Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Joan Rhodes


This study utilizes Lave and Wenger’s (1991) communities of practice (COP) model to explore how ELLs navigate their positions within and between their many language learning communities. Drawing on Norton’s (1995, 2013) work on ELLs’ identity negotiation and Wenger’s 1998 work on the reinforcing impacts of identities between multiple COPs, this study explores what adults consider to be their COPs, how they perceive themselves within and between them, and how past, current, and imagined or possible COPs impact each other.

A constructivist, multiple case study design was used to focus on participants’ perceptions of their identity negotiation processes through their own narratives across three interviews and weekly audio-recorded self-reports. Eight adult ELLs participated in the study, and their narratives revealed the temporal and situational nature of their connections to past, present, and future identities as English learners, as professionals, and as members of their communities. They experienced persistent explicit and subtle barriers to participation in their COPs with native English speakers, including a range of linguistic gatekeeping strategies. The study revealed several themes of COP membership, in particular an identification with a larger, less concrete, immigrant group that lead the participants to focus their narratives and English-learning efforts on their ability to advocate for themselves and for other immigrants in the United States. Recommendations from the ELLs and the researcher are presented for a more holistic approach to adult ELL instruction that incorporates more of the multiple facets of ELLs’ learning trajectories in the target-language context.


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