Threshold Concepts in Literary Studies

Paul T. Corrigan


This essay proposes a series of “threshold concepts” for literary studies: text, meaning, context, form, and reading. Each term carries both commonsense understandings and disciplinary understandings, which differ from each other drastically. The disciplinary understandings entail far “more” than the commonsense ones. Unless such differences are named and explained clearly, unacknowledged commonsense understandings may hinder students ability to learn equally unacknowledged disciplinary understandings. The naming and describing of such contrasting sets of understandings and of the differences between them is an act of disciplinary introspection—a scholarly and pedagogical act vital for understanding and teaching any complex body of knowledge. In addition to proposing threshold concepts for literary studies specifically, then, this essay encourages and offers a model for teacher-scholars in any discipline to undertake the same disciplinary work.


Threshold Concepts; Literary Studies; Disciplinary Introspection; Expert Blind Spot; Commonsense; Lucille Clifton; English

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