Writing as/or work: Locating the material(s) of a working-class pedagogy

Jennifer Ann Beech


This dissertation contributes to the important body of composition scholarship that proceeds along the lines of ethnographic community and case studies of the working class. Because this body of scholarship is so varied and set in communities and classrooms across the country, readers of such studies are required to synthesize for themselves across the different contexts of the studies. In a move from context to text, this dissertation locates within a single textual space a study of a rural southern working-class community, a classroom ethnography set in one of Mississippi's state universities, and a class-based examination of the texts produced by two students, one from a rural southern working-class background, the other from an urban middle-class background. The author argues that before we can devise pedagogical practices for the college classroom ( a secondary pedagogic site ), we must determine the often class-based primary pedagogies that students bring to writing classrooms. Chapter Two reports on interviews with residents of Woodly, Alabama who have attended at least one semester of college. Interviews suggest that participants' negative or ambivalent conceptions of those with college degrees are formed by community work stories, which promote the formation of oppositional identity to those who hold college degrees or who employ "feminized" middle-class discourse. Chapters Three and Four report on participant-observation of a basic writing class. Accustomed to teamwork and hands-on learning, working-class students experience cultural conflicts while performing the work of writing for college. Instructors must help working-class students expand their definitions of useful labor, and they must find new and creative ways to reconcile the mind/body split often forwarded in academia. The author updates sociolinguistic notions of networking to argue for an understanding of collaborative writing as a form of networking and to highlight the fact that student writers do not all possess the same types of networks or the same networking skills. Finally, the author forwards a pedagogy of repositioning that takes into account student instrumentalism and allows for the incorporation of home knowledge into academic texts.