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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Meg Gebhard

Second Advisor

Ralph Faulkingham

Third Advisor

Maria Jose Botelho

Subject Categories

African Studies | International and Comparative Education | Social and Cultural Anthropology


Current research in Sub-Sahara Africa suggests that young women face challenges in accessing and completing schooling, due among other things to gender related school based violence (Bruce & Hallman, 2008; Dunne, Humphreys, & Leach, 2006; Lloyd, Kaufman, & Hewett, 2000). These studies, while valuable in providing documentation on school enrollment and school leaving, do not explore the motivational framework where young women remain in school. The purpose of this dissertation is to trace how schoolgirls’ identities or “figured worlds” (Gee, 2011) are co-constructed in particular contexts by the same cohort of schoolgirls, their teachers, households, and communities through an ethnographic case study conducted over a period of three years from 2010 to 2013 in Kono, Sierra Leone. The unit of analysis is the experience of the individual schoolgirls rendered in detailed portraits. The central research question addressed is: What are the ‘figured worlds’ that these schoolgirls inhabit that compels them, in the face of overwhelming odds, to commit to schooling? What is the role of “imagined communities” for these schoolgirls (Anderson, 1991; Kanno & Norton, 2003)? Further, how do the schoolgirls utilize the liminal space of schooling (Switzer, 2010)? Employing the portraiture methodology (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Hoffman Davis, 1997) this research focuses on three schoolgirls, their communities, and their relationships with the researcher. This research analyzes how for schoolgirls in sub-Sahara Africa, the figured worlds of schoolgirls, is an identity that despite the physical risk, economic loss, and unlikely career success, becomes compelling. This dissertation contributes to research seeking gender equity in education in sub-Sahara Africa.