Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name



Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor

Phyllis Whitin


This qualitative study explored how six secondary English students imagined definitions and redefinitions of themselves through encounters with self and other within the context of semiotic engagements with literature. A conceptual lens for exploring these imaginary spaces was fashioned by the braiding together of current trends from philosophy, critical theory, feminist theory, literary theory, and semiotic theory. These braided theories guided the research design. This conceptual frame allowed an investigation of the ways the interplay of alterity, the radical difference between self and other, and literature study created imaginary domains where the students could fashion definitions and re-definitions of self. Over a twelve-week period the students read and responded to texts within the context of semiotic theory. Data collected included: field notes, observations, student artifacts, and interviews.

Poetic representations described the fluidity of self-definitions that emerged in the context of the literature study. These poetics made the voices of the students' central to this study. Composed by each student with guidance from the researcher and comprised entirely from excerpts from interview data, the poetics served as the primary findings for this study. The six poetics revealed unique journeys of each student's exploration of self. A narrative analysis of the poetics revealed that the challenges to and conditions for the exploration of self blended to create and sustain imaginary spaces within which students could explore the fluidity of self-definition/ redefinition.