Sociology ETDs


Rebecca Beals

Publication Date



In this thesis, I examine the changing conceptualization of what is called the at-risk' or disadvantaged student from 1960-2009. Using components of theory on education as an institution, the construction of knowledge, and racial formation theory, I specifically argue that research reviews and federal policy serve as sites where these core concepts in educational discourse and policy continually go through a process of rearticulation and legitimation. I use one journal, the Review of Educational Research, to examine this relationship over 50 years, from 1960-2009. I use a quantitative content analysis of research abstracts to explore 1.) how the concept of the 'at-risk student' is rearticulated between 1960-2009 and 2) how this is possibly legitimated through research discourse and changing educational policy over changing sociopolitical climates. I do this by tracing the trajectory of the change in conceptualization with changing policy and political regimes. Twenty-one individual level categories defining the 'at-risk' students emerge and are tracked over time. I conclude by discussing how the relationship between research discourse on the 'at-risk student' and federal policy directed toward the 'at-risk' mutually influence each other using legitimating effects so that this concept remains a stable instrument to structure society. Implications for diversity are discussed.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Advisor

Lopez, Nancy

First Committee Member (Chair)

Lopez, Nancy

Second Committee Member

Ibarra, Roberto

Third Committee Member

Fiala, Robert


Children with social disabilities--Education, Youth with social disabilities--Education, Student assistance programs, Educational equalization



Document Type