Research paper study Essay

Everyday race-making pedagogies in the classroom

In this paper observed the examination of the ‘pedagogies of positioning’ played out in the Australian high school classrooms. The study of this article aimed to develop a better understanding of how teachers pedagogically racialize the classroom in and through discursive encounters with students.

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Main Argument:

The analysis of the data given in this article proves that teachers and students per-formatively do race in many ways that locate, construct and negotiate racism identities and relationships.

A collection of chronicles are presented that help reveal the everyday discursive practices of equally educators and learners that remain to depend on culturally conventional societal writings that withstand biased racialized orders. The article aims to emphasis why the classroom remains a valuable location to interrupt the reiterative authority of Whiteness, in accumulation to gesticulating to impending methods advancing by inaugural up substitute ‘lines of flight’ for fresh students.


Firstly the author tells us about the concept of ‘Aboriginality’.

‘Aboriginality’ arises from the subject experience of both Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people who engage in any intercultural dialogue, whether in actual lived experience or through a mediated experiences such as a white soul seeing a program about Aboriginal persons on TV set or reading a book. In Australia, as with many other settings where Whiteness dominates, racism thinking and practices continue to shape the experiences and opportunities of people. Whiteness is mainly accountable for objectifying and representing Indigenous people. Attention wants to be stretched here, to differentiate among the manufacture of ‘Aboriginality’ and the dissimilar subjective understandings of being an Indigenous person in Australia.

This is a line of thinking that invites questioning about the relationship between Indigenous and White identities and subjectivities, the focus for this paper. To explore this, I will investigate the ways in which racism identities and subjective positions are discursively coproduced, in the hope of demonstrating that further research in this direction is warranted as a way forward with disrupting the reiterative power of Whiteness. Moreover, while Whiteness was dominant, I do not suggest that it was entirely oppressive; rather, the discursive strategies of Aboriginal students draw attention to the possibilities of positioning pedagogies that may disrupt the status quo. Moreover four chronicles are explained that serve as a reminder that race remains an embodied experience at the intersection of physical markers, socially constructed racism values and beliefs, and the strategic responses that people take up to negotiate a sense of self concomitant with how they are viewed by others. The subsequent chronicle leads to a discussion about the ‘pedagogies of positioning’ and its links 372 G. Vass with ‘White social praxis’. The focus of this paper has been the coproduction of racialized identities and subjective positions. The chronicles illustrate that ‘race-making’ (Knowles 2003) remains relational.


Moreton-Robinson draws on Said (1978) to remind us that what is largely known and knowable about Indigenous people is ‘constitutive of the epistemology of the West’.

Langton (1993) draws attention to the point that while Whiteness continues to occupy a dominant position from which the racialized ‘other’ is described, the construction of ‘Aboriginality’ remains a relational experience, being a socially mediated process and product, meaning that people who are Aboriginal also contribute to its construction.

Davies and Harre (1990) help with exploring the discursive positioning strategies deployed by students. Linked with this process, the discussion also reveals ‘White social praxis’ in action, showing how ‘White cultures, privilege and practice are reproduced as dominant, without the intention of domination and oppression necessarily being present in the minds of White social actors’ – not that this excuses them (Moran 2004)

Attention will then turn to a ‘chronicle’ (Gillborn 2008) from the field, a short counter-story based on my classroom observations. The story serves as the basis for the discussion about per-formatively ‘doing’ race that follows

Research Methods

The author contextualize the research by introducing the critical race insider autoethnographic research conducted in a setting that I call Greenfield State High School (GSHS), and explain the theoretical understanding of everyday race-making.

This further leads to a discussion about the ‘pedagogies of positioning’ and its links with ‘White social praxis’. Lastly, a third chronicle will serve to foreground considering potential ways forward for disrupting the reiterative power of Whiteness within school settings.

A critical race insider autoethnographic study

The race-based focus for my research emerged from my experiences as a high school teacher. Within this setting and role, the author became increasingly concerned about the voices of White teachers, students and parents. All too often he is well heard of color-blind and meritocratic explanations about the engagement and achievements of Indigenous learners. He also frequently heard racially disparaging representations about Indigenous learners and their cultural heritage. In the classroom, I often felt ill-prepared to engage with racially imbued commentary from students about other students or the revisionist history I taught.

