Disrupting intertextual power networks: challenging literature in schools


This paper thinks with the concept of intertextuality to consider the multiple intersecting power structures inside and outside of literary education in secondary schools that continue to dominate text selection policies and teaching practices. We draw on our research with in-service teachers to reconsider how intertextual networks circulate on multiple levels: textual, social, cultural, and institutional. Although the concept of intertextuality has been activated as an alternative to rarified conceptualisations of literary heritage, as we unpack in this paper, intertextuality often distributes, reinforces, and perpetuates canonical power structures such as institutional whiteness, and Euro western values in secondary school subjects that feature literary studies. Rather than abandoning intertextuality, we attempt to tease out how it operates in various registers in schooling and we suggest how critically engaging with the concept might provide a way forward for English study in the twenty-first century.
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Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education
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Disrupting intertextual power networks:
challenging literature in schools
Sarah E. Truman, Larissa McLean Davies & Lucy Buzacott
To cite this article: Sarah E. Truman, Larissa McLean Davies & Lucy Buzacott (2021): Disrupting
intertextual power networks: challenging literature in schools, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural
Politics of Education, DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2021.1910929
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Published online: 02 Apr 2021.
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Disrupting intertextual power networks: challenging
literature in schools
Sarah E. Truman , Larissa McLean Davies and Lucy Buzacott
Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne, Australia
This paper thinks with the concept of intertextuality to consider the
multiple intersecting power structures inside and outside of literary
education in secondary schools that continue to dominate text
selection policies and teaching practices. We draw on our research
with in-service teachers to reconsider how intertextual networks
circulate on multiple levels: textual, social, cultural, and
institutional. Although the concept of intertextuality has been
activated as an alternative to raried conceptualisations of literary
heritage, as we unpack in this paper, intertextuality often
distributes, reinforces, and perpetuates canonical power structures
such as institutional whiteness, and Euro western values in
secondary school subjects that feature literary studies. Rather than
abandoning intertextuality, we attempt to tease out how it
operates in various registers in schooling and we suggest how
critically engaging with the concept might provide a way forward
for English study in the twenty-rst century.
English literary education;
intertextuality; canon;
institutional whiteness
We are meeting with a group of four secondary English teachers who are part of a
research study which is focused on interrupting normative approaches to English teach-
ing through bringing diverse contemporary Australian womens literature into their class-
rooms. Sam (one of the teachers) is sharing with the group the ways in which they have
introduced the award-winning collection of short stories Heat and Light, by Indigenous
writer Ellen Van Neerven (2014), to their class of senior students. In order to teach the
text in their inner suburban context, Sam (a white settler) determined that students
needed to experience some of the key cultural ceremonies relevant to understanding
the ongoing role of Indigenous cultures in Australian society. Sam recounts how they
organised a smoking ceremony through the local Aboriginal community for the com-
mencement of the school year, and also that Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoes(2014)
award-winning text Dark Emu had been set as an interdisciplinary text for year 10 and
made available for staand students in the library. The other teachers in the group are
enthusiastic about the ways in which Sams teaching of a literary text has permeated
the daily life of the school beyond the mainstream English classroom. We are all inspired
by the way Sams work and commitment to unsettling colonial literary practices through
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Sarah E. Truman
textual diversity is contributing to professional learning for the sta, and we begin a con-
versation about context and intertextuality. In particular, we discuss the need for multiple
texts, in and outside the English class, to be mobilised to address enduring but often
unexamined notions of canon, whiteness, and literature. We reect on the textual appa-
ratuses that continue to dominate text selection policies and teaching practices.
In this paper, we draw from a research project we organised as part of our Literary Edu-
cation Lab
to highlight the social, pedagogical and epistemological aordances, disrup-
tions and challenges made possible by reconsidering how intertextuality circulates on
multiple levels: textual, social, cultural, and institutional. Weve chosen intertextuality as
a framework to think through this problem because of its embeddedness in secondary
school English
reading practices and pedagogy and its ongoing conceptual value as a
literary theoretical framework. The concept of intertextuality has been activated as an
alternative to raried conceptualisations of literary heritage (McLean Davies, Doecke, &
Mead, 2013). However, as we unpack in this paper, intertextuality often distributes,
reinforces, and perpetuates colonial, patriarchal and canonical power structures. These
power structures are intersecting, aective, and inux and land on dierent people and
spaces according to the variabilities of context (Truman, Hackett, Pahl, McLean Davies,
& Escott, 2020). Rather than abandoning intertextuality, though, we attempt to tease
out how it operates across various registers in schooling and suggest how critically enga-
ging with the concept might provide a way forward for English study in the twenty-rst
Intertextuality and English
Subject English has always relied on intertextual understandings of reading and writing.
