The articulation of identity, power and emotions in contemporary education. A study of how teachers’ bodies of work are conceptualised in an urban, high-poverty school in England, using critical discourse analysis

Student thesis: Doctor of Education


This thesis reports on a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of interviews with four teachers from a secondary school in a high-poverty context in the North of England. It builds on earlier conceptualisations of the term bodies of work in education that have denoted, according to Comber (2016) and Hayes (2016), the complex and cumulative acquisition of skills, attributes processes and practices of teachers, into an A“uvre or body of work that exemplifies highly contextualised and effective pedagogies for students living in poverty. However, as a critical scholar, this preliminary interpretation of bodies of work, is reconfigured in this thesis to illuminate how power, prevalent truths and logic, or uncontested norms, as well as tools of neoliberal governance, discursively constitute and are constituting of teachers’ practice in the modern era. The conceptualisation is further extended to analyse how identity and emotions are configured within specific orders of discourse, as bounded linguistic conventions, when teachers talk about their work. From a theoretical perspective, the focus on identity particularly draws from Foucault’s (1982, 1988) notion of subjectification and developed by Butler (1995, 1997) to explicate how neoliberal tools of governance have discursively shaped contemporary teacher subjects. Integral to this conceptualisation of self, emotions can be seen as a form of working subjectivity (Zembylas, 2003a, 2003b & Kitching, 2009) that are shaped, not only by individualised feelings, but also by discursive representations of teachers and normalising power. Methodologically, the research design is informed by Fairclough’s (2010) explanatory critique (p.226), based on a dialectical-relational approach CDA that explores language in relation to other non-discursive social practices. Central to the approach is the exploration of a social wrong, in its semiotic form. As a social wrong, this thesis explores how discourses emanating from ideologically driven policy and practice, based on specific neoliberal notions of social justice associated with meritocracy, have deepened inequalities for students and their teachers. Concomitantly, teacher effectiveness is becoming increasingly characterised by a technicist approach to teaching. Within this discursive positioning, practices, values and emotions legitimise normative neoliberal ideologies, stultify professional development and silence alternative democratic approaches to education. As a way of illuminating the social wrong, data were generated from ten interviews with four teacher participants and subsequently analysed using Fairclough’s (2010) framework using three, interrelated dimensions: Text, Discursive Practice and Social Practice. The findings revealed that teachers articulated very similar bodies of work within the institution, in terms of institutionally ‘authorised’ classroom practice. These pedagogies are firmly rooted within a positivist, evidence-based paradigm that privileges de-contextualised, standardised and psychologised practices associated with business and performativity discourses. Findings also revealed teachers’ articulations of ‘self’ reflected many of the teacher contemporary professional representations found in literature and yet were not homogenised in the orders of discourse associated with their identity, values and emotions. They often drew on individualised experiences and biographies. Indeed, although identity and emotions were configured in ways that were subject to dominant, regulating discourses, they also revealed, concomitantly, some resistant to power, when performing their subjectification. From theoretical, methodological and empirical perspectives, this thesis contributes to knowledge: it has developed a more complex understanding of articulations of subjectification in the discursive shaping of the neoliberal teacher. It also offers insights, using CDA, into how teachers articulate their feelings as part of th
Date of Award1 Aug 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorCarlo Raffo (Supervisor) & Carl Emery (Supervisor)


  • Poverty
  • education
  • pedagogies
  • Critical Discourse Analysis
  • Subjectification
  • Emotions

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