Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Michael L. Keene

Committee Members

Kirsten Benson, William Hardwig, Mary Jo Reiff, Trena Paulus


“Definitions of Labor: A Study of Working-Class Graduate Student Writing Instructors” presents six narratives of self-identified working-class graduate student writing instructors. Broadly, it explores their individual definitions of class and the pedagogical import of these definitions. Chapter One introduces the topic through radical reflexivity, as the researcher queries her own positioning in relationship to the working-class identity, before moving to detail methods and methodologies. Chapter Two provides a literature review beginning with early scholarship on Impostership Studies and moving through single-authored and collected working-class academic autobiographies. Chapters Three through Eight present the individual narratives of the participants. These interpretive chapters are informed by a narrative approach, as they story participant experience while also employing inductive analysis to recognize recurrent themes. The six body chapters first detail each writing instructor’s personal articulations of self-selected class status. Then they move to explore this identification’s role in structuring pedagogical philosophies and practices. Each of the six case study chapters opens with a collaborative ethnopoem distilled from transcripts and revised by the participants. Chapter Nine explores divergent and common themes between cases. First, the chapter describes four broad areas of divergence among cases: regional differences, labor types and history, family orientation, and political ideologies. These divergences inform the provenance of each instructor’s specific class identification and pedagogies. Next, the chapter details four areas of similarities in class identification among narratives: connections between physicality and class identification; reflective and reactive processes of “embodied teaching”; being “of use” as an ethical imperative; and rejection of “academic” as a title and identity. Finally, Chapter Nine explores four areas of pedagogical practice among the six instructors: student interaction and proximity; use of community models based on “small-town life”; attention to writing processes; and an imperative for transparent teaching and “demystifying” academia for first-year students. Chapter Ten presents implications for this research, including its contribution to a philosophy of affective pedagogies and directions for future work.

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