Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Learning Sciences

Committee Member

Dr. Phillip M. Wilder, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Matthew Boyer

Committee Member

Dr. Mikel Cole

Committee Member

Dr. Jacquelynn Malloy


Many gaps exist in the research on refugee students in general, with the overall portrayal in the literature presenting a school experience in which refugees struggle academically, socially, and emotionally (Roxas, 2008; McBrien, 2005; Lerner, 2012; Lustig, 2004; Smith & Halbert, 2013). Current research discusses social and linguistic struggles frequently, and highlights the need for schools to acknowledge refugees’ backgrounds and draw on their linguistic repertoires to aid their acquisition of the English language (Cummins, 2005; Cummins, et al., 2006; Gutierrez, Baquedano-Lopez, & Tejeda, 1999; Gutierrez, Baquedano-Lopez, Alvarez, & Chiu, 1999). Little has been done to uncover who refugees are as individuals, what literacy skills they possess, and their experiences navigating a new and unfamiliar culture and language. Developing and modifying programs aimed at helping refugee students succeed in school necessitates in-depth understanding of their experiences, their identities, and influences on identity negotiation. No research study has explored the experiences, literacies and identities of refugee students in-depth, and none has used Bhabha’s cultural hybridity theory as a lens to do so. This study explored the literacies, identities, and navigation of cultural borders of three refugee high school students in the Southeastern region of the United States. It aimed to answer the following research questions: How are these students literate? What identities do they enact as a result of their interaction with and negotiation of cultural borders? What use of hybridity is apparent in their experiences and in their current identities as individuals? And, how do these students use language as a tool to mediate identity? Using a case study design, qualitative data was collected during formal and informal interviews with all three boys over the course of one school semester. During this duration, observations were conducted of two of the boys in various contexts, where field notes were taken and analytical memos were recorded. Data was examined using Bhabha's cultural hybridity theory, as well as sociocultural understandings of literacy (Street, 2014; Wilder, 2015) and critical perspectives towards identity (Norton, 1997). Findings illuminated these boys' literacy skills, identities, and experiences at the cultural borders, including linguistic ones. In doing so, this study also opens up questions for further research focused on refugee students, their identities, and experiences.



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