How can research on academic literacies throw light on the challenge to widen access to
undergraduate science studies? This article explores what an academic literacies approach
might mean in the context of undergraduate physics. The study examines the pedagogical
practices and student learning in two undergraduate Physics courses, a mainstream and an
extended course, with a particular focus on the disciplinary practice of problem-solving.
Concepts from the sociology of knowledge, specifically Legitimation Code Theory, offer a
useful analytical framework for characterising the movement between abstract principles and
concrete contexts in problem-solving and understanding how meaning is encapsulated in the
dense representations of physics. The study shows that with more time and careful
pedagogical attention, the extended course was able to make more explicit the literacy
practices and epistemological functioning of the discipline. The study found that the extended
course adopted a more explicitly normative approach to academic literacy, i.e., inducting
students into the disciplinary knowledge and norms of the discipline, but elements of a
transformative approach were also evident, i.e., opening up opportunities for these norms to
be critiqued and contested.