Grassroots democracy in process: Ethnographic writing as democratic action

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication and Rhetorical Studies


James Zebroski


Grassroots democracy, Ethnographic, Democratic action, Composition pedagogy

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


This study argues that ethnographic writing, conducted collaboratively among teachers and students, evokes a grassroots environment in which processes of ethnographic research and writing democratize relations among participants. Other pedagogies claim that they transform students into active participants in cultures or communities; this project rethinks that claim by rejecting the founding assumption of most radical pedagogics that students need to be "transformed," asserting instead that students are already engaged in democratic practices. I contend that refiguring teacher-student and teaching-research relations according to principles that emerge from radical and postmodern anthropology and from cultural studies extends the possibilities for grassroots political action. Using qualitative action research and teacher research methodologies to work with students doing ethnographic writing, the study examines the multiple and sometimes conflicting ways that practices of writing, reading, teaching, learning, and researching interact in an ethnographic writing classroom. These interactions demonstrate a way of seeing writing and writing instruction that allows us to construe qualitative research and cultural studies as engaged in a common project--extending the field's conception of the social and the possibilities of writing for affecting change within various social settings.