(Re)Constructing Identities: South African Domestic Workers, English Language Learning, and Power
Anna Kaiper

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Minnesota

Primary Discipline

Domestic workers have played an essential role in the history of South Africa; and yet, current research neither explores the educational experiences of these women nor examines the ways in which national discourses surrounding language learning influence their educational motivations. My dissertation aims at ameliorating this dearth of research while simultaneously broadening global conceptions of adult language learners by focusing on the English language learning of older, Black, female, South African domestic workers. Drawing from ethnographically-based research, including interviews, observations, and life narratives over a three-year span, I find that female domestic workers’ motivations to learn English parallel larger desires of Black South Africans to associate English with the ability to recreate their own identities in post-apartheid South Africa. Utilizing poststructural theories of language, identity, and power (Bourdieu, 1991; Norton, 1997, 2013; Weedon, 1997) in connection with the theoretical and methodological framework of Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1992; 2015), my dissertation centers on the ways in which English, and its socio-historical link to power within South African education, influences these women’s (re)constructions of identity. By highlighting a group of women whose educational experiences remain underrepresented and unheard, my research seeks to enhance not only an understanding of the multifaceted aspects of adult education in South Africa, but also the ways in which the experiences of these women might further increase insight into the educational experiences and motivations of adult learners globally.
About Anna Kaiper
Anna is a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota studying Comparative and International Development Education through the Department of Organizational Leadership and Policy Development. She is originally from Espanola, New Mexico, but has lived throughout the United States as well as in Thailand, Argentina, and South Africa. While she began her career as an educator, and has taught both in the United States and internationally, her teaching experiences led to her current research interests concerning global language learning, adult education, and the connections between language, identity, and power. Her dissertation surrounds the English language learning of South African domestic workers drawing from both a postcolonial and poststructural framework. Anna holds a B.A. from Connecticut College in Psychology-Based Human Relations and a M.S. from Mercy College, New York City, in Urban Education with a certification in Special Education.

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