These experiences culminated in a research interest focused on discourses involving race in schooling, with a view to learning how to ‘do’ and engage with anti-racist practices more effectively. The approach saw a useful fit between critical ethnography and a critical race theoretical framework that aspired to expose the pedagogical enactment of racialized assumptions and practices in the classroom.

I describe this as an insider study. This is an apt description because I returned to the school where I taught, and thus I shared much in common with the participants: our White, middle-class, educated backgrounds in addition to being colleagues. My insiderness greatly assisted accessing the school and recruiting participants that represented a gender balance, a range of teaching experience and a cross-section of teaching disciplines.

According to Carbado and Gulati (2013), the performative turn in anti-racist work is significant. It is my hope that the chronicles (below) contribute to these efforts and help with pointing towards possible strategies for teachers that assist this undertaking.

Aspects of research methods

GSHS is located in a bayside suburb of Brisbane, Australia. The school is situated in an economically stable community, with low crime rates, and is largely populated by people from a European (White) background – although this demographic has been changing, this group still represents over 90% of the local population.

During semester one of 2011, with six teachers. Observing 110 lessons across a range of subject areas and year levels. In this article, I focus on three separate classroom exchanges involving Joey, a Year 12 Indigenous student. Having personally known Joey since Year Eight, I was not surprised to observe him being a prominent and boisterous figure. However, when I started ‘writing-up’ my thesis, I experienced reservations about how to represent Joey as an Indigenous learner. My hesitancies with ‘knowing’ Joey, and the challenges of thinking about how to ‘understand’ and characterize him, were the starting point for the ideas developed here. The three chronicles come from late in the semester; however, they are not in chronological order because the events were not directly connected. In the first chronicle we meet Joey in Steven’s Science lesson on the second-last day of semester; of relevance is to note that Steven was not his teacher, he did not know Joey, and he was not informed prior to the start of the lesson that Joey’s Year 12 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) class was going to join the Science class. In the following two chronicles, we encounter Joey in the ICT classroom, where we come to see very different ways in which Joey enacts his Aboriginal identity.

Chronicle one: Getting to know Joey in Year 12 Science

This chronicle explains the behavior of Joey, a student, which further leads to ‘Performatively doing race.’

Performatively doing race

The initial exchange with Joey resulted in his public enactment of a negatively imbued stereotype about ‘Aboriginality’.

The social processes and practices help illuminate socio-cultural reproduction in action, the ‘logic of selective attribution’ whereby White people identify and assign racialized status and qualities. In part, this point is demonstrated by the seemingly troubled and self-deprecating public performance by Mark and Joey of their Aboriginal identity.

Despite initiating the classroom banter through his curricula and pedagogic choices, the silence of Steven also highlights that race talk and ‘race reality’ are more readily known, acknowledged and engaged with by students than is commonly done so by educators.

Chronicle two: Joey speaks to racism in Year 12 ICT

This chronicle explains the behavior of Joey, a student, which further leads to pedagogies of positioning.

Pedagogies of positioning

As with the first chronicle, here we see a representation of ‘Aboriginality’ from outside of schooling penetrating the informal classroom talk, and concomitantly how the students have gone about trying to work out what this means in relation to their sense of self. This is an approach that hopes to productively contribute to bringing ideas from critical race theory into closer contact with poststructuralist sensibilities.

I am in agreement here with Chadderton’s explanation:

“I argue in favour of a theory which on the one hand takes into account the reality of people’s identifications with different group identities, experiences or oppression and essentialised subjectivities as a result of the structures of oppression, and on the other, that explicitly theorises the production and performativity of identities, recognising the complexity and fluidity of identity and strategic essentialism as a form of political resistance.”

The concept of ‘positioning’ put forward by Davies and Harre is useful. “Positioning is the discursive process whereby selves are located in conversations as observably and subjectively coherent participants in jointly produced story lines. There can be interactive positioning in which what one person says positions another. And there can be reflexive positioning in which one positions oneself. One lives one’s life in terms of one’s ongoingly produced self, whoever might be responsible for its production.”

The encounter thus illustrates Cooks and Simpson’s point: Any time that whites exercise the authority to speak generally about any racial group while simultaneously ignoring or rejecting the perspectives of an individual in the classroom who is part of that racial group, they are practicing whiteness.

