Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael H. Logan, Alanson Van Fleet

Committee Members

Ira Harrison, Mary Ann Bass


This study is concerned with the ascription of pariah student identity and how this possibly relates to the low level of education attainment in rural Appalachia. The informal social organization and educational ethos of a rural school in eastern Tennessee, Rock Hill (k-7), is examined with respect to the school's influence on premature student withdrawal.

Data were collected over an eight month period during which the author employed participant observation and other ethnographic research techniques. In comparison to previous inquiries on educational problems in rural Appalachia, this investigation represents one of the few which have utilized the research methodology of cultural anthropology.

A major finding of this study is that a congruency exists between the informal social organization of the school and the stratified, caste-like social structure of its surrounding communities. Evidence is presented to demonstrate that students who come from indigent families, particularly those that historically have suffered from the social phenomenon known as "inherited stigma," are ascribed a pariah social identity in the school.

It is suggested that those students who are ascribed a pariah social identity eventually internalize this identity, thus establishing a debilitating consistency between the way others view them and the way they view themselves. Moreover, once a student has internalized pariah identity he is likely to withdraw from the social world of the school due to feelings of alienation, resentment, and low self-esteem.

This study also shows how the educational ethos of Rock Hill School, as manifested in the instructors' philosophy of teaching and the basic assumptions they hold about educating children from indigent families, appears to exacerbate the problem of premature school withdrawal.

On the basis of this research a series of recommendations are advanced. Hopefully these will be of use to educators concerned with ameliorating the problems of pariah identity and low educational attainment.

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