Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Pensoneau-Conway, Sandra


AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OF DAVID W. WHITFIELD, for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in COMMUNICATION STUDIES, presented on APRIL 2, 2018, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: CONDITIONS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE: THEORIZING CRITICAL COMMUNICATION PEDAGOGY WITH/IN THE CLASSROOM USING A LENS OF RELATIONAL SAFETY MAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Sandra Pensoneau-Conway Using the ten commitments of Critical Communication Pedagogy (CCP) as a grounding perspective, this research project investigates the teacher-student relational dynamic with an inquiry into the degree of safety students and teachers perceive in their shared relationship. Relational safety is a new term being introduced into the literature on reflexive and critical teaching practices. It is foregrounded in the belief that the classroom is a microcosm of the larger world and therefore can be a site of inquiry and interruption of mundane communication practices that may be oppressive and which might otherwise go unquestioned (Fassett & Warren, 2007). A combination of three methods were utilized. Classroom observations were conducted in all four face-to-face summer sections of the introductory public speaking course from the university's core curriculum. These observations were used to inform the questions used to interview participants. The data collected were from three (student) focus groups, four graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) interviews, and 23 individual student interviews. Findings revealed five major themes that are salient for the emergence and development of a teaching practice which nurtures feelings of safety in the teacher-student relationship: 1) affirmation; 2) dialogic worldview; 3) attention to bodies in space; 4) a balanced approach to humor, self-disclosure, and feedback; 5) the class evolves into a community of care. The dissertation concludes with a reminder that while social change is the ultimate goal of a critical, reflexive teaching practice that is future-oriented, teachers must always remain grounded in hope. Relational safety can emerge when critical educators embrace a belief that when teachers model reflexive communicative practices to/for their students, in turn they create a space for incremental shifts in language choices, critical discourse, and reflexive thinking that will evoke a desire in others to advocate for social change, communicate across cultural differences, and celebrate diversity




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