A Narrative Inquiry into Cultural Discontinuity: The Case of Iranian Students in the United States

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Summer 2023


Cultural discontinuity is recognized as a culturally motivated academic process where sociocultural behaviors and communicative skills valued in the home culture of students are discontinued at school thus resulting in their low academic performance. This process may be reinforced by structural inequality in the mainstream society and education system. In this study, I employed narrative inquiry methodology to explore the experience of cultural discontinuity among an understudied population, that is, Iranians who are or have pursued their education in a United States university after the 1979 revolution in Iran. First, I collected narrative data through semi-structured interviews. In the data collection process, I explored the very experience of cultural discontinuity as well as two other major experiences which inform cultural discontinuity, that is, participants’ native culture socialization and the experience of living as a minority in American society. Next, I analyzed the content of the data and identified a few overarching themes that characterized the narratives. In addition to culturally motivated discontinuities which were highlighted in previous scholarship, in the current study, I observed two new kinds of discontinuities, namely, linguistic and communicative discontinuities that developed out of Iranian students’ non-native knowledge of English language and contributed to communicative challenges in American academia. This observation is the main significance of the current study as the previous scholarship is mainly focused on cultural dimensions of cultural discontinuity rather than its linguistic aspects. Furthermore, the participants in this research didn’t receive significantly discriminatory treatment by American mainstream society or American academia despite the Iran-United States hostile relationships since the 1979 revolution (which escalated after the hostage crisis and is highlighted in previous scholarship). The findings of this research point to inclusion and communicative accommodation as important practices in the process of academic socialization for students who are both culturally and linguistically diverse. In the process of socialization into American academia, the participants drew on such resources in the academic setting as professors, peers, on-campus writing center, or technological facilities. Furthermore, in interaction with the academic setting, they took agency, drew on their own resources, and actively participated in second culture and language academic socialization.


Christian F. Hempelmann

Subject Categories

Education | Higher Education | Social and Behavioral Sciences