Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.
Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.
Dissertations that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.
Author ORCID Identifier
Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
English Language and Literature | Rhetoric and Composition
This dissertation argues that neoliberal values guide how students navigate academic rhetorical situations, which results in challenges to goals teachers of composition might have to promote social justice pedagogies. My experiences as a writing teacher and writing center director pushed me to consider that even when students can understand and articulate the theories behind these pedagogies, there are gaps between ideologies students can absorb versus what students ultimately imagine to be possible. I investigate this disconnect between composition’s social justice pedagogies and the neoliberal ideology our students are immersed in using a case study methodology through the lens of Eric Darnell Pritchard’s framework of literacy normativity.
Although these case study participants have more lofty goals for literacy learning, from personal expression and exploring relationships to social justice and expanding conversations, the pervasiveness of neoliberal values results in the chasm between ideology and practice. April and Taylor interpret neoliberal subject formation as dictating they must retain academic success to translate into economic success and be seen as valuable. As a result, April commodifies herself through writing, and Taylor, though a writer who loves writing, is deeply alienated from her academic writing. Ezra is different; he illustrates how even students who challenge neoliberal imperatives to write may still assume neoliberal audiences for their work, and we see this through how he navigates neoliberal identity politics. He theorizes and names queerness in his writing but does not rhetorically position himself as a queer writer.
I call for both a renewed investment in learning from our students and developing pedagogies that are grounded in contemporary higher education and the understanding that many, if not most, of our students are in our classrooms as preparation for the workforce the neoliberal economy sponsors: one of semi-employment and contingent labor, in and out of academia. Attending to this challenge also means a larger reckoning with composition & rhetoric’s longstanding commitment to liberal ideas of choice and freedom — ideas that have deeply influenced our approach to social justice writing pedagogies but may not align with our students’ neoliberal worlds and deserve reconsideration.
Garabedian, Robin K., "When Choices Aren't Choices: Academic Literacy Normativities in the Age of Neoliberalism" (2022). Doctoral Dissertations. 2620.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.