Date of Award

Fall 2009

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas R Newkirk


This study describes white student talk about race in terms of performance. I show what white talk regarding race looked like in my study, thus inviting the reader to reflect on her own experiences in terms of performativity and common sense. Recognizing student talk as a complex performance enables us to introduce the practice of rhetorical listening into the classroom in order to encourage students with differing common senses to work toward mutual understanding.

The dissertation is based on an empirical multivocal study in which white first year writing students and teachers were asked to comment on a racial text, reflect on their commentary, and then discuss a video of a racial conversation among first year writing students. I argue that individuals draw on discourses when performing in order to demonstrate common sense while maintaining social relationships. White students' common sense is underwritten by epistemological ignorance of structural white privilege. The inability to recognize and validate assertions of white privilege is a result of this ignorance. I suggest the intent/effect heuristic as a functional practice of rhetorical listening. This practice can disrupt the weight of authority of common sense in order to reveal racial assumptions and privilege. I also reflect on this dissertation as my own performance of whiteness.