We consider the nature of these intertextual manifestations in English teacherspractice in
order to think through the ways these can be both mobilised and expanded for twenty-
rst century teaching and learning in subject English. The term intertextuality was coined
by Kristeva (1986) and describes how any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations;
any text is the absorption and transformation of another(p. 37). Language and text rely
on other texts in order to generate and create meaning and therefore the individual text
can never stand aloneand is always unstable and mutable. As well as Kristeva, many
other inuential theorists have taken up these ideas. Allen (2011) provides a critical scho-
larly overview of the eld and traces a link between Kristevas notion of intertextuality and
Bakhtins(1981) ideas of heteroglossia, polyphony, and dialogism
that refer to the mul-
tiple utterances that inform any textual production. Further, Barthes (1974) draws atten-
tion to the intertextuality created through a readers engagement with the text,
conveying this through the idea of the writerlytext wherein the meaning of the text
is writtenby the reader through the practice of reading. Reader response theory is
also based on the notion that meaning is not found within a text but rather through
reader engagement with a text (Rosenblatt, 1970).
Although post-structuralist thinkers and literary scholars have made intertextuality as a
concept well-known, material intertextual practices have been important pedagogical
devices for centuries in the form of annotated books and marginalia (Jackson, 2001).
The term marginalia was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge a prolic annotator, who
would add marginal comments to his friendsbooks so that the friend would feel as
though he or she were reading the book in his company(Jackson, 2001, p. 139). Other
forms of page-based intertextuality include the illuminations that surrounded the page
in pre-printing press manuscripts and contemporary illustrations. All of these elements
as well as the intertextuality embedded in the language itself aect reader interpret-
ation and feature in pedagogical practices in contemporary English education (Truman,
In the next section we briey outline dierent instances of literary intertextualitythat
feature in contemporary English literary education in order to explore the ways this
concept guides both the reading and production of texts in secondary school English.
We move from a discussion of intertextual practices that are contained within the text
itself, or the marginalia and paratexts co-located with the texts, to those created by stu-
dents and teachers in order to explore meaning. Considered in this way, and in the
context of debates about knowledge in the school curriculum (Young, 2013), we
suggest that intertextuality, and the intertextual practices that are mobilised in class-
rooms, by texts, students and teachers, can be understood as ways of knowing and pro-
ducing knowledge in secondary school English. This has signicance for teacher
professional learning, the perpetuation of literary cultural capital and specically the
introduction of diverse contemporary texts into the school curriculum. Specically, we
contend that examining the layers of intertextual meaning-making mobilised by teachers
and students in English classrooms enables us to gain insight into the ways in which
canons are reformed and perpetuated (Achebe, 2016; Mishra Tarc, 2015). It also allows
us to consider the ways imperial and patriarchal notions of cultural capital and literary
value continue to be circulated, even through the selection and teaching of contemporary
texts (Morrison, 1992; Stallworth, Gibbons, & Fauber, 2006; Truman, 2019a). As we will
show in the nal part of this paper, it is crucial to examine these intertextual practices
and relationships in order to rethink the way we support teachersprofessional learning
in Secondary English.
Intertextuality and the literary artefact
Perhaps the most obvious form of intertextual work undertaken in English classrooms is
concerned with uncovering or unmasking the interconnection and interdependence of an
individual text for study with other texts. Sometimes these intertextual connections serve
as the premise of the texts itself, such as The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (2005) and
Ransom by David Malouf (2009), texts studied at senior secondary school level in Australia,
which draw on and rewrite classic Homeric narratives from The Odyssey and The Iliad,
respectively. Or the practice of Ekphrasis, where writers take inspiration from works of
art, such as William Carlos Williams’‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, based on Brueghels
work of art. However, intertextuality is often more eclectic, and is apparent through a lin-
guistic gesture, trope, or form that adds meaning to a moment in the text or the reading
of the text itself. For example, students in the UK studying for their A-Levels would engage
with Emily Dickinsons various references and allusions to Shakespeare and Keats
throughout her poetry and letters (Petrino, 2010). Those in Australia, who study the
poet Gwen Harwood, will examine the ways in which she uses Petrarchan sonnets to high-
light contemporary gender injustice and inequity, and learn about key gures in the
music world such as the pianist Rubenstein in order to make meaning with these texts.
