Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Administration

First Advisor

Donahoo, Saran


In this study, I introduce and analyze the role of complicity in discussions of social justice pedagogies to determine how teachers, who teach social justice oriented courses, navigate complicity. Through an in-depth review of social justice education literature, I show that teacher/scholars rely upon four context-dependent discourses of complicity: (1) responsibility, (2) consciousness-awareness, (3) relation to world, self and others, and (4) inevitability and implicature. In order to understand how these discourses impact pedagogies that seek to make connections between people and social systems, I selected teacher/scholars who are widely published, read, and assigned in social justice oriented fields. I used the method of elite interviewing and interviewed the following eight people: Kevin Kumashiro, Barbara Applebaum, William Ayers, Lynn Fels, Marcelo Diversi, Cris Mayo, Mark McPhail and Deanna Fassett. I applied the conceptual framework of the discourses of complicity to our interview transcripts and three further discourses emerged: (1) nonduality/nonbinary, (2) choice, and (3) imagination. I found that by discursively marking complicity within the context of social justice pedagogies, teachers and students have new tools of understanding at their disposal. Rather than relying upon discourses that keep us “stuck” in conceptualizing relationships as limited by the choice of being either/or complicit or not, pedagogies that center complicity enable teachers and students to recognize themselves as both/and implicated and resistant. A pedagogy of accomplice, one that centers complicity in any understanding of relationality, works towards justice as a means of highlighting what Gloria Anzaldúa called the “invisible threads” that connect us all. Once these threads are made visible, it is what teachers and students do with this understanding that matters. A pedagogy of accomplice provides the potential to open new spaces of resistance and action and bring the unimaginable into the imagination of the classroom community.




This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.