English Ph.D. Dissertations


Resistance as Negotiation: Strategies and Tactics for Redefining Power Relationships in the Composition Classroom

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Advisor)


From an educational perspective, student resistance is often defined as any oppositional student behavior that protests or undermines oppressive educational practices, specifically practices that hinder what and how students learn. However, most of the literature on resistance tends to define resistance as a reductive, static entity which can be possessed by one person and studied from only one perspective or context – usually that of the classroom. This dissertation complicated this definition through a case study of a first year composition class looking at not only the instructor but two of its students as not individually representative of resistant behavior but in a power relationship, extending Michel Foucault’s definition of power to resistance. In particular, I viewed resistance as an important part of the power relationship between student and teacher, which both teacher and student equally engage in to form a type of negotiation – a type of dialogue created either indirectly through responsive actions or directly through verbal discourse. Furthermore, in examining resistance as a relationship, I also examined how other socio-political institutions outside the classroom also affect this relationship, specifically examining how students’ previous roles and relationships with knowledge, other writing teachers, classrooms, and pedagogies, as well as their families and their communities shape their resistances of disengagement. The conclusion of my case study emphasized the importance of instructors spending individual time with students to find out as much as possible about these previous relationships so that they can renegotiate relationships with students in ways that better fit the needs of the class, lessening the student’s need to resist through disengagement. In other words, in negotiating with students, teachers need to help students resist those previous roles that keep them from successfully inhabiting the roles of their writing class. However, in doing this, teachers also need to resist overly rigid traditional academic roles that may prevent them from meeting students’ needs. In fact, to fully negotiate, both students and teachers need to be flexible enough to at least partially inhabit each other’s roles and put themselves in the other’s place.