Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Bardhan, Nilanjana


Each year, thousands of international students move to the United States to pursue higher education. Over the past few years in particular, the numbers of international students enrolled at U.S.-American universities has been on a constant incline. Two of the biggest changes that international students may experience are the different expectations of classroom etiquette and participation in the U.S.-American classroom setting. Impacted by many years of exposure to West-centric approaches to pedagogical praxis, the U.S.-American classroom has been created as a privileged space in which, more often than not, West-centric epistemologies, approaches to pedagogy, and ways of knowledge production are privileged over others. For international students, the majority of whom do not come from Western cultures, this can be a very tough space to negotiate. In this dissertation, I look at the conceptualizations of voice and silence, in particular, in order to gain a better understanding of how these two concepts are experienced and negotiated by international students within the U.S.-American classroom setting at a medium-sized U.S.-American university located in a small town in the Midwestern region of the country. While many West-centric cultures conceptualize voice and silence as dichotomous, I argue that they form a continuum that is dialogic, communicative, fluid, contextual, and at times paradoxical. Furthermore, I argue that the meanings of silence and voice within the U.S.-American classroom space can have multiple meanings and be understood as different forms of communication and participation. For the purpose of this project, I selected the three meta discourses of postcolonial theory, critical (communication) pedagogy, and international student-centered research to help deconstruct the notion of international students as the “Other,” as well as the misconceptions of silence within the classroom. Postcolonial theory as the main anchor of this research, in particular, allowed me to engage in an in-depth discussion of how we can decolonize West-centric, U.S.-American classrooms and create more dialogic, inclusive, and intercultural spaces in which different epistemologies and ways of knowing and knowledge production can be included. Furthermore, I bring into dialogue the three selected meta discourses in order to create a more nuanced and inclusive conceptualization of voice and silence that moves away from West-centric binaries. I used critical complete-member ethnography (CCME), as developed by Dr. Satoshi Toyosaki (2011), as the main method for critical inquiry. CCME argues for the value that is derived from combining different ethnographic methods in order to create an accurate account of cultural practices, as well as “focus on communicative practices and processes” (p. 66). I incorporated an autoethnographic account that functions to position myself as a researcher as well as autoethnographic narratives and reflections throughout my data analysis. In addition, I extend the notion of membership as it is currently conceptualized within CCME to make the argument for CCME as a method for critical inquiry within intercultural communication, and not just intracultural communication, research. My research findings demonstrate that the West-centric, binaristic conceptualization of voice and silence within the U.S.-American educational system can create unwelcoming learning environments for international students who may feel positioned as the Other who do not fit in, or may feel excluded from dominant discourse by being silenced. The participants’ narratives indicate the meanings of and reasons for international students’ embodiments of silence within classroom settings are as multiple, contextual, and dialogic as the conceptualization of silence itself. The collected data support the argument of the complexity and contextuality of voice and silence, and further call for a reconceptualization of voice and silence as acceptable forms of classroom participation. Furthermore, the international student participants identified several reasons as to why they may choose to perform silence in the classroom. Finally, through the interviews I tried to create a dialogue among international students and instructors in order to address and deconstruct issues pertaining to the struggles of international students caused by U.S.-centric approaches to pedagogy as well as conceptualizations of voice, silence, and classroom participation. My research showed that it is imperative for us to engage in more inclusive, critical, yet compassionate dialogues across our differences in order to create glocalized, intercultural learning communities within U.S.-/Euro-/West-centric educational systems. We must attempt to create intercultural spaces within our classrooms that allow for and cherish diverse narratives, epistemologies, different ways of knowing, and different conceptualizations of voice, silence, and classroom participation within the U.S.-American classroom setting, in particular at a medium-sized U.S.-American university located in a small town in the Midwestern region of the country. This dissertation research privileges such dialogue by centering the narratives of international students, thus, moving them from the periphery to the center and allowing them the agency to address exclusionary pedagogical practices within the U.S.-American educational system that exclude them from dominant discourse.




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