Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career, and Higher Education

Major Professor

William H. Young, Ed.D.

Co-Major Professor

Rosemary Closson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Linda Evans, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Derek Mulenga, Ph.D.


Literacy, Grounded theory, Women, International, Change


This multiple case study focused on the lives and experiences of four women who participated in an adult literacy program. This case study approach used critical ethnography as an analytic tool employing grounded theory leading to the development of a substantive theory. In-depth, semi-structured interviews and researcher's reflective journal were employed to collect data for this study that critically examined the impact of the transformative process of its participants and its influence on their socio-cultural context. Results revealed that participants did not necessarily experience a disorienting dilemma as contended by Mezirow (1978, 1991, and 2000). Rather participants experienced a series of integrating circumstances that led to the transformative experience. Moreover, the study indicated that unlike Mezirow's assumption that individuals need to have a high cognitive or educational level to experience a transformation these participants with little or no education experienced a transformation.

Overall, the purpose of this study was to generate grounded theory on the impact of the transformative experience on the participants and their socio-cultural context. From the findings of the study, a substantive theory emerged revealing profound changes: a metamorphosis. Thus, the substantive theory is: Metamorphosis: Given the opportunity to shift frames of reference, one has the innate capacity to alter one's life and impact one's socio-cultural context creating possibilities for self and others.

In light of this, all participants related experiences that reflect the core elements of transformative learning as first posited by Mezirow. These elements included exploration of new roles or actions, self-confidence in new roles, development of a plan of action and reintegration into life based on their new frames of reference.

Major themes that emerged from the data are self-esteem and assertiveness, discovery of self, great personal sacrifice, development of sense of possibility for self and family, beliefs and values, increased spirituality, self-sufficiency, role model, opportunity for social action. As the women became empowered, the changes affected their socio-cultural context resulting in changes with their children, family and community.

Finally, this study has far-reaching implications for policy-makers and practitioners in particular for strategic improvement of life for low-income families and family relationships. These findings can serve as the impetus to improve the disintegration of family values triggering a positive impact on entire communities.