Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teacher Education

Committee Member

Joe Bishop, PhD

Committee Member

Christopher Robbins, PhD

Committee Member

Ethan Lowenstein, PhD

Committee Member

Paul J. Ramsey, PhD

Committee Member

John Lupinacci, PhD


The politics of neoliberalism fester within education behind discourses of success, deficit, and normalcy. They intersect with discourses such as anthropocentrism, individualism, racism, ability, and others to organize society in a hierarchal manner and prioritize unfettered competition within an economic framework. The power of these discourses resides in their ability to communicate systemic ideology—masking the systemic oppression inherent to neoliberalism. These discourses can be traced to a mechanized worldview that understands matter, relationships, and knowledge through the metaphor of a machine. This study was designed to investigate how discursive meanings combine to create alternative discourses and to answer the research question: What kind of discourse is produced by a pedagogy that challenges competition as a common sense assumption, challenges mechanized ways of understanding relationships, and understands humans and the other-than-human world to be interrelated? One objective of this inquiry was to bridge EcoJustice and place-based education theory and practice. Another was to explore how these pedagogical approaches challenged neoliberal relationality. The last goal was to bring attention to the imbalance of educational aims that disproportionately focus on skills needed for economic prowess and skills needed to maintain ethical and sustainable relationships. Critical discourse analysis was the best methodological fit given the question and objectives. Data were generated via interviews. The socio-cognitive and three-dimensional approaches to analyzing discourse were used to understand the significance of discursive exchanges and how they communicate meaning. The findings revealed that participants used an ecocentric perspective of relational exchanges to guide their students through a systemic critique of injustice. They defined competition through a frame of mutuality and used affection to enact politically charged care agendas. They used place as a tool to teach lessons of affection and membership. Students were taught to find and appreciate the uniqueness of their place and how to frame differences as assets. Teachers used a nonjudgmental awareness to engage students in a way that decentered humans and flattened the hierarchy. They provided students with tools that allowed for immediate change. Lastly, they used post-inquiry instructional approaches to show students an alternative way to make meaning and assess unethical situations.