Patrick Bruch

Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Dr. Richard Marback


This dissertation provides historical and theoretical analyses that demonstrate how liberal democratic ideals of individual autonomy and universal impartiality have shaped dominant conceptions of literacy. I further demonstrate the inadequacy of liberalism for addressing the relations of group oppression that define the color line in the United States. Building on this explication of the need for a theory and practice of democratic equality that can account for social groups as well as individuals, I explore contemporary post-liberal theories of communicative democracy. I find resources in these theories for models that define democracy through practices that enact solidarity, mutuality, and regard for group difference, but find that these theories are each constrained, in different ways, by the distance between the practices that they promote and the forms of suffering and powerlessness experienced by the victims of currently dominant models. My concluding chapter addresses contemporary composition studies, discussing the democratic prospects of literacy from a perspective that I call "critical compassion."