Authority

What it is

Authority is used and implied in the English syllabus in two different senses: authority over a text (‘author intent’) and the authority of the text. The first sense, authority over a text, refers to who controls meaning in its composition and responses to it. However, authority is different from traditional notions of authorship or ‘the author’. It needs to take into account that many texts are collaborative efforts with contributions of teams of people who influence the final product – the writers, editors, illustrators, researchers, musicians, producers, curators, technicians and publishers - whose ideas and technical needs shape the work. A further level of authority resides with the institution that commissions and accredits the text, often shaping the message to its institutional requirements. The digital world allows for distributed authority through the joint construction of knowledge and opinion, for example Wikipedia, trending on Twitter, Likes in Facebook and the number of views on Youtube.

Authority also needs to acknowledge the role of the responder who brings his or her own ideas and experiences to bear on its meaning and who may accept or reject premises of the text. In this way, authority is always in a state of negotiation between composer(s) and responders.

In its second sense, authority of a text, it refers to how trustworthy the text appears to be, to what extent it can be taken as an authority on its subject matter. The authority of a text is often determined by its appropriate style, its reference to accepted experts and its context of publication.

Why it is important

Understanding how authority operates leads students to become constructive and critical thinkers in the ways they make meaning in and through texts. Authority begins with the authority of the classroom where texts are explored and negotiated according to a set of expectations, conventions and processes. Accepting that authority does not wholly reside with an author figure invites students to investigate the many personal, cultural, institutional and technical influences that shape meaning, so providing avenues through which meaning may be questioned and made with some accuracy. Knowing how to test the authority of a text and the reliability of its content enables students to make judgements about its validity and truth.

Stage 5

Students understand how authority may be constructed, confirmed or challenged.

They learn that

  • a sense of authority may be constructed by language use
  • authority is strengthened through citation and references to established sources
  • groups of responders may be included or excluded by language use
  • texts may contradict or subvert cultural assumptions. 

Stage 4

Students understand that a sense of authority may be constructed and that it resides, in varying degrees, with composers and responders.

They learn that

  • particular language structures add a sense of authority to a text
  • authority of a text may be questioned through comparison with other texts offering different perspectives
  • authority may not reside with only one person but certain types of texts are the result of collaboration.

Stage 3

Students understand that in different contexts, authority is conferred in different ways.

They learn that

  • texts have more authority with the use of appropriate language, spelling and punctuation
  • authority is invested in a text by clearly expressed and substantiated argument and acknowledgement of accepted authorities
  • popularity can become a form of authority
  • authority is valued and questioned.

Stage 2

Students understand authority and authorship are different aspects of texts. 

They learn that

  • responses to and interpretations of a text may vary and may have more or less validity.
  • authors may shape interpretation of a text but may not be able to control it.

Stage 1

Students understand authority and authorship are different aspects of texts. 

They learn that

  • responses to and interpretations of a text may vary and may have more or less validity.
  • authors may shape interpretation of a text but may not be able to control it.

ES1

Students understand that texts have authors who compose the contents.