Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Educational Psychology and Research

Major Professor

Ralph G. Brockett

Committee Members

Allison D. Anders, John M. Peters, Mary F. Ziegler

Abstract

This dissertation is a narrative study designed to address the changing meaning of adulthood for youths matriculating into adult basic education programs by drawing from the interdisciplinary perspectives of postmodernism, critical social theory, and narrative methodology. The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experiences of adult basic education students, ages 18 to 25, and their construction and performance of adulthood. Twelve GED students, ages 18 to 25, enrolled in local non-profit adult education programs, were interviewed individually regarding their experience of leaving high school, transitioning into an adult education program, and their construction and performance of adulthood. Data sources included interview data and field notes. Data analysis was carried out at multiple levels and included structured narrative analysis and thematic analysis of interview data. Layered re-representations were used to present data highlighting participants’ experiences of leaving high school and transitioning into adult education classes, their inaugural moments of adulthood, and their construction and performance of adulthood. Findings did not support popular theories of development that sanction young adulthood as a sequential period of developmental tasks or those theories based on age-graded normative development markers. Instead, the interview data revealed a disruption to the traditional development sequences that psychologize the meaning of adulthood but revealed the social and structural factors that determine the sequence of development, when transitions to adulthood occur, and how adulthood is constructed and performed. For high school leavers, structures such as education, teachers, and teacher-student relationships play an important part in youth transitions out of high school, into adult education, and into adulthood. The following conclusions were drawn from the findings: (a) adulthood is accelerated for some youths depending upon circumstances, structures, and agency, (b) construction and performance of adulthood are analogous, structurally produced and culturally framed, and (c) life experience and financial independence, rather than age, are deemed the most important factors in reaching adulthood. The findings point to the complex, ambiguous, and uncertain nature of adulthood, made up of multiple disconnected routes indicating that traditional development theories cannot and should not be packaged as a normative path to understanding.

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