Spotlighting Social Class: An Exploration of One Adolescent's Language and Literacy Practices

Laura Payne-Bourcy, Kelly Chandler-Olcott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Drawing on five years of data, this case study presents an exploration of the influences of social class on one adolescent's language and literacy practices as she moved from high school in an isolated rural community to college in an urban environment. The study draws on several theoretical frameworks, including multiple literacies (Gallego & Hollingsworth, 2000), Gee's (1996) theory of Discourses, and sociocultural conceptions of social class (Anyon, 1981; Fine & Weis, 1998). Although Crystal, the focal informant, was a successful learner by most conventional standards, she experienced considerable struggle to stay in school and to adopt the dominant discourses of postsecondary education. As a rural high school student, she used a variety of language and literacy practices to “pose” as middle class. When she crossed to college, some of these practices served her better than others. Ultimately, she became alienated by college courses that did not acknowledge language competencies related to her status as a working-class person and that did not allow links between her interests in popular culture and her formal assignments. Implications for practice include the following: that secondary literacy teachers make social class a more salient category for inquiry and that college instructors make deliberate attempts to learn about the preferred discourse practices of their students. The study also suggests the importance of “insider” knowledge in studying the influence of social class on literacy and the need for further research examining how learners negotiate workplace discourses after college.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-590
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Literacy Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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