Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Ilona Leki

Committee Members

Mary Jo Reiff, Bethany Dumas, Ron Taylor


This dissertation reports findings from a five-month qualitative study of a group of five ESL students pursuing graduate degrees in disciplines in the humanities. Focusing on disciplinary enculturation processes, the study sets out to answer two primary research questions: 1) What roles do literacy activities play in disciplinary enculturation? 2) What sorts of subject positions do ESL learners occupy as they enculturate into academic discourse communities? Answers to these questions are important because they can lend definition to the obstacles that confront ESL learners as they attempt to move towards professional participation in target discourse communities.

Anchored in the language-related scholarship of Halliday, Bakhtin, Vygotsky, Gee, Fairclough, and Foucault, the study uses interview, observation, and document analysis techniques to examine the ways advanced ESL learners’ literacy activities are imbricated in social, cultural, rhetorical, and political contexts. Resonating with formulations of writing as a social endeavor, the findings reveal how learners’ socio-cultural relationships with discourse community insiders influenced their capacity to negotiate discursive conventions. The project also contributes to our understanding of the political dynamics of second language literacy acquisition by examining the ways participants’ socio-cultural relationships influenced their subject positioning in target discourse communities. Further, analysis of the strategies learners used to reconcile what were often sizable linguistic and cultural gaps between the literacy practices of their home cultures and those of English-language discourse communities brings understanding to the ways ESL learners’ educational histories play into their enculturation experiences. Although, as previous researchers have suggested, disciplinary enculturation certainly concerns broad disciplinary norms and conventions, this study focuses on the more local and immediate web of interactions and relationships that can either constrict or support learners’ academic participation. Ultimately, this dissertation enriches notions of ESL writers by exploring how they, as much as the texts they produce, are situated in socially, culturally, rhetorically, and politically complex fields of academic practice.

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