Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Williams, Bronwyn

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Member

Sheridan, Mary P.

Committee Member

Willey, Beth

Committee Member

Christopher, Karen

Author's Keywords

composition pedagogy; literacy studies; social class; mobility; agency


Rhetoric and composition has a well-established tradition of considering the connections between literacy education and the discourses and structures of political-economic institutions. This dissertation builds from this work and foregrounds the experiences of student-workers in the UPS Metropolitan College program through a qualitative study that is informed by institutional ethnography (Smith, 1987, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006). Institutional ethnography examines institutional texts and text-mediated discourses as coordinators of individual action. Therefore, I draw on primary data gathered from individual interviews with nine student-workers and one Metropolitan College administrator as well as supplemental data gathered from a survey administered to composition instructors, two instructor focus groups, and a range of institutional documents to argue that labor and education are networked practices for these students that are coordinated by powerful, interacting institutions. I implement theories related to mobility, agency, and neoliberal ideology in order to show that as these students navigate the work-school network, their identities, literacy practices, and senses of agency are shaped according to neoliberal values. These shaping forces are often obscured by the structures of our institutions of education and by default approaches to teaching academic writing. This dissertation brings these forces to light and organizes their implications into roughly two lines of argument: first, I argue that student workers’ literacy practices, affective responses, and identity development are coordinated by an institutional “mobility script;” and second, I argue that student-workers’ ownership and agency are coordinated by institutional structures of time and labor. These forms of coordination are mediated by particular texts, such as professional development documents and syllabi, as well as more general text-mediated narratives that shape the ways student-workers participate in this network (namely, the narrative of the ideal neoliberal worker and the narrative of the typical college student). Those who are not already trained in middle-class, neoliberal work ethics and values can be particularly disadvantaged in these processes of institutional coordination. I suggest that, to intervene in such processes, postsecondary literacy educators should adopt a framework of intelligibility in order to understand, recognize, and accommodate student-workers’ lived realities.