Composition programs and practices in Sweden: Possibilities for cross-fertilization with the United States

Birgitta Linnea Sjoberg Ramsey


This dissertation contributes to several of the discussions that are taking place within the field of rhetoric and composition at this particular time: about the nature and definition of academic literacy; about the impact of a heterogeneous and multicultural student population on literacy practices in the academy; about the issue of academic socialization; and about the advantages and disadvantages of traditional first-year composition courses. Most importantly, this work is a contribution to cross-national research and an attempt to open up the field of composition to recognize and include voices other than the ones from North America. Even though the differences in political, academic, and cultural contexts make comparisons difficult, researchers and practitioners in the United States and Sweden can learn to question the status quo of some of their own practices by gaining a different perspective. Chapter I presents the rationale for a research project that compares and contrasts academic writing in Sweden and the United States, presents a literature review and the guiding research questions. Also, it outlines some important differences between the political, social, cultural, and educational historical contexts and provides as much background information about Scandinavian Swedish writing research and literacy practices as the author has deemed necessary to situate her readers. Key words such as literacy, literacy practices, and democracy are introduced. Chapter II presents the primary research site: S√∂dert√∂rns h√∂gskola, in the south part of Stockholm, Sweden, and describes the ethnographic methodology used for the study of academic literacy at this institution. Chapter III is devoted to "thick description" of literacy practices in Sweden, based on observations of writing/rhetoric classrooms at S√∂dert√∂rn and on interviews. Chapter IV discusses and analyzes writing centers at Swedish universities, starting with Språkverkstan, the writing center at S√∂dert√∂rns h√∂gskola, and compares and contrasts a young writing center to an established American writing center. Chapter V focuses on two so-called C-essays, examples of the long research essay that most Swedish students have to write before they earn their bachelor's degree. Chapter VI sums up what Swedes and Americans can learn from each other's writing programs and literacy practices and outlines some directions for future research.