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The social construction of whiteness: Teacher power, personhood and performance in the classroom

Julia Ruth Johnson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


In this dissertation, I examine the ways white women teachers construct whiteness as they teach students of primarily Asian, African and Latina/o heritage. The primary purpose of this study is to conduct a preliminary examination of how white women construct whiteness as an embodied racial identity in educational contexts. More specifically, my goal is to examine how whiteness is constructed through narrative and to critique how the constructions of whiteness perpetuate and/or resist the discourse of white supremacy. To frame the study of teacher narratives, I draw on theory from critical pedagogy, communication education, interpersonal/intercultural communication and critical cultural studies. Furthermore, I employ a critical-interpretive methodology to examine how teachers construct their personhood within complex relationships of power. This methodology is practiced through the use of three methods: Interactive classroom observations, dialogic interviewing and narrative analysis. Five women teaching at a Southern California high school acted as "co-researchers" during this study. Herein, I interpret their narratives in order to understand how whiteness is constructed within the stories each teacher tells about her personhood/identity, the stories teachers tell about the personhood/identity of the students she teaches and how each teacher accounts for her relationship and the relationship of her students to the social world. Titular terms include whiteness, personhood/identity, narrative, critical pedagogy, communication education, intercultural communication and critical cultural studies.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Womens studies|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|School administration|Educational sociology|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Johnson, Julia Ruth, "The social construction of whiteness: Teacher power, personhood and performance in the classroom" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9809350.