This is significant, because the chronicles highlight the urgent need for teachers to be better prepared and positioned as powerful and productive contributors to race talk. In both chronicles, then, the teachers could, and should, have opened up discursive ‘lines of flight’ that assisted students such as Joey and Milly to take up positions beyond racially stereotyped locations.

White social praxis

The chronicles help reveal the unstable and negotiated interplay that serves to make racism identities as knowable, and significantly, known through being associated with individuals in the classroom. Physical markers of race were (re)deployed by the students in this discursive undertaking, but the pigmentation of skin..The result is that ‘an effective suturing of the subject to a subject-position’ involves actively articulating, or performatively remaking, how one is known and knowable

Whiteness is systemically reproduced dominant in ways that may not be evident to the actors involved, although this does not excuse their contributions nor does it prevent people from actively taking up critically reflexive/anti-racism practices. Thus, the notion of White social praxis offers an additional lens through which to (re)consider the chronicles. The positioning strategies of students were influenced by racialized assumptions, and most notably by the dominance of Whiteness.

Chronicle three: Joey interrupting race-making in the ICT classroom

This further includes to the ‘Interrupting the reiterative power of Whiteness’

Interrupting the reiterative power of Whiteness

Within this chronicle, a rowdy exchange between students is racialized with the disparaging remark that ‘Joey is playing the Aboriginal game’. The statement is left uncommented on, suggesting that it is accepted (and acceptable) for this sort of quip to be directed at Joey, and additionally that there is a known meaning (about ‘Aboriginality’) underpinning the comment. This is the everydayness of race-making at work pedagogically, ‘the mechanisms of race production, and its dialogical operation’.


The three chronicles raise questions for me about what Joey is ‘doing’ in each of the encounters. A more plausible explanation seems to be offered by viewing his practices as knowingly drawing on ‘Aboriginality’ (a negatively racially imbued ‘thing’) as a strategic tool that helped protect and/or reproduce his own sense of being Aboriginal within a Whitewashed setting. In other words, in this final story the private world of his inner subjectivity that was briefly exposed, whatever the image actually meant to him, was preserved by his discursive strategies, and hence, for a moment in time, the reiterative power of Whiteness was interrupted.

Further Citation

Further citation of paper provides insights into non-Indigenous teachers’ efforts to engage proactively and productively with students to enhance their learning in a predominantly indigenous community in northern Queensland, Australia. Drawing upon notions of ‘funds of knowledge’, forms of capital as part of community cultural wealth, Critical Race Theory, and ‘whiteness’ studies, the research explores and challenges how white teachers draw upon community as a form of ‘capital’ to enable them to foster their students’ learning. These efforts to ‘capitalize’ on community reveal the school as a site of struggle for genuinely inclusive educational practices.

Likening education to the railway helped reconceptualise my understanding of social justice and contributed to my research on race-making in the classroom. This paper presents a creative account of the shunting I experienced in coming to locate myself in the education system, an undertaking that was part of a critical race insider autoethnographic study.

Further Questions

What sort of “Aboriginality” is Joey doing?’ and what sort of Whiteness is Milly doing?’

Why should he (always) be positioned as the voice that challenges the reproduction of Whiteness?

Am I to consider this ignorance an oversight, or a lack of confidence on his part? These seem unlikely readings of his response

However, his initial deflecting strategies in response to my questions soon gave way to a more familiar, irreverent, set of strategies.


The chronicles illustrate that ‘race-making’ remains relational. Joey was invariably responding to or engaging with others, highlighting the usefulness of the ‘pedagogies of positioning’ as a process of adaption, where people acknowledge and shift their sense of self according to the context. This was demonstrated by Joey across the chronicles, as in each instance he relationally negotiated a construction of who he was, his subjective sense of self, alongside how he was known as an Aboriginal learner-person

Ethical issue of racism is discussed by the author. The results are clearly explained. Author have nicely approached the discussions.


across the tracks? Auto-ethnography, education research, and my whiteness

Greg Vass. Pages 83-93 | Received 28 Jan 2016, Accepted 10 Nov 2016, Published online: 07 Dec 2016

on community? Understanding and critiquing instrumentalist approaches to Indigenous schooling. Ian Hardy. Pages 661-676 | Published online: 20 Jul 2016

race-making pedagogies in the classroom

Greg Vass. Pages 371-388 | received 08 Jul 2013, Accepted 23 May 2014, Published online: 08 Aug 2014

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