Whiteness in teacher education discourses: An analysis of the discursive usage and meaning making of the term cultural diversity


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OsloMet Avhandling;2019, nr 4


OsloMet - Oslo Metropolitan University

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In this PhD thesis, I study the workings of Whiteness in teacher education discourses through the usage and meaning making of one term: cultural diversity. As such, I draw attention to the importance of a minimal and assumingly unimportant aspect of Our habitual social communication. A basic presumption herein is that the imperial and colonial legacy of race and racism remains a historical pedagogy of amnesia that manifests through subtle discursive patterns in Our everyday dysconscious racist usage and meaning making of terms. To study the usage and meaning making of terms is important because conceptualisations of terms constituted in knowledge-producing institutions work through educational curricula and practice, and teachers’ dispositions are fundamentally about meaning making related to feelings that affect pedagogical behaviour in ways that ultimately effect social and racial justice. The workings of Whiteness are interrogated through the usage and meaning making of cultural diversity produced in educational discourses via three discursive knowledgepromoting domains of teacher education: (1) international research articles, (2) policy and curriculum documents, and (3) teacher educator interview transcripts. The thesis includes four articles: one critical interpretative literature review, one policy and curriculum document analysis, and two discourse analyses of individual teacher educator interviews. In the first article, I review the use and meaning making of cultural diversity across 67 international research studies on teacher education published in the period of 2004–2014. In this analysis, I find that cultural diversity is generally not defined but is related to a set of other undefined terms. Moreover, cultural diversity (and its related set of terms) is used extensively as part of binary oppositional discourses that, on the one hand, represent cultural diversity through notions of detriment – of racialisation and Othering, difference and inferiority – and, on the other hand, represent student teacher(s) and student(s) through notions of privilege and assumptions of superiority. Based on these findings, I discuss how the undefined nature of cultural diversity and its usage, as part of binary oppositional discourses, reveal how cultural diversity is assumed to be about a racialised Other (contrary to student teacher(s) and student(s)) in teacher education research discourses. I argue that this discursive production is one way in which Whiteness works through researchers’ discursive practices of division and exclusion, produced by their initial dysconscious choices and investments in terms. I also argue that this extensive practice of Othering is “evidence” of the way in which Whiteness is persistently promoted through a discursive ideology of White supremacy produced in articles that generally claim to promote social justice. In the second article, I analyse the usage and meaning making of cultural diversity in six Norwegian policy and curriculum documents considered to be part of the 2010 teacher education reform. In this analysis, I find (similar to the findings of the review article) that cultural diversity is neither explicitly elaborated on nor defined according to its ubiquity of usage but is related to and used interchangeably with a set of other undefined terms that all connote notions of Otherness. However, in this article, the main focus is on the finding related to how Whiteness – in the way it works through the usage and meaning making of cultural diversity – is manifested in three discursive patterns of representation. Importantly, these patterns highlight (1) three hierarchically arranged pupil group categories, (2) descriptions that place these pupil group categories as either superior Norwegian or as inferior non- Norwegian, and (3) the role of student teachers as political actors of assimilation. In this article, I point to how these discursive patterns of representation – despite being covered by a polished surface representing the Norwegian self-image as one of peace, solidarity, and egalitarianism, part of the Nordic Model and Nordic Exceptionalism – work together in subtly racist ways, thus promoting ideas of assimilation as racial stratification that, in turn, supports an overall ideology of White Norwegian supremacy. In the third article, we (my supervisors and I) analyse the usage and meaning making of cultural diversity in transcripts of individual interviews with 12 teacher educators. Treating the transcripts as empirical data, we find that cultural diversity is used through a double meaning making pattern that, on the one hand, gives meaning to cultural diversity as explicitly positive, important, and desirable for teacher education. Yet, on the other hand, the term is assumed to be about the Other, who is subtly represented as negative and challenging, cognitively less developed (than an assumed Us), and knowledgeless. Based on these findings, we suggest that when cultural diversity is explicitly represented as something positive, important, and desirable in Norwegian teacher education, this pattern of meaning making, precisely because it rests on subtler assumptions and meaning of cultural diversity as a racialised Other, can be interpreted to mirror the “ideal” Whiteness way in which cultural diversity ought to be represented. Importantly, despite teacher educators seeming to express their wish to approach cultural diversity in positive and inclusive ways, their dysconscious usage and meaning making of the term nonetheless produce discursive patterns of Othering and exclusion that reflect the opposite. Related to these findings, we question whether student teachers’ subtle learnings about cultural diversity, obtained through their teacher education programmes, may influence their future teaching. In the fourth article, we (my supervisors and I) draw on the same sets of data as in previous Article 3 and analyse these using a socio-cognitive linguistic theoretical framework. In this article, we analyse how teacher educators use cultural diversity and reflect on what their discursive practices might tell us about their conceptual understanding of it. Based on the analysis of the transcribed interview data, we find that teacher educators talk about cultural diversity as something relating to pupils and parents who are considered different from themselves culturally, socially, linguistically, cognitively, “migrationally”, visibly, and religiously. Thus, we theorise that teacher educators talk about cultural diversity through seven discourse practices of Othering (DPOs). We point to how teacher educators, when they talk about cultural diversity in this way, create two binary oppositional groups. Herein, the teacher educators are placed in an Us-group, represented implicitly and described as “ordinary”, and those whom they view as fitting into the cultural diversity category are placed in the Other-group, represented explicitly and described as “unordinary”. We argue that teacher educators need more than an appreciation of diversity to counteract discrimination and inequality created through the usage and meaning making of terms such as cultural diversity. In this thesis’ extended abstract discussion chapter, I discuss and compare the four articles’ main findings in relation to the wider Norwegian and international context. Here, I outline two main points of this thesis: (1) how the usage of assumingly “innocent” terms might work to support already wider social patterns of White supremacy and (2) how Whiteness actually works in a “glocal” manner. That is, I argue that the core workings of Whiteness are quite similar irrespective of national context – at least within so-called Western countries: It discursively constructs a discursive object of racialised Otherness, whilst simultaneously maintaining a polished surface mirroring ideas of Us (Whites) as supreme. Importantly, this surface covers the realities of Our “dirty and violent” past and, hence, “blinds” Us to unjust patterns of the present. Drawing on discourse theoretical methodologies and critical Whiteness political perspectives, the findings of this PhD-thesis contribute to empirically documenting how the historical pedagogy of amnesia – the legacy of imperialism and colonialism – currently works through the dysconscious usage and meaning making of assumingly “innocent” terms, such as cultural diversity. The findings reveal how this, in turn, produces “hidden” racialised discursive patterns that constitute discursive objects of Otherness, which simultaneously, implicitly, and subtly construct ideas of Us as subjects and, as such, centre the workings of Whiteness as a discursive ideology of White supremacy. Methodologically, the thesis contributes a discursive methodology for performing a discursive micro-analysis of the workings of Whiteness to the field of teacher education, both nationally and internationally. Specifically, it also contributes to a “protocol”, a step-by-step description of the analytical strategies that can be applied by research peers in future analyses of empirical textual data. The thesis contributes a thorough theorisation of the concept of Whiteness as a discursive ideology of White supremacy to the field of teacher education research by combining poststructural perspectives on discourse with critical perspectives on Whiteness. In the Norwegian context in particular, it contributes to the research by introducing Whiteness as a theoretical and analytical tool that allows researcher 8and other political knowledge-promoting actors) of teacher education for “seeing” how the legacy of imperialism and colonialism – of race and racism – currently works through subtle discursive practices of Othering and exclusion.




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  • https://hdl.handle.net/10642/6730