubjectivity.

Fourth, the theoretical and methodological tools are then utilised to analyse how novel objects are taken up in tutoring, and how mediational means are used for knowledge communication. Here, the thesis demonstrates that successful knowledge communication requires coherence between the social actor, the mediational means and the knowledge to be communicated.

The thesis contributes to the theoretical/methodological framework of multimodal (inter)action analysis as well as to the field of knowledge communication. Empirically, the thesis contributes to our understanding of dyadic and triadic interaction and to tutoring as knowledge communication.

Mulitmodality , Multimodal interaction analysis , Knowledge communication , Intersubjectivity , Agency , Tutoring
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