American University
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Negotiating Achievements: Language and Schooling Experiences Among African American Preadolescents

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:06 authored by Jennifer B. Delfino

This dissertation examines the linguistic practices 9-13 year-old African American students who attended an after school program in Washington, D.C. used to negotiate schooling and achievement. It builds on existing anthropological research on how young people are socialized into their communities, classrooms, and the wider society via language. It renders this process particular to the students' lived experiences of race, poverty, and contemporary schooling reform. By focusing on linguistic practice and the language ideologies held by the students, the dissertation explores the difficulties racially identified minority students face in school when they are asked by the wider society's major socializing agents and institutions to exchange cultural identity for academic success. The dissertation is based on 8 months of ethnographic fieldwork that was conducted from October 2010-June 2011. During these months, over 108 hours of data were recorded from 30 preadolescents who served as research subjects. Informal interviews with after school staff and adults from the local community were also conducted. In the third and final phase (April-June 2011), focus groups were conducted with 12 of the students. The dissertation provides evidence that among same- and similar-age peers, the students often repurposed the linguistic practices they learned from adults, and in ways that did not always align with the dominant expectations of the more socially powerful members of either the community or the after school program. It argues that the types of AAVE-based "conflict" talk students test in peer contexts perform positive socializing functions but that these discourse styles were nevertheless often interpreted, by adults as well as the students themselves, as unpreparedness or unwillingness to achieve in school. This study revisits major theorizing of hegemony, critical consciousness, and "the Black underclass." It suggests that while preadolescent-age African Americans try to construct "achievement" on their own terms via linguistic practice, they are not always successful because they are not empowered in the classroom, situationally or in the long term. It concludes by recommending ways in which educational practitioners and theorists can better understand how academically marginalized students engage with schooling and how they can support these students' negotiated achievements.





Degree awarded: Ph.D. Anthropology. American University


Degree grantor

American University. Department of Anthropology

Degree level

  • Doctoral

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