The communicative relationship between learners and teachers in higher education, particularly as manifested in assessment and feedback, is often problematic. I begin from an Academic Literacies approach that positions academic literacy as requiring learners to acquire a complex set of literacy skills and abilities within specific discursive and institutional contexts. Whilst acknowledging the institutional dimension of academic literacy, I argue that the Academic Literacies approach tends to underestimate its significance. This shortcoming can be addressed by considering student speaking and writing as powerfully constrained by what Bourdieu refers to as the authority of pedagogic institutions, which function in what Sennett calls the culture of the new capitalism. Synthesising Bourdieu and Sennett, I argue, opens up possibilities for creating a pedagogy for itself: a pedagogy conscious of its reproductive function but able to provide both learners and teachers with what Canaan terms critical hope. Through this theoretical synthesis I seek to re-craft the Academic Literacies approach to pedagogic communication so that our understanding of the problems experienced by learners in acquiring academic literacy can be enhanced.