Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Mary Frances HopKins


This study uses an ethnographic approach to examine the stories told by members of a group home for men with mental retardation. The author contends that the culture of the group home works to constrain how group home members interact within this community. The author argues, however, that despite the cultural constraints, the men use storytelling to establish their individuality, even though the stories themselves, in their content and in the performance of their telling, often reify cultural constraints and their cultural constructions. The author recounts how she, as ethnographer, interacted within this community. After identifying, describing, and analyzing eight communication situations and reviewing the existing literature on Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Mental Retardation, the author identifies the two cultural codes that influence communication within this community: compliance and self-reliance. Compliance functions as the dominant code; self-reliance, an ancillary code. Next, the author examines the imperializing function of member storytelling. Imperialized tellings generate and reproduce the group home's culture, patterns of speaking, and status differentials. The author identifies a number of status-related subject positions created through storytelling: privileged teller, simultaneous teller, enforced teller, preferred listener, and enforced listener. Direct Care Workers assume subject positions of privileged teller and preferred listener, markers of status within this community. Group home members assume subject positions of enforced teller, enforced listener, and simultaneous teller, marking their status as occupants of the lowest social position within this community. The author examines the localizing function of member storytelling. Localized tellings are those tellings where a resident remembers or imagines identities, communities, cultures and patterns of interaction outside the space of the group home. The residents used localized tellings as a way to reclaim their individuality. Group home members are capable of performing a number of roles: cultural constructions (group home member, one who complies, one who acts in a self-reliant manner), narrative constructions (self-reliant narrators, compliant narrators, enforced tellers, enforced listeners, and simultaneous tellers), and localized constructions (personas of their own making). The group home members, although they share common identities and living spaces, maintain their senses of individuality.