Genre Performance and the Discursive Regulation of Value Alignment: How the Personal Statement Mediates Organizational Access and Ideologically Reproduces its Members

Lauren Tuckley

Advisor: Heidi Y. Lawrence, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Douglas Eyman, Michelle LaFrance

Horizon Hall, #4225
April 05, 2023, 12:00 PM to 02:00 PM


This dissertation responds to the following question: how do organized social systems discursively regulate member participation, advancing those most aligned with its institutional ethos? To address this question, I closely examine the role of the personal statement in mediating membership through discursively regulating and shaping its prospective members personal and professional identities. 

Taking a social constructivist approach, this project evaluates discursive expression and regulation at three levels of analysis: the individual, the textual, and the institutional.  Methodologically, I draw on Vijay Bhatia’s Critical Genre Awareness (CGA), an evaluative framework for identifying trends in discursive circulation within professional settings.

In keeping with CGAs multidimensional approach, I first, through case study, demonstrate how personal statement writers’ identities are discursively reconstituted through genre performance, establishing both that and how applicants appeal for organizational inclusion through performing a reconstitution of self in alignment with institutional ethos.  Grounded in Roz Ivanic’s theory of discoursal identity construction, I reveal how a writer’s identity is shaped according to the ‘possibilities of self’ that are co-determined by the writing task where the individual and the institutional converge. This case study illuminates how social inclusion requires value-based or ideological alignment. Next, I illustrate how the personal statement discursively mediates organizational membership through establishing standards for genre performance that most support the organization’s status quo and reproductive capacity.  To do this, I demonstrate that personal statement is an ideological artifact of its social organization by examining its Text-Internalproperties in comparison to its Text-External discursive resources. The Text-Internal analysis finds the recurring moves and steps of a corpus of 19 personal statements submitted by successful applicants for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship.  The findings of this genre analysis are situated alongside an analysis of the intertextual genres that provide its social action. The Text-Internal findings foreground an analysis of the genre’s organizational discourses provided in the Text-External chapter, where the interdiscursive resources of the Fulbright Program’s professional practices and culture are identified and analyzed. Taken together, I demonstrate the personal statement is ideologically constituted in keeping with the organization’s values.

Ultimately, I find that value formation is mediated and reified through successful genre performance, evidencing the claim that it is the occasion to perform institutional genres, like the personal statement, that initiate a reconstitution of identity made in relation to the social organization according to the ideology that most ensures its reproduction.