Liberation Literacies: An Archival and Ethnographic Study of Black Literate Lives Across Time
CoCo Massengale

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Stanford University

Primary Discipline

Literacy and/or English/Language Education
For the past 400 years, Black people have been cast as criminal readers, nonreaders, reluctant readers, struggling readers, and similar labels of deficit. ​​While many studies have documented and disputed the hegemonic narrative of Black deficiency, little research challenges the assumption that slavery is anything more than distal history in the literate lives of Black people today. Drawing on theories of temporal nonlinearity that interpret contemporary Black experiences through the lens of slavery and its afterlives, this multi-method dissertation explores the ways Black people both historically and presently are positioned and (re)position themselves in relation to literacy. Beginning with the Federal Writers’ Project Slave Narratives, I conduct a three-phase analysis to uncover the literacy experiences and longings of formerly enslaved people. I then put this analysis in conversation with data from a year-long ethnographic study in which I serve as a participant-observer of 13 Black children’s literate lives in and out of school. This synthesis of archival and ethnographic data offers a unique perspective into the throughlines between the barriers to literacy faced by both enslaved people and Black children today, as well their shared literacy practices and aspirations for the future.
About CoCo Massengale
CoCo Massengale is a doctoral candidate at Stanford University in the Graduate School of Education’s program in Race, Inequality, and Language in Education, with a minor in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. Her research explores the racialization of literacy and sits at the intersection of literacy studies, the history of education, and Black Studies. CoCo is a founding member of Stanford’s group on Critical Studies of Blackness in Education for which she received the James W. Lyon’s Award for Service in 2022. Her dissertation work, Literacies for Liberation: An Archival and Ethnographic Study of Black Literate Lives Across Time, has been funded by various research bodies and institutions, including Stanford University’s Vice Provost for Graduate Education and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. CoCo received her BA in Sociology from Stanford in 2009 and spent 10 years as a researcher at a not-for-profit organization before returning to pursue a doctorate. When she’s not reading, writing, or teaching, you can find her spectating women’s sports or battling campus wildlife with her beloved dog Junior.

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