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Advocacy Discourse Communities in a Multilingual Parish: A Conceptual Model

Sun, April 10, 8:15 to 9:45am, Convention Center, Floor: Level One, Room 101


Objectives: In increasingly diverse contexts, shared neighborhood spaces provide opportunities for individuals from a range of backgrounds and immigration histories to congregate. What would motivate people to work across boundaries of language, culture, experience, and institution and learn from one another, especially in the context of power asymmetries? One explanation put forth by critical race theory is interest convergence (Bell, 1980), or “the place where the interests of Whites and people of color intersect” (Ladson-Billings, 1998, p. 12). While the realpolitik considerations of interest convergence can never be disregarded, we believe it may be insufficient in accounting for the interactions we have documented at St. Frances Cabrini, where immigrant families and youth seem to act not merely on their interests, but on their ideals and desires as well. In this poster presentation, we provide a conceptual model, derived empirically from the five-year research partnership, of how participants draw on multiple literate resources to navigate the social world as well as make collective claims about how it might be better.

Theoretical framework: This poster presentation pairs sociocultural literacy frameworks (Street, 1995) with realist theories of identity that underscore the knowledge of historically minoritized communities (Mohanty, 1997; Moya, 2002).

Methods/Data sources: We report on findings from the overall research partnership with St. Frances Cabrini parish, which utilized practitioner research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) and ethnographic (Heath & Street, 2008) methods. We look across the various nested inquiries that are part of the poster session to examine how participants use language and literacy to negotiate cross-cultural collaboration around educational access and immigrant rights. Data sources consisted of: fieldnotes of participant observation across the various dimensions of the partnership, transcripts of recorded meetings and class sessions, artifacts (e.g. planning documents, student work from inquiry communities, written communications), and researcher reflective memos. Data was analyzed thematically in a recursive and iterative process (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) to develop codes about participants’ literacy practices (Street, 1995).

Findings: Through our analysis we have identified the following advocacy discourse communities (DCs) at St. Frances Cabrini, which sustain themselves through their own respective language, literacy, and social practices (Barton & Hamilton, 1998)
(1) Religious DCs (2) Educational Research DCs (3) Activist DCs (4) Legal DCs (5) Cultural DCs, and (6) Service DCs. Each discourse community has its own strengths and limitations with respect to knowledge production and advocacy. Through illustrative examples from the data, we showcase specific features of these discourse communities as well as how they are linked together by recurring tropes of a Human Rights Metanarrative. The core of the model is congregation, as there can only be genuine exchange of ideas when individuals come together to learn from one another’s experiences, expertise, and epistemic privilege.

Significance: Our research contributes to understanding the role that language and literacy play in how people work together across insular social spaces to advocate for change. We offer guidelines for cultivating university partnerships and conducting community-based research in ways that seek to recognize all participants as knowledge generators (Authors, 2015).