Text selection tends to privilege textual knowledges that students are expected to
develop within an existing system. Including a text in this way renders the text legitimate
or legible and therefore valuable. Secondary English as a system privileges texts and inter-
textual connections that work with and reinforce existing ideas and canons. Well return
to this point later.
As we have already indicated, some texts draw particular attention to their intertextual-
ity and incorporate annotations and marginalia to interact with the main text. These
include sketches and illustrations that physically and conceptually interact with a texts
meaning. Critically annotated versions of Shakespeare have circulated since the 1800s
and versions of school textbooks often include such annotations to help students with
language, meaning and interpretation. Educational researchers have highlighted how
the perceived position of an annotator has the ability to shape readersresponses to
the text(Truman, 2016, p. 99). Signicantly, one of the core practices students are encour-
aged to undertake in English is to create these marginal annotations in the literary works
they are studying. This marginalia, underlining and highlighting, is the product of class
discussion, and the insights of the teacher and students. Like published marginalia,
these annotations are designed to enable the reader/student to negotiate and mediate
the text and support textual meaning-making outside the classroom. This practice of
owning and annotating a text makes the textual object valuable both within and
outside a school context. Print books have, for generations, been circulated amongst
family members. While this circulation often takes place for pragmatic and scal
reasons (McLean Davies, 2008), it also perpetuates inter-generational acceptance of the
canon, supporting literary regimes of value (Frow, 2013). Although the advent of digital
texts may mean that the physical book no longer necessarily circulates in the same
way, the powerful domestic and community manifestations of these textual networks
by white settlers (see for example, Long, 2003) continue to reinforce the hierarchical
and imperial intertextual structures underpinning secondary English.
Networks of intertextuality
In order to undertake a close reading of the text and activate text to textconnections
(Chambers, 1993) teachers draw on other intertextual practices to develop students
knowledge, understanding and meaning making. This is often referred to as engaging
students with the context of the text. For example, in order to successfully engage
with Wilfred Owens(1920) famous and often-studied poem Dulce et decorum est, con-
temporary students need to not only understand the ironic use of the Latin line that
serves as the title of the poem, but also be familiar with the historical context of the
First World War. This includes familiarity with trench warfare, and the cultural expectation
that young men accepted patriotic duty and the possibility of dying in battle for their
country. It is expected that English teachers will be able to assemble these intertextual
resources in order that all students, regardless of background or prior intertextual experi-
ences, will be able to make rich meanings from the text.
While it remains the practice in many classrooms to focus, for substantive periods of
time, on one text; texts are also grouped thematically, or in pairs to prompt discussion
of broader societal themes. In the State of Victoria, Australia, where we currently work
with pre-service and in-service teachers, the year 11 and 12 curricula for English require
students to undertake a comparative analysis of texts selected from a set list. For example,
The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1953) and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geral-
dine Brooks (2001), with the purpose of synthesising key aspects of these texts and con-
sidering how social responsibility is examined in both (VCAA, 2019). This pedagogical and
assessment approach draws on studentshigher order ability to read intertextually across
genres, and positions intertextual approaches as a high-stakes demonstration of literary
Just as historical documents, images, lm and other artefacts are introduced into the
classroom to provide context and develop and support studentsexisting intertextual net-
works and knowledge, teachers also draw deliberately on studentsown life experiences
and interests so that they can make the text to selfconnection (Chambers, 1993). As has
been well established since the 1960s (Dixon, 1967; Rosenblatt, 1970), these intertextual
connections between the texts and stories students have read or heard and the new
texts they are encountering in the classroom are vital for engaged meaning making.
We anticipate in the future, that Albert Camus(1947) post-war novel The Plague, which
details the ctional experiences of a small town in France when the bubonic plague res-
urfaces, might be reinstated to booklists, following the experience of students worldwide
with COVID-19 and associated lockdown procedures. However, it is inaccurate to suggest
that taking account of studentsinterests or experiences is able to mediate the force of
existing colonial intertextual power networks, particularly in the senior years of schooling.
