Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Janice Stuhlmann


The research investigated the phenomenon of listening in the context of adult literacy education. The purpose of this study was to explore and describe listening from the points of view of African American women who were teachers and adult learners in a welfare reform program. Using ethnography as a research methodology, this two-year study explored listening as it occurred in the Writing Class, a classroom culture that was situated in a Southern, inner-city adult learning center (Spindler & Spindler, 1982). The study investigated women's assumptions about listening, their own listening behaviors, and the behaviors they expected of listeners. An aim of this ethnography of listening was to discover and to describe women's meanings of listening and those patterns of behaviors that they associated with listening. Central to this study was a belief that listening is a primary language art that plays a major role in becoming literate, learning culture, and creating meaning. An assumption that listening is automatic, passive, and less socially relevant than speaking, reading, writing has been pervasive in Western culture (Purdy, 1989). By adopting a symbolic interactionist perspective, this research embraced the notion of listening as an active, interpretive aspect of human symbolization and meaning making. Significantly influencing this study are the notions that listening validates speaking (Escheverria, 1990:2) and listeners are authors of meanings (Pellowe, 1986). Presenting scholarship which challenges traditional notions of literacy as the ability to read and write (Langer, 1987; Jennings & Purves, 1991), this research also embraced notions of literacy as "cultural wisdom" (Biggs, 1991) and "communicative competence" (Purves, 1991).