From the Sticks: An Examination of Rural, Southern Literacies Within and Without the University

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Mary Beth Pennington (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Hephzibah Roskelly

Abstract: This dissertation examines rural, Southern culture's strained relationship with academia, specifically as it relates to the composition classroom, which is the place where students are formally introduced to academic discourse and standard, "public" literacy practices. Operating from John Dewey's principle of "warranted assertibility," I analyze the multiple ways in which the urban North has interpreted and defined the rural South in an effort to more accurately determine the population's cultural currency. Using Kenneth Burke's identification theory and George Herbert Mead's interactionist theory, I investigate historical, ethnographic and theoretical data in order to understand how American rhetorical identification with or dis-identification from rural, Southern populations influences the culture's treatment in academic circles. Using the work of W.J. Cash, Allen Batteau, Barbara Ching, Gerald Creed and others, I theorize how and why rural, Southern culture has become a national symbol of anti-intellectualism and thus a blind spot in most cultural studies efforts. This investigation also calls into question the ways in which academics designate marginalized "others." Academia has become so preoccupied with global cultures that many regional literacies have been left unexamined and at times, devalued as too familiar or local for serious academic consideration. Ralph Waldo Emerson's belief that the "near explains the far" grounds my argument that we should continually turn our attention to local as well as global cultures in the spirit of Berthoff's dialectical model. The rural, white, South has long been regarded as ideologically dominant when in fact it is one of the most economically, culturally, and academically marginalized populations in the U.S. I follow through the consequences of these associations for rural, Southern students as they consider and develop their academic identities in the university through the relation of personal experience and the ethnographic study of a former composition student who also hails from the rural South. Using a dialogic model, my ethnographic study operates as a kind of collaborative literacy narrative: the student and I speak from our own experiences as rural, Southern women at different stages in the academy. This form of scholarship is a new way for teachers to engage with students from a common background using sameness rather than difference as the impetus for research. Since geographic or home literacy values factor in to our classroom contexts, the denigration of the rural Southerner - or any unrecognized marginal group - can and should inform the work we do as rhetoric and composition teachers. I argue that marginalized students are often intimately acquainted with "double-consciousness," what Paulo Freire calls conscientização, or critical consciousness, which if acknowledged and used, could help students who see themselves as culturally disadvantaged feel more competent and engaged in the composition classroom. Louise Rosenblatt's reader-response theory explains how a student's "experiential reservoir" affects not only her sense of self in the academy but her composing behaviors in the university as well. Currently, the rural South figures into our work minimally, perhaps as part of a cursory inclusion of regional texts. In this dissertation, I describe how we might take this population's literacies more seriously by examining the ways in which rural educators have engaged their students. In much the way feminist pedagogy begins from the premise of an alternative, feminine way of knowing, I argue that the literacies of rural, Southern populations can similarly ground our pedagogy through Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. Freire's pedagogy, which can be traced to rural contexts, is often misinterpreted as revolutionary and impractical when in fact it was designed to address blind spots such as the marginalization of populations such as the rural, Southern university student. Myles Horton's Highlander Folk School serves as an example of critical pedagogy at work in contexts beyond Freire's Brazil. A rural Southerner, Horton used local knowledge and ways of knowing to more effectively engage and mobilize his students. From these examples, I articulate the possibility of a "rural" pedagogy in the composition classroom. Though philosophically defined by rural, Southern epistemologies and literacies, this pedagogical theory is designed to be re-made to address any classroom population.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2010
Composition Studies, Critical Pedagogy, Literacy Studies, The rural South
Rural population $z Southern states.
Universities and colleges $x Faculty $x Attitudes.
Critical pedagogy.

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