The social and discursive construction of itinerant farm workers' children as literacy learners.

Henderson, Robyn Wendy (2005) The social and discursive construction of itinerant farm workers' children as literacy learners. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Using a case study approach, this study examined the social and discursive construction of itinerant farm workers’ children as literacy learners within a North Queensland primary school. By focusing on six case study families who enrolled at the school during two winter harvesting seasons, the study analysed the narratives of teachers and of families in order to yield insights into the fields of educational itinerancy and literacy. Defining literacy as a social practice, the study was framed within cultural-critical understandings of literacy, and critical discourse and poststructuralist theories. By using these to theorise the social world and literacy learning within it, the research examined the social and discursive constructions of the itinerant farm workers’ children within the sociocultural contexts of the school and its local community. Drawing on Fairclough’s (1989, 2001c) text- interaction-context model, the study used critical discourse analysis to conduct textual and social analyses of interview transcripts and selected documents. The study found that teachers’ narratives about itinerant farm workers’ children were predominantly negative, constructing itinerant children, their families and their lifestyles in deficit and stereotypical terms. The taken- for-granted assumption that an itinerant lifestyle impacted negatively on children’s literacy learning meant that teachers had low academic expectations of the children. In addition, the children’s families were frequently viewed as culpable for the difficulties that their children experienced. Many of the teachers’ narratives reflected community stories about farm workers and wider societal stories about families of low socio-economic status. Although there were some positive stories in circulation within both the school and community contexts, these were very much in the minority. The families’ narratives provided "another take" on the events and practices that were so often read as negative by those more permanently located in the school and community. In providing insights into what it meant to be itinerant, the families highlighted their attempts to balance education with lifestyle and to fit into the town where they were residing temporarily. These stories demonstrated that the families’ practices were often very different from the commonsense assumptions of teachers and community members. The study concludes that a reconceptualisation of the literacy learning needs of itinerant farm workers’ children should look beyond the school and take account of the social and cultural contexts of the children and their families. Such an approach should help to shift the focus away from deficits and stories of blame, towards an exploration of the literacy strengths that itinerant children bring to school. By disrupting deficit views, teachers should be better placed to focus on responsive and flexible pedagogies for enabling children to achieve demonstrable and sustainable learning outcomes in school literacy learning.

Item ID: 34
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Itinerant farm workers’ children, Literacy learners, North Queensland, Primary school, Educational itinerancy, Poststructuralist theories, Social and discursive constructions, Critical discourse analysis
Date Deposited: 21 Aug 2006
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160809 Sociology of Education @ 50%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1604 Human Geography > 160403 Social and Cultural Geography @ 50%
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