Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Teaching and Learning
Bonnie S. Sunstein
Deficits dominate our culture's narratives of homelessness, associating poverty with lower literacy and skewing social policies about access and equity in schools, jobs, healthcare, and community (Bomer, 2008; Miller, 2011; Miller, 2014; Moore, 2013). Scant, if any, literature exists about literacy and identity in homeless adults, in ways that they might enroll in college and/or seek long-term careers. Yet if one of our roles as educators is to advocate for justice and disrupt social apathy, then we ought to consider more studies identifying literacy strengths (Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Bomer, 2008; Janks, 2010; Miller, 2011, 2014; Moore, 2013) of marginalized groups. In particular, studies examining literacy spaces where homeless adults come together to partake in the writing culture of their town can inform, if not disrupt, what literacies we privilege, and whose. What can we learn about writing and writers, reading and readers when we broaden the boundaries of access to the community? When we appropriate Bakhtin's notion of dialogic tools inside a co-constructed learning space?
This dissertation is based on my four-year and ongoing ethnographic observation of, and participation in, the literate lives of 75 men and women in the Community Stories Writing Workshop (CSWW) at a homeless shelter house (SH), a writing group I founded in fall 2010 and for which I am the facilitator. I focus on ways in which members negotiate, through composition, the layers of deficits ascribed to them as youths in school and as adults in transience (Gee, 2012, 2013; Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998; Holland & Lachicotte, 2007) within the physical and mental, social and personal spaces of the CSWW. Implicitly this overarching pursuit assumes that the CSWW is indeed a kind of third space co-constructed by its members, and as such, throughout my dissertation, and particularly in the "pre-profile," I illustrate the various cultural practices and literacies or knowledge funds (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2013; Moje, et al., 2004) that members exchange with one another (and potentially integrate) inside the CSWW. In the first, second, and third profiles, I look at how members position themselves inside this space, as well as how my dual roles as facilitator and researcher affect the practices of the group. I consider, too, the various group dynamics inside the CSWW and ways in which they function as audience for the writers.
Questions I ask in this study include: How might the act and process of telling, writing, revising, and sharing nonfiction narratives inside the CSWW afford adults in homeless circumstances the physical and mental, the social and personal spaces to exercise what they know and to construct who they are as literate beings? What identities and literacies do members perform in their stories (e.g., drafts of narratives) and off the page, or outside of their stories relative to audience? How does audience--inside the CSWW and CSWW-sponsored spaces--support and disrupt these self-discoveries and/or enactments for CSWW members--as writers, readers, and literate beings? As my ongoing quest, I wonder how these identities might correlate with those of the narrator's in drafts and the transformative implications of writing.
As a literacy educator, I am especially concerned about how cultural narratives of deficits work to immobilize homeless adults and families, leaving them without membership to the community and to education and resources that could facilitate socioeconomic mobility. If our role as educators is to advocate for justice and disrupt social apathy, we must consider literacy strengths of marginalized adults. Studies examining spaces where homeless adults come together to partake in the writing culture of their town can inform, if not disrupt, what literacies we privilege, and whose. What can we learn about writing and writers, reading and readers when we broaden the boundaries of access to the community?
This dissertation is based on my four-year and ongoing ethnographic study about the Community Stories Writing Workshop at local homeless shelter, a writing group I founded in fall 2010 and for which I am the facilitator. In this space, writing is transitional, a tool for crossing environments from the streets to classroom, from marginalization to membership. Here, homeless adults with diverse literacies gather for 90 minutes weekly to compose narratives. They consider multiple, sometimes competing, perspectives on what constitutes “literary” writing and they negotiate what it means to be published writers in a town known for its literary culture. They examine their own traumatic pasts and relationships, uncovering moments of strength. Importantly, they challenge standard pedagogy (grades/test-scores), contribute cultural knowledge, and disrupt deficits associated with homelessness. Ours is a collaboration to exchange and democratize knowledge of the home, school, and community.
publicabstract, Community, Homeless, Identities, Literacy, Storytelling, Writing
xxvii, 284 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 276-284).
Copyright 2015 Rossina Zamora Liu