Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) 638

What I Tell You May Not Be True: Autobiography, Discourse Analysis, and Post-Colonialism (Revision 2)

MAIS 638

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Delivery Mode: Individualized-Study

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: MAIS 601 and MAIS 602 are prerequisites for this course.

Note from Professor: In consultation with the course professor, students may modify the reading list for this course in order to fulfil background requirements for their MAIS research projects.

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies

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**Note: Students in Group Study courses are advised that this syllabus may vary in key details in each instance of the course. Always refer to the Moodle site for the most up-to-date details on texts, assignment structure, and grading.**


I may think that I am telling you the truth; however, what I tell you may not be true. Subtly and, sometimes, consciously and, other times, unconsciously, I may deceive. Like every speaker and writer, I convey many hidden meanings through each utterance and written word.

MAIS 638: What I tell You May Not Be True: Autobiography, Discourse Analysis, and Post-Colonialism is an online reading course designed as a foundational course for research with human subjects or for researching discourse and narratives in humanities and social sciences disciplines—for example English and literary criticism, linguistics, sociology, history, anthropology, cultural studies, First Nations studies, Canadian studies, and women’s studies. The course provides an overview of recent discoveries in autobiography, discourse analysis, and post-colonialism and interviewing and qualitative analysis of interviews. Here, these four disciplines are explored together because they share a concern for the nuances of language. The introduction to each of these three disciplines will give you the tools for effective interpretation and analysis of life writings, conversations, and interviews. Because not all students taking MAIS638 require interviewing skills, they have the option of completing the second assignment on suggested essay topics for Section II: Discourse Analysis, or for Section IV: Interviewing and Qualitative Analysis of Interviews.

The course explores the many ways in which deception occurs through language. Hence, it is useful to researchers concerned with experiences described in any written or oral form, from autobiographies and letters to interviews and informal conversations. It is also useful to students exploring these genres and forms across different cultures. For example, students from First Nations backgrounds may describe their life experiences, or students from the dominant culture may study First Nations or Asian experiences. Thus the course focuses in part on post-colonialism. A section on “Interviewing and Qualitative Analysis of Interviews” offers practical advice for students engaged in collecting new data through interviews, perhaps as the basis for their MAIS final project.

Autobiography: Literary analysis of autobiography and other forms of life writing searches for ways in which the subject, the "I," disguises the true "self" in written narratives. Critical theories of autobiography explore issues such as truth, selectivity, memory, and subjectivity, issues that have been of concern in this growing discipline inspired in the last decades of the twentieth century by, among others, Philippe Lejeune and Roy Pascal. Recent scholarship focuses on effects of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age, as well as on issues issues arising from online media such as blogs and in specific disciplines that use autobiography.

Discourse Analysis: Studies in discourse analysis pursue ways in which spoken words disguise truth. The readings assigned on discourse analysis offer practical advice for analyzing discourse—that is, the language of communication. While theories of autobiography are often grounded in criticism of structure and content from a literary critic’s perspective, theories of discourse analysis derive from a cultural critic’s perspective, often a perspective concerned with links between language and power. Discourse analysis is generally concerned more with spoken words than with the written words of autobiography, more with conversation than with written text. Inspired by Saussure, Barthes, Derrida, and Foucault, practitioners of discourse analysis examine the ways in which language operates to express cultural realities—in particular, ways in which personal expressions of communication relate to the public, political realm. The course readings highlight concerns for qualitative and quantitative research in various forms of discourse analysis, especially critical discourse analysis (CDA) and conversational discourse analysis, as exemplified by feminist scholars such as Sara Mills and Deborah Tannen. Other readings focus on issues arising in analyzing online data.

Post-Colonialism: Studies in post-colonialism note the complexities of intercultural language—for example, the hidden meanings of words written and spoken between members of dominant and minority cultures. The course readings on post-colonial theory focus on global concerns of post-colonialism addressed by cultural critics such as Edward Said and Bill Ashcroft, who focus on the ramifications of imperialist forces on groups that experience oppression through colonialism. Readings take up issues specific to, among others, Canadian immigrants and people of the First Nations and Third World. For some Canadians, the post-colonial reality may seem more evident in places such as India than it does in Canada, since habit and self-satisfaction may blur awareness. Like discourse analysis, post-colonial theory examines relationships in power structures. Some readings explore the use of autoethnography as a research method for analyzing cultures.

Interviewing and Qualitative Analysis of Interviews: The course readings focus on practical advice for interviewing and qualitative analysis of interviews from authorities including Steinar Kvale and Irving Seidman. The section is intended for novice interviewers using face-to-face and internet formats.


To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. The Master of Arts-Interdisciplinary Studies grading system is available online at the MAIS home page. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Assignment Weighting
Autobiography Essay 30%
Discourse Analysis OR Interviewing and Qualitative Analysis of Interviews Essay 30%
Post-Colonialism Essay 40%
Total 100%

Course Materials

There are no print-based materials for this course.

Athabasca University Online Materials

Course Home Page: You will find Course Information (including the Assignment File and other pertinent information) at the top of the course home page. You will also find your Study Guide presented unit by unit online. You will find your assignments and links to submit your work to your professor on the course home page.

Athabasca University Library: Students are encouraged to browse the Library's Web site to review the Library collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools:

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 2, September 1, 2012.

Updated January 14 2019 by SAS