Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice

Document Type



A dominant Western historical reproductive narrative has constructed our knowledge of the “at risk” student body. Sustained through a metaphor of family, historical representations construct at risk as a matter of familial inheritance, through genetics, culture, or socioeconomic status. While at risk labels have changed over time, historical memory of at risk remains centered on a deficit-view of the family, while absolving social responsibility. This linear conception of “at risk” discourse disallows an interrogation of other systemic factors that can challenge or sustain the historical construction of the “at risk” body. This dissertation draws upon poststructural, narrative, and curriculum theories to consider how “at risk” as a discourse is negotiated in the lives of working class youth participating in a summer program, Louisiana State Youth Opportunities Unlimited (LSYOU). Specifically, this project assumes that experience is mediated by multiple factors: language as discursive practices, relationships with institutional gatekeepers, and environmental culture. Through a reconsideration of the notions “public and private” synonymous with “state and family” I attempt to disrupt historical memory. The data collected for this dissertation include audio recorded and transcribed interviews with students and institutional gatekeepers, student journal entries, public access websites, and field notes. After coding data, I used narrative analytic methods to generate thematic themes; however, I also used a dialogic approach (Riessman, 2008) to consider individual narratives to explicate themes more in-depth. I also incorporate a discursive methodology of multiple voices in dialogue (Morrison, 2004), to consider alternative ways of understanding experience as discourse practice. The findings revealed specific practices enable the negotiation of at risk as a discourse as participants moved from private to public spaces. Student narratives suggested language structures reality, with many implications for their social networking accumulation process. Program narratives revealed specific strategies that aid in the negotiation of at risk discourse, such as an understanding of students’ language of interaction, knowledge of institutional barriers that students from working-class backgrounds face, and a commitment to relationality. The LSYOU Family as a discursive social structure suggests a way to negotiate the dominant historical deficit narrative that plagues “at risk” youth.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Mitchell, Roland W.



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Education Commons