Working from the periphery towards full participation: Identity frames and social practices that shape women as academics

Date of Completion

January 2009


Women's Studies|Education, Higher




Despite the dramatic increase in women receiving doctoral degrees, minimal attention has been placed on how women's experiences both inside and outside academia have influenced their doctoral journeys. Consequently, there is very limited literature regarding how and why women's doctoral journeys assist them in becoming researchers, especially in the field of literacy education. The majority of studies on the topic of women in doctoral programs have focused on reasons women enter a Ph.D. program and challenges that they face as the move through their doctoral program. ^ The purpose of this research study is to understand the experiences of women who were working toward doctoral degrees in the field of literacy education and explore reasons they wished to become academic researchers, how they internalized and interpreted those reasons, their experiences with socialization into an educational research community of practice, and what processes they experienced as they constructed their new identities as researchers. Two women, ages 35 and 43, participated in this qualitative research study. Gee's Identity Theory (2000–2001) and Lave and Wenger's Legitimate Peripheral Participation (1991) provided a strong theoretical foundation for this study. The dominant methodology focuses around Seidman's (2006) three-round interviewing method as well as one focus group. The participant sample consists of two women who were navigating the doctoral process. Data were collected in the fall of 2008. ^ Findings reveal that the community of practice of educational research requires its members to become specific types of researchers (ones who obtain faculty positions at research institutions, acquire large amounts of grant money to conduct large scale research projects, and publish in top-tiered, peer-reviewed journals), networkers, presenters at national conferences, and supporters to other members of the community, with specific mentor expectations helping to define these roles. Furthermore, the rules, roles, expectations, and values that were required to become a legitimate member created conflict and tension with women's other identities, especially between the traditional roles society expected of them and their nascent roles as researchers. Possibilities for enhancing women's doctoral experience are discussed as well as implications of the research for women who wish to obtain a Ph.D. in literacy education and those advisors who will mentor them. ^