Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version

Fall 2007


Published in Sociological Viewpoints 23 (Fall 2007), pp. 