Dominance and Subordination: A Case study of Race, Identity and Pedagogy in Higher Education

  • Nick Cartwright

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study investigates the impact of social constructivist teaching methodology on the learning experiences of students. Using a case study approach this study evaluates how students ‘participate’ in group and team learning activities. Drawing on critical pedagogy and the Critical Legal Studies (CLS) tradition it investigated which students were dominant and subordinate during the learning activities. Focusing on the narrative of colourblind and gender-blind meritocracy which is the dominant ideology of education policy it evaluates how the students described these activities and whether they perceived any power relations. To frame the case study within the context of the case study institution it also evaluated how staff within the institution described learning and teaching and whether they perceived a colour-blind and genderblind meritocracy. Due to an institutional priority it adopted Team-Based Learning™ (TBL) as the social constructivist methodology.

This study was based on a case study and the data was collected using classroom observations, structured interviews with selected students and, semi-structured interviews with members of staff. The data was analysed using thematic, content and, thematic narrative analysis. This study found that gender did influence the social relations of dominance and subordination, but that race was the dominant driver. White students almost always took relations of dominance and did so more when black students were present. The presence of blackness was more influential on students adopting social relations of dominance than any other observed factor. Black students rarely demonstrated relations of dominance and all did take relations of subordination. Mixed-race and Asian students also tended towards relations of subordination. The study further found that all the students did not report these social relations, instead reporting that power relations were based on merit and democracy. The students and the staff all described a colour-blind and gender-blind meritocracy, explaining away any inequalities on other grounds such as socio-economic deprivation, SEN (Special Educational Needs) or, personal choice.

This study concludes by recommending that the primacy of race should be acknowledged, whilst recognising intersectionality. That the endemic nature of racism and male dominance within Higher Education should be acknowledged. That reflexivity and conscientização should be part of the student learning journey and the CPD of teaching professionals. It also suggests that if any teaching methodology is going to succeed in being truly inclusive then it must be explicitly liberatory in its approach.
Date of AwardMay 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorAlejandro Armellini (Supervisor), Andrew Pilkington (Supervisor) & Cristina Devecchi (Supervisor)


  • Critical race theory
  • Pedagogy
  • Decolonisation
  • Race
  • Education
  • Whiteness

Cite this