Reading University Documents (Abelmann)

Section 1


I use this exercise for two reasons: first, to guide students to realizing that all university units embrace particular ideas-and that in many cases even single documents reveal competing or contradictory ideas; and second, because this is often a great way to help students identify a unit or aspect of the university that interests them. I give them the following instructions.

Please select a "university document." Most likely, your document will be an on- or off-line short text produced by a campus unit (e.g., the mission statement of a club, university office, department etc.) Please provide the URL for the text/site and offer a short analysis of it. In the analysis you should pay attention to its:

  1. implicit assumptions (i.e., what do you have to believe/think/endorse in order to be able to follow/agree with this text);
  2. its use of language (e.g., repeated phrases, rhetorical devices); and
  3. its internal contradictions or changes of style. You should also indicate what intrigues/interests you about this text. Although not necessary, it might be good to find a text that is related to something about the university that already intrigues you (for some of you this assignment will inaugurate your ethnographic project).

Read examples of student inquiries into university documents

see all exercises