For example, Indigenous Australian scholars have been drawing attention to these power
networks for more than two decades (Leane, 2018; Moreton-Robinson, 2002). Yet, these
ideas are still to gain traction in Australian classrooms. There are various possible
reasons for this the rst is that many of these arguments are made in literature itself
(Clarke, 2016; Pung, 2008; Winch, 2019; Wright, 2012)and ironically, although the literary
is privileged in English education, deference to the canon means that when these argu-
ments are made by Indigenous authors or authors of colour they are yet to penetrate the
intertextual networks that center white experience (Truman, 2019a). This can happen
regardless of the form of text. The second and related argument is that these texts and
their authors are dismissed as articulating identitypolitics, whereas canonical texts are
read as value free, universal, and without an agenda; this can be seen for example in
the views expressed in media commentary such as those published on Skynews by Don-
nelly (2020).
Recent research by Bliss and Bacalja (2020) about text selection practices specically in
the Australian state of Victorias context shows the endurance of canonical intertextual
networks. Despite policy support for the inclusion of diverse texts that will connect
with the interests and experience of diverse students (VCAA, 2018), teachers continue
to perpetuate the status of the canon and established networks which, in connection
with assessment practices, enforce white hetero homogeneity (Heiss, 2018; Hogarth,
2020; McGraw & van Leent, 2018; Scarcella & Burgess, 2019).
As we will continue to argue, a number of intertextual factors impact text selection
practices. These include the networks inherent in texts; the networks students have
already had access to the networks that are needed to support studentsexisting under-
standings; and, teachersown capacity and investment in supporting intertextual reading
on each of these levels. The nature of the interplay between these factors is impacted by
the institutional contexts in which teachers and students work, and external imperatives,
such as high-stakes assessment (Mclean Davies & Sawyer, 2018); these internal and exter-
nal contexts often result in the circulation and perpetuation of canonical texts in the cur-
riculum, and teacher reticence to introduce texts and authors that do not conform to
these established networks.
Producing textual understanding
We have been discussing intertextuality primarily in terms of reading and reception, but it
is also important to acknowledge that intertextual practices in the classroom are also
embedded in studentsresponses to literature and the production of texts. On one
level, all production in English is intertextual: students create new texts (traditionally in
the form of essays) that produce readings of literature. With the advent of digital technol-
ogy, and the introduction of popular culture to the English curriculum since the 1980s,
students have been encouraged to synthesise the meaning or message of text through
the creation of a new textual artefact that draws on their own textual repertoires,
popular songs (Doecke & McClenaghan, 2011), hypertext narratives (Barnet, 2018;
Thomas, 2020) or a multi-modal presentation or artwork (Beavis, 2013) and more recently
through memes or platforms such as TikTok. This emphasis on the production of texts
which draw on out-of-school and social media practices indicates the value placed on
high-level intertextual synthesis in English, as a means by which students can demon-
strate both understanding and critical engagement with the text. However, it is worth
reecting that these productive intertextual practices, often rightly celebrated as
examples of contemporary, relevant, and student-centered pedagogies (Doecke & McCle-
naghan, 2011), still reinforce the selection of the same texts and their accepted intertex-
tual networks.
An English teachers ability to identify and explain the intertextual aspects of a work of
literature is essential to the teaching of English, and we argue can be understood as a
form of literary or textual knowledge or knowing. There has been much debate about
the denition and purposes of subject English, since its introduction into the school cur-
riculum in the nineteeth century (Medway, 2005). Successive generations of scholars have
reiterated the malleability of English, and the epistemological dierences between this
subject and others in the secondary curriculum (Yates et al., 2019). However, it is clear,
from the policy documents written in the British context since the 1920s, that teachers
are expected to be well read(McLean Davies & Sawyer, 2020). While our understanding
of this term has evolved with the broadening of denitions of texts throughout the twen-
tieth and now twenty-rst centuries, what is implicit in this concept is that the well-read
teacher is able to make intertextual connections both with and between valued literary
works in the ways that we have discussed in the previous sections. Indeed, intertextuality
is fundamental to developing knowledge and understanding in English, and as we have
shown, is central to the way pedagogy is enacted in the classroom.
