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A social realist case study exploring the utility of structural-agentic interplay in characterizing the role of agency in the adoption and enactment of teaching approaches in a chemistry department at a higher education institute

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Ziad Aoudi
Publication date2022
Number of pages158
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Chemistry, often perceived troublesome to teach and learn, is identified at the higher education level as a hard discipline with strong indications of information transfer teacher focus (ITTF) rather than conceptual change student focus teaching approaches (CCSF). While some higher education institutions (HEIs) are beginning to promote them as separate enterprises, the duality of teaching-research expectations, amongst other constraints, often positions significant structures often in the form of rules and resources and induces varied agencies related to teaching approaches and enactment of the pedagogical practice even at the sub-disciplinary level. The literature highlights teaching chemistry as a social practice and debatable issues with the teacher-researcher-nexus, disciplinary essentialist epistemology, departmental, institutional and self-efficacy without properly articulating agency and the mechanisms of how the approaches and enactments are realized in this context. To gain an improved understanding of the underlying mechanisms, this research adopts a social realist perspective employing qualitative methodology, to capture the interplay of structure and agency in teaching in a chemistry department. I examine teaching chemistry practice and approaches, through in-depth semi-structured interviews with chemistry academics (n=9) at a HEI in the UAE. The data generated was analyzed retroductively in reference to the theoretical framework generated from the literature, applying both inductive and deductive approaches to thematic analysis to propose a modified theoretical framework. The findings correlate with the literature while profoundly highlighting agentic utility-based practices, the importance competencies and meaning with tangible embedded references to Bourdieu’s practice theory (Habitus-Field-Capital). It also provides better capture of the teacher-researcher-nexus, the perceptions of content, students, year level as rigid structures representing significant considerations by the academics. The characterization of the structural-agentic dynamics and the subsequent proposal of theoretical model provide indicators of tendencies for how teaching approaches are realized when contextual agencies are activated. The work illuminates the need to re-conceptualize the perceptions of the role of teaching academics in HEIs and the forces conditioning practices and changes in them.

Key words: Agency-structure-chemistry-practice-social practice-epistemological essentialism- disciplinary tribe