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  • 2019symondsphd

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Reframing power relationships in higher education: an integrated understanding of conflicting power relationships and undergraduate subjectivities in the current university climate

Research output: Thesis › Doctoral Thesis

Publication date10/2019
Number of pages318
Awarding Institution
Award date22/01/2020
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis explores the transforming power relationship between undergraduates and academics, through an elaboration of three conflicting subjectivities pertinent to the current university climate: the traditional learner, the partner, and the consumer. It questions the current research on power relationships within higher education whereby the dynamic is either taken
as given or acknowledged without proper consideration. As such, the formation of power relationships, which allows their perpetuation, remains unexplored and thus, misunderstood. Equally, this thesis takes issue with the current research on student subjectivities within higher education where subject positions are often explored in isolation. As a consequence, the relationship between the most pervasive positions remains unexplored and the resulting conflict and discord that arises remains obscured.

This thesis advocates a different approach to understanding power relationships and subjectivities within universities, one which seeks to unveil the hidden mechanisms that constitute the positioning of undergraduates and the resulting power relationships. The theoretical framework draws from systemic and constitutive conceptions of power, which provides a dialectical conceptualisation of structure and agency. Methodologically, the thesis is grounded in critical realism and draws data from two case study universities. Analytically, the thesis uses Fairclough’s three-dimensional model of Critical Discourse Analysis to explore undergraduate subjectivities and power relationships at the macro and micro levels of universities.

This thesis offers an integrated understanding of the transforming power relationship, through an elaboration of conflicting subject positionings within universities. The findings of this study reveal that what was once considered a stable power dynamic between two established social roles is now under negotiation. It is being transformed through conflicting behaviours introduced through different subject positionings, which creates confusion for undergraduates regarding appropriate behaviour within universities.