As researchers concerned with literary education in the twenty-rst century, we are
interested in exploring the kinds of practices that will enable teachers to develop and
expand their intertextual networks, acknowledging that these are already and always in
a state of ux. We are also committed to investigating the potential of new texts to
disrupt the logic of the networks and ask how might the introduction of diverse contem-
porary literature into the network require other texts textually, culturally, and socially to
help make sense of it? We are also cognizant of the barriers preventing this expansion and
disruption of intertextual networks. Some intertextual barriers and limitations we will
discuss below include: the insuciency of merely inserting a diversetext in the existing
textual network of English; the not enough resourcesargument; and institutional and
broader socio-cultural constraints.
Debates about text selection often focus on the individual text being set for study, and
those invested in diversifying the curriculum (such as ourselves) will raise concerns about
the under-representation of women, people of colour, or gender diverse characters in
specic texts, or the broader under-representation of national literatures in colonised con-
texts (McLean Davies, Truman, & Buzacott, 2020). The inclusion of diverse texts in schools
requires teachers and students to embrace new intertextual networks and connections
beyond the text being set, and these networks are dierent from those required by the
canonical western literary tradition. The ability to teach diverse contemporary literature
requires more than setting a text such as Maxine Beneba Clarkes(2016)The Hate Race.
It also requires engagement with dierent kinds of intertextual knowledge and connec-
tions that circulate around a text like The Hate Race such as institutional racism and white-
ness in the Australian context. Engaging with such a text in a culturally-responsive, anti-
racist way may require additional training and understanding of whiteness and intersec-
on behalf of the teacher.
Traditionally, texts are chosen in part because of how they interact with canonical texts.
It is therefore unsurprising that when contemporary New Zealand and Australian writers
Richard Flanagan, Gail Jones, and Lloyd Jones all wrote texts appropriating DickensGreat
Expectations in the rst decade of the twenty-rst century, these texts were quickly taken
up for study in secondary English in these countries. Considered in this way, it seems that
debates about text selection, and the take up of new, diverse texts, are inuenced not
only by perceptions of the merit of individual texts, and their relevance to a particular
cohort of students, but also and substantively by the intertextual connections a teacher
is able to make between this text and the many others that will need to be mobilised
to support its introduction into the classroom. These intertextual networks have been
established through teachersown secondary schooling, university education and experi-
ences as a teacher, the institutional context of the school theyre teaching in and, more
specically, their interactions with students. While there has been sustained criticism
highlighting how these intertextual practices the citation and (re)citation of texts per-
petuate the cultural capital of imperial and canonical texts, and Euro western ideals, these
issues continue to haunt subject English (Morrison, 1992; Singh, 2018; Truman, 2019b,
Ironically, though, teachers in Anglophone contexts (both imperial and colonised)
often feel that despite the education they have received, their intertextual connections,
particularly concerning the canon, could be stronger (McLean Davies & Sawyer, 2020).
In a research project comparing mid-career teachersperceptions of literary knowledge
in Australia and England (McLean Davies & Sawyer, 2020), several participants expressed
concern with the volume of canonical texts with which they were familiar, and anxiety
about this perceived decit being discovered by students or teachers.
Therefore, given the power of intertextual meaning-making in subject English, the
issue of a lack of diverse voices cannot be resolved by suggesting diverse individual
texts on ocial text lists, although this is an important rst step. However, it is necessary
to note that listing a text does not guarantee it being set in a school context, and man-
dating texts will not necessarily ensure that the diversetexts that are listed are selected.
