For Bakhtin, language emerges out of, and is wholly shaped by, use. Consequently, meaning is inherently an expression of context and not a function of systemic features which for Bakhtin are abstractions retrospectively inferred from such uses. Successful use therefore is not underpinned by conformity to such systemic features but by responding to prior uses. This raises questions about the learning by students of disciplinary discourses which have emerged in contexts that students are not exposed to. In what sense can we claim students are being inducted into disciplinary discourses when their encounter with disciplinary texts are shaped by quite different---predominantly institutional---contexts, and by their own prior experiences? Drawing on data I have gathered in a study of engagement with legal discourses by international postgraduate law students, I will comment on the perspectives students brought to making sense of and use of source texts, and comment on the lecturers' reading of student texts. Finally I will discuss implications for how we conceptualize 'disciplinary discourses'.
Paper presented at 'Language in the disciplines: disciplinary discourses and the embedding of academic literacy skills within programs', an Academic Literacy Teaching and Research Network (ALTAR) Symposium, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia, 24 November 2010