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Title:"Stories from our people": immigrants, brokers, and literacy as affinity
Author(s):Mihut, Ligia
Director of Research:Prendergast, Catherine J.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Prendergast, Catherine J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Haas Dyson, Anne; Vieira, Kate; Hitchins, Keith
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:An ethnographic study of literacy histories of Romanian (im)migrants in the U.S., my dissertation explores the role of literacy brokers in the context of the transnational movement of people and texts. While recent scholarly accounts of literacy brokers—defined as individuals assisting others with writing—approach brokers mainly for their instrumental role as translators, editors, or scribes, my study proposes that literacy brokers’ emotional work of mediation must be further explored. I argue that literacy brokers perform mediation through what I call “literacy as affinity.” “Literacy as affinity,” an emotional discursive repertoire, comprises empathetic language, personal stories, and social connections embedded in the literate experience. Literacy as affinity intervenes in contexts of people’s mobility in spaces of in-betweenness, of transitions, and gaps in one’s experience. In doing so, it creates bridges of communication but also provides a sustainable infrastructure for one’s learning. In this study, I approach the brokers’ work of affinity in multiple contexts—local communities, schools, libraries, and courtrooms—and through the lens of various types of brokers such as the state, community members, and various organizations. Drawing on thirty-two literacy history interviews, textual artifacts (travel documents, personal writings/ notes, advertisements for community events, ethnic newspapers), and archival research in Romania, I show how brokers’ work of affinity is experienced both as a loss and recovery of familiar texts, languages, and contexts. With each chapter, I follow the immigrant journey. After providing an overview of transnational mobility in the Introduction, in Chapter two I start my analysis of literacy brokers in Romania where the immigrant story begins. I emphasize the role of the totalitarian Romanian state in managing people’s affinities for the nation through literacy. Following the immigrant journey, in Chapter three and four I discuss the brokers’ emotional investment as it unfolds in the lives of political refugees (Chapter three) and economic immigrants (Chapter four). The regulation of the personal through documents and institutional bureaucracies creates spaces of in-betweenness where brokers intervene to facilitate mediation. Such spaces may be marked by lack of English knowledge, limited familiarity with documents or legal writing, or gaps in cultural knowledge. In Chapter five, I examine the writing researcher as a broker and various affinities developed through personal, institutional, national or international affiliations. In this dissertation, I argue that literacy brokers and their use of literacy as affinity provide a compelling case for why literacy education must acknowledge individual needs rather than instrumental ways to accomplish educational goals. At a time when universities try to acclimatize to digital, open courses and mass migration, my dissertation suggests that literacy brokers’ work of affinity serves both as a motivational support and a driving engine in accomplishing literate actions. To this end, literacy as affinity can offer a sustainable system for the literate experience, as it concerns the entire process of one’s literacy trajectory, both in and out of school. Sustainability and transfer are current concerns in education and this study offers a small intervention in this area by directing attention to the role of emotions in learning.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Ligia Mihut
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
Date Deposited:2014-05

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