Based on her studdy of the assessment and validation of final year projects in two academic departments-- one lovated in a humanities faculty and the other in an engineering faculty of a Sout African University-- Suellen Shay argues that the assessment of complex tasks is a socially situated interpretive act. Her argument centers on three quesitons. THe first question explores the basis of assessors' "common ground" and is rooted in Bourdieu's concepts of field and habitus and his analysis of how academics develop a "feel for the game". The second question "drills down" into these differences, using dissensus (lack of consensus) as another window on the interpretive process. Shay's data suggest that assesors' interpretations are powerfully shaped in predictable and unpredictable ways by their disciplinary orientations, years of experience, and levels of involvement with students. While these differences of interpretation are often resolved collegially, a careful analysis of these occasions illuminates the social-situatedness of assessment practices. Shay also argues that assessors' interpretations are constituted not only to sustain (or challenge) systems of belief, but also to maintain (or challenge) identities and interpersonal relations. The article concludes with a discussion exploring the implications of assessment as a socially situated interpretive act for academic communitities of practice.
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