Theses Doctoral

The Agency of Activism: What Do Activist Practices Do To/For Teacher-Activists?

Morvay, Jenna Kamrass

The concept of teacher-activism is not new, but activism has generally been framed as human actions or characteristics. This study frames activist practices as non-material affective bodies, defined broadly as something with the power to affect and be affected by other bodies. This power to affect and be affected is what imbues a body with agency. Thus, activist practices are non-material bodies that have agency.

The purpose of this study was to explore how the affective bodies of activist practices move across cultures, spaces, and places, and how the practices exert agency as they move. Using multisensory ethnographic methods, this study followed three teacher-activists in their classrooms and at other activist endeavors, in order to sense the effects each teacher’s activist practices had as they exerted their agential powers. Undergirded both by humanist ethnographic methods and post-humanist theories of affect that highlight the ordinary, this study acknowledges the need for the human, even as non-human bodies are the focus.

Using an analytical process of rhizomatic mapping the affective forces of the activist practices, this study explored what the practices do to and for each teacher-activist. Information sources for this mapping process included ethnographic fieldnotes, observations and interviews, writing exercises, and voice memos.

The findings of this study suggest that considering affects in teacher education for an activist identity may provide a more expansive definition for who constitutes a teacher-activist, spaces in which activism operates, and what actual activist practices can be. It also suggests that attention to affects may make tangible the intangibles of teaching; specifically, the ways in which students are moved by things that seem inconsequential, such as fleeting emotions, ideas, pedagogies, curricula, and classroom decorations. Methodologically, this study adds to an increasing body of empirical studies that support the notion that humanist and post-humanist methods can coexist, and that the contradictions can open, rather than foreclose, possibilities for thinking about what data can do.


  • thumnail for Morvay_tc.columbia_0055E_11085.pdf Morvay_tc.columbia_0055E_11085.pdf application/pdf 881 KB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Oyler, Celia
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
July 28, 2020