Title: Old Believer Women in a Postmodern World: Changing Literacy, Changing Lives
Author: Elizabeth Graber
Where you can find it: This dissertation has not been published. I was lucky enough to obtain an interlibrary loan copy from one of the two US libraries that has it.
Audience: Compositionists, scholars interested in literacy studies and qualitative research.
Genre: Qualitative research: case study/ethnography.
Epistemology: Post-positivistic—Graber finds “themes” rather than hypotheses. The research is very specific to the Old Believers, so the dissertation would not be read as generalizable to literacy in other contexts.
General focus: Graber examines literacy in the lives of women of the Old Believer sect who have enrolled in classes at the community college where she teaches. She seeks to determine how their newly acquired literacies affect their lives.
Research questions: Graber lists the following research questions:
- What is motivating Alaska’s Old Believer women to pursue higher education?
- How does advancing their literacy impact their roles and self-perceptions as women in this highly traditional culture intent on preserving cultural boundaries while being unavoidably exposed to modern culture and ways of thinking?
- How does expanding their literacy enhance their lives and/or create conflicts and complications? (64) She links these research questions to three paradoxes:
- Their desire to preserve their 17th century cultural values against the backdrop of rapid technological and social change.
- Their desire to pursue higher education in contrast to the inherent complications that becoming "better education" creates in their lives.
- The impact of conflicted cultural views that education is a woman's responsibility rather than an inherent "right." (53)
The dissertation has no traditional literature review; rather, Graber offers a 10-page "Conceptual Framework" chapter which lays out her approach to literacy.
Methodology: Graber included both quantitative and qualitative data. In addition to the extensive data she gathered on her six main subjects, she interviewed principles of schools in Old Believer villages, located articles in the media about literacy in the villages, and interviewed faculty at her own community college. After interviewing the six subjects, she selected three to follow even more closely, shadowing them at work and in their daily lives. Graber claims that the diversity of sources she draws upon helped her with triangulation. She also triangulated via “follow-up contacts, member checks, peer debriefings, and negative case analysis” (78).
The Research found: Graber organizes her findings around 7 themes: Legacies of literacy & work, Attitudes toward education, Technology, Internal and external motivations for pursuing higher education, Perceived benefits of higher education, Conflicts and complications, and The paradox of literacy.
- The researcher was both very well-informed about the Old Believers and sympathetic to them.
- The research (both background/context and the case studies themselves) was detailed and specific.
- The dissertation was interesting and well-written.
- I’m not sure how this information would help anyone else unless they were also working with Old Believers or some similarly conservative sect (i.e. Amish).
- It does not seem that those doing qualitative research on literacy and women can come up with many findings other than that literacy gives them more agency.
- Much of the tone and findings are nearly identical to Sohn’s dissertation of two years earlier.