Adult students imagining civil capital: College writing, capitalism and the common good

Jennifer T Wofford, University of Pennsylvania


This study seeks to interrogate dominant discourses in adult education that privilege connections between education and work. It seeks to question discourses that measure literacy development within the parameters of private, economic outcomes by placing these discourses alongside the language adult students use to connect their participation in higher education to their daily lives out-of-school. This three-year study is a practitioner inquiry, a site-based case study that explores adult higher education through the lenses of literacy and social change, within the rhetorical context of marketization and capitalism. It asks the questions: Aside from job security and the national economy, how do we gauge a student's or an institution's ability to support social change, in any or all of its various forms? What types of valuation might be placed on a civil capital, that is, knowledge, attitudes and skills developed specifically for social cohesion, decision-making, and change? Like Bourdieu, this study uses economics, including capital theories, as a metaphor for understanding social practices and values in higher education. Two theories about literacy, its use, study, and instruction, frame this inquiry; each makes inextricable the ties between language and power: New Literacy Studies and feminist poststructuralism. Findings suggest that adult students bring to the college writing classroom autochthonous knowledge that can be incorporated into traditional and alternative academic literacies and college writing course design. Through a look at literacies in the lifeworld , or the trajectories of literacy across college classrooms and students' communities, adult students can be found taking hold of academic literacies and passing on what they've learned in unexpected ways.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Higher education|School administration

Recommended Citation

Wofford, Jennifer T, "Adult students imagining civil capital: College writing, capitalism and the common good" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3183009.