Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication

First Advisor

Ruth Laurion Bowman


This study analyzes the personal narrative of Mary Rhyne, an elderly African American domestic worker. The study describes the ethnographic process of collecting, transcribing and interpreting the informant's oral history. Interpretive and theoretical perspectives concerned with African American culture, domestic labor, and feminist practice are used to analyze the narrative. Further, the ethnographic process, the informant's oral "telling," and the events that she recalls and recounts are viewed as, and in terms of, performance. Performance foregrounds the collaborative and "fictional" aspects of the ethnographer-informant relationship. It directs attention toward the "performance event" as a site and situation where the teller reconstructs her past in the present and by means of culture-specific ways of speaking. In particular, Mary Rhyne draws on expressions and practices that are common to the African American Signifyin' and Gospel performance traditions. In turn, the study examines how these culture-specific ways of speaking about domestic labor operate in light of contemporary social labor theories and African American feminist theories. In sum, Mary Rhyne's performance--as a woman, an African American and a domestic worker--is viewed as its own theory in practice.