Latina Mothers' Enactments of Agency: Achieving Desires through Discourses in Family Literacy.

Open Access
Toso, Blaire Willson
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
September 08, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Esther Susana Prins, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Esther Susana Prins, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • Gail Louise Boldt, Committee Member
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Committee Member
  • adult education
  • agency
  • family literacy
  • Even Start
  • mothering
  • Foucault
  • literacy
  • immigrants
  • Latina
  • narrative inquiry
  • discourses
  • Good Mother
This qualitative study used a post-structural feminist framework to examine how the literacy and mothering discourses women encountered in a family literacy program assisted or constrained them in enacting agency. Employing a narrative approach, combined with other methodological strategies (ethnographic observations, discourse analysis of program documents), the researcher gathered life history interviews from five Mexican immigrant mothers enrolled in an Even Start program. Their narratives demonstrated how the literacy and parenting discourses inherent in this educational program shaped some of their daily practices and self-perceptions. The findings demonstrate that the women used these discourses to expand their identities, to meet personal goals, and to gain greater power in some spheres of their life, such as relationships with their husbands and other family members. On the other hand, this study also elucidated how new discourses conflicted with their ethnic discourses, creating tension, contradictions, or added burdens. The study concludes that: 1) an expanded idea of agency is necessary to determine how learners navigate their educational and social lives; 2) discourses are simultaneously enabling and constraining, allowing opportunities for creativity, resistance, and identity development; and 3) educators and policymakers need to consider the consequences of the messages inherent in educational funding and programming.