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Rewriting ideologies of literacy: A study of writing by newly literate adults

Lauren Rosenberg, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is based on a qualitative case study of four adults who attend a literacy center where they are learning to read and write better. My primary goal was to investigate how newly literate adults use writing to articulate their relationships to dominant ideologies of literacy. I examined the possibility that different kinds of agency might be enacted within and outside of dominant literacy narratives. The study was conducted at the Read/Write/Now Adult Learning Center. Participants represented a range of learners from various experiences who had been in the program for differing lengths of time. Methods of narrative inquiry were used to collect and analyze data, including: observation of classes, interviews with teachers, extensive interviews with case study members, and collection of all writing produced by participants during their time at the center. Participants' remarks and writing demonstrated that they articulate four dominant literacy narratives: functionality, economic gain, an ethic of self-improvement, and citizenship---having a voice in culture. My analysis revealed that people did not express just one narrative; they expressed as many as four narratives simultaneously. Participants' interview transcripts and writing suggested that they already have the critical awareness theorists believe they must be taught. As they increase their literacy, participants articulate four alternative literacy narratives: naming power, particularly in regard to "illiteracy" as a social violence; critiquing material conditions that have forced them into oppressive subject positions; expressing pleasure as exceeding the range of dominant narratives; and enacting critical citizenry by repositioning themselves as resistors. This study suggests that writing can be a more radical act than speech because people can speak back to culture as well as reach out to affect multiple audiences. Through writing, people can be critical and become activists by circulating their texts publicly. They can critique, analyze, and rework situations. I submit that writing fosters a specific form of agency that people create through their interaction with text---textual agency. Writing offers the potential for self-transformation and social-transformation. The writing process enables people in the study to: alter their subject position, affect others, and circulate texts among various audiences.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Rhetoric|Composition

Recommended Citation

Rosenberg, Lauren, "Rewriting ideologies of literacy: A study of writing by newly literate adults" (2006). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3242113.