Our research (McLean Davies, Martin, & Buzacott, 2017; McLean Davies et al., 2020) has
demonstrated that teachers, under the pressure of time and contemporary accountability
regimes, understandably continue to select texts that connect, intertextually, to their
existing bodies of textual knowledge. This relates to an ongoing issue in Australia,
which is the fragile status of national texts and lack of traction around including more
diverse Australian voices in the curriculum. In response to this, in 2008, the Australian Cur-
riculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) mandated the teaching of Austra-
lian literature at each year level (ACARA, 2016). Yet, research on the take-up of Australian
literature has shown that even when national texts are mandated, the texts that are often
selected do not challenge or extend colonial understandings of nation or history (Bliss &
Bacalja, 2020; McLean Davies et al., 2017). In Victoria, a popular Australian text for study at
the senior levels is Geraldine Brooks(2001)Year of Wonders, a novel set in the 1600s in
Britain during a resurgence of the bubonic plague. While expatriate Brooks (who was
born in Australia, therefore qualifying the text as Australian) is an engaging writer, it
seems most likely that this texts popularity for senior examination can at least in part
be attributed to its intertextual connections with western history, the resources available
about this time period, and links with other ction and nonction texts familiar to English
teachers. Year of Wonders was initially listed on the syllabus as a single text study in 2010,
and then was set for comparison with Millers(1953)The Crucible in 2017. By placing
Brooks novel in conversation with Millers classic, the syllabus asserts the value of both
texts: in the case of Brooks novel, curriculum-created and sanctioned intertextuality
increases the texts capital, and further embeds it in an Anglocentric intertextual network.
Just as the inclusion of Indigenous texts or texts by LGBTQI+ authors on lists will not
guarantee selection, neither can this issue be addressed through the provision of
resources. Research by Teese (2013) found that teachers often chose familiar canonical
texts because there were signicantly more resources for teaching available to them.
The assumption made from this research was that attention to the provision of resources,
for time-poor teachers, would encourage them to select less familiar and more diverse
texts. Over the past ten years, signicant attention has been directed by organisations
such as Reading Australia to the development of resources for teaching Australian texts
at all year levels. Yet, while the development of resources is useful, this provision alone
does not address the intertextual networks, developed over time, that exist beyond
resources for individual texts, that teachers draw on in daily pedagogical practice.
These intertextual networks extend beyond the classroom itself and are also evident in
the practices and preferences of examiners. As research also shows (Mclean Davies,
2011; Teese, 2013) students are more likely to be rewarded in examinations if they
write on western canonical texts which enable examiners to activate their own intertex-
tual knowledge and understandings.
We have argued to this point that while advocacy for the inclusion of diverse texts on
lists, and calls for greater resources for the teaching of contemporary literature are impor-
tant, these strategies do not address pervasive intertextual Euro-western networks, which
continue to be built through a teachers education and practice, reinforced by high stakes
examination systems, literary cultures and parental and community expectations (VCAA,
2018). Schools themselves, and educational administrators and leaders have ways of
asserting and perpetuating traditional intertextual literary knowledge through policies
and practices directly relating to the English curriculum. In light of this, the lack of
diverse texts in schools must be addressed systematically and focus needs to be put
on teacher knowledge and intertextual networks. As we will explore in the following
section, being intertextually astute or well readin the twenty-rst century requires tea-
chers to understand the shifting cultural milieu, ongoing settler colonialism, institutional
racism, heteronormativity, whiteness, and ableism embedded in historical intertextual
references. Teachers need to have the time and space to develop new intertextual net-
works to link literature dierently in order to make new textual meanings in pluralistic
contemporary societies.
Breaking and building intertextual networks
In this nal section, we take up the imperative for teachers to develop new intertextual
knowledge and critical frames for reading in order to challenge existing networks built
around white, canonical, male-authored texts. We return to the project we started this
paper with which utilises what we call Literary Linking
(McLean Davies et al., 2020).
We trialed this approach to English teacher professional learning in 20192020 through
a pilot project. The project supported ve secondary English teachers in Victoria to under-
take a week-long literary research project drawing on the resources of the University of
Melbourne Archives as nodes of intertextual meaning-making. The ve teachers
brought contemporary Australian womens writing into conversation with archival
materials and sources relevant to their specic classroom contexts. For example, one par-
ticipant looked at notions of nationhood and Australian identity through the lm David
(based on a short story by Maxine Beneba Clarkes from her collection Foreign Soil) and
Looking for Alibrandi in relation with the Meanjin
archive. Another participant read
Maxine Beneba ClarkesThe Hate Race intertextually with the white Australia policy,
and historical materials from YWCAs Immigration Regional Coordinating Committee
that framed migrants in infantalising ways. The intertextual reading of the literary text
with these historical documents was intended to enable students to engage with the
policy, historical understandings of migrant Australians, and historical and contemporary
impacts of institutional racism in Australia. These examples demonstrate how literary
linking has the potential to operate on various levels, and that time, space, and cultural
understandings are all necessary for teachers and students to develop meaningful
relationships with texts. This requires researchers and systems of policy makers to not
merely provide resources for teachers but allow them time to develop their own net-
worked knowledge that is informed by their studentscontexts and polyvocality. Our
initial week with the teachers in this project demonstrated that critically thinking about
intertextual networks can create new links between textswhile also highlighting the
hidden intertextual structures that might restrict new relationships being made.
Sams story that opened this paper was shared with us in a focus group with the tea-
chers six months after their Literary Linking week. In this focus group, teachers shared unit
plans and successes at their schools and examples of student work. The teachers shared
positive stories of students engaging with issues of gender, race, and identity in their
classrooms as a result of the new units developed through the work of the project.
However, they also shared stories about restrictions and gate-keeping that inuenced
the new networks they were trying to develop in their schools. In this context, Sam
revealed a dierent story from their experience of implementing Foreign Soil by Maxine
Beneba Clarke (2017) into the curriculum. Foreign Soil is a collection of short stories
that take up issues as broad as racism, domestic violence, and migration. A senior col-
league questioned Sams decision to teach the text: the colleague was worried about
the suitability and quality, or what they termed the literarinessof the text, and feared
that there wasnt enough materialin the text for students to engage with. In an
attempt to demonstrate the texts value, Sam invited this colleague to visit their class,
and see how they were mobilising the text and how their students were responding.
The colleague took up this opportunity but rather than sitting as an observer in the
class, which is often the practice the colleague intervened in the lesson, asking both
Sam initially, and then students working in small groups, what they were getting out
of the book and why they thought it was literature. The students oered responses,
and the visiting teacher shared contradictory opinions. Sam entered into a robust conver-
sation with their colleague and debated the texts literary merit in front of the class. The
fact that canonical texts would not be subjected to such questioning or require such
defense became the focus of the lesson.
As researchers hearing Sams story, but being unable to follow up with the senior
teacher in question, we cannot say unequivocally that the senior teachers dislike of
the text was rooted in racial bias. However, there is an established history of the
ongoing questioning of the literarinessof books written by Black and Indigenous
authors as evidenced in their under-representation in the literary canon. And an estab-
lished tradition where canonical texts predominantly written by white men are per-
ceived as though they are objectivelyliterary, while new texts, or texts that dont
conform to what has been deemed literary in the past can be dismissed subjectively as
if subjective opinion is objective. What Sam was able to articulate during the focus
group as they further discussed their account of the senior teachers behaviour was
how established institutional intertextual networks re-asserted themselves: these net-
works include notions of the canon, institutional whiteness in the school, and departmen-
tal power dynamics among English teachers. The other teachers in the focus group
discussed how any English teacher even if they do not like a book would have the
reading skills to be able to nd material in a text such as Foreign Soil if they chose.
We highlight this story to further exemplify all the intersecting institutional power net-
works that can come into play for teachers attempting to build a new network of textual
resources for students. Although presented as an issue of literary and aesthetic quality, we
can read the colleagues intervention in Sams classroom as privileging a white canonical
notion of intertextuality. The teacher appears to embody this closed intertextual network,
nding it dicult to justify the inclusion of Beneba Clarkes text which does not conform
to a Western understanding of literary value. As English educators and researchers, a key
challenge is to recognise the pervasive and hierarchical nature of our intertextual power
networks, and the frameworks through which we determine whether a text is acceptable
for study, and as Moreton-Robinson (2002) argues, give up the power implicit and perpe-
tuated by these networks (p. xii). Beneba Clarkes text does not need to t an existing
intertextual network (and should not do so) in order to be set for study in English.
Sams anecdote reminds us that we need to challenge the cumulative sense of literary
knowledge that has been established, over years, through the study of institutionalised
canonical texts, and rethink the texts we privilege and the existing power networks they
In this paper, we have mobilised the literary theoretical concept of intertextuality, which
underpins subject English reading practices and pedagogies, to explore both the
networks of power that are animated in subject English, and the role these networks
play in entrenching and maintaining the dominance of white, canonical, hetero-
masculine literary works in the English curriculum. We have explored the ways that
these intertextual power networks work to exclude, make token of, or appropriate litera-
ture authored by Black writers, writers of colour, Indigenous writers, and LGBTQ+
writers; that the setting and selection of a single text is not enough to bring about sus-
tained change in the curriculum; and that the introduction of diverse texts and
worldviews into the English curriculum requires the establishment of new intertextual
networks for teachers and students. We have shown that deliberate eorts to activate
intertextual networks that empower people, texts and ways of making meaning that
have been historically marginalised in a settler-colonial contexts can have positive out-
comes for students and school communities, but that existing, imperially located net-
works that rarify canonical texts are not easily usurped.
These insights raise crucial questions about the focus and work of pre-service teacher
education, and the ways in which in-service teacher-professional learning is imagined in
the twenty-rst century. As well as providing opportunities to build new networks, it is
also important to develop an understanding of the aective whiteness (Truman, 2019a)
and euro western humanist ideals (Truman, 2019c) that allow canonical literary networks
to perpetuate (Heiss, 2018; Hogarth, 2020) and the role individual teachers play in contri-
buting to this phenomenon (Phillips & Archer-Lean, 2019). The literary disciplinary knowl-
edge and resulting intertextual networks that English teachers develop prior to or
alongside their educational studies needs to be critically appraised and evaluated
(McLean Davies & Sawyer, 2020). Further to this, we are reminded of the powerful role
of schools (Guillory, 1993) in maintaining and establishing canons, and thus the need
for an institution-wide and comprehensive approach to establishing, unsettling, expand-
ing and critiquing existing literary intertextual networks.
1. The Literary Education Lab (LEL) is a central hub of researchers of literary education based at
the University of Melbourne and extends to research collaborators around the world. Our
diverse projects intersect around the signicance of literary texts in English secondary edu-
cation; the place of literature in qualitative research methodologies; strong STEM themes
in literature; and the relationship between literary education and social justice. For more
information on the Lab see:
2. This paper is referring to the mainstreamcompulsory English subjects in secondary schools
in Anglo-western contexts. This context is not specically English as Additional Language
(EAL) although EAL students do take these subjects.
3. The genealogy from Bakhtin to Kristeva advances arguments for the multiplicity and inter-
connection of all texts and competing voices. Bahktins theories of language argue that
texts and utterances exist within a vast network a heteroglossia where many voices (poly-
phonic) create meaning through interactions (dialogism).
4. Intersectionality was put forth as a concept by Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) to complicate the
idea that a person could be reduced to a single identity marker such as their gender or race.
Intersectionality insists that at any given moment, a variety of intersecting forces are at work
causing individuals to experience the world dierently depending on where their subject
positioning, or identitylands in a particular context. Intersectionality is used as an analytic
tool to help understand how injustices might continue to occur to particular groups due mul-
tiple layers of oppressions that are at work in a system. Crenshaw drew attention to how fem-
inist politics of the 1970s and 1980s often forgot to account for race as an intersecting factor
in womens oppression; and how anti-racist politics sometimes forgot to account for the
patriarchy as an intersecting factor with racial oppression. Intertextuality and intersectionality
are not the same, but intersectional analysis helps us think more deeply about how intertex-
tuality might operate in texts, and in the broader networks were discussing.
5. The Literary Linking Methodology, put forth by the Literary Education Lab, enables teachers to
co-produce new knowledge through exploring the interface of literature and other cultural
and historical texts and resources. For further detail see McLean Davies et al., 2020.
6. Meanjin is a literary journal founded in Brisbane in 1940 before being moved to Melbourne in
1945. The physical archive of the journal is held at the University of Melbourne Archives. For
more information see:
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Sarah E. Truman
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This article presents the results of a study, conducted in parts of Wales and southwest England, focusing on what literature is being taught to learners aged 11–14 years. By exploring this area, we gain insight into influences on teacher choices and the challenges faced by teachers. Our research, which included a survey of over 170 teachers as well as teacher interviews, provides a snapshot of young people's experiences studying literature in the early secondary years (Key Stage 3). The results show that while some schools provide variety and diversity in their choice of texts and authors, the majority provide a limited diet of literature with texts mainly from male writers, with male protagonists. Girls are rarely the main focus. Nor do the majority of children study literature written by or about those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, highlighting a lack of diversity. Literature teaching at Key Stage 3 is increasingly influenced by the demands of GCSE and exam accountability. We hope the study can act as a catalyst for discussion about what ought to be the purpose and focus of literature study in England, Wales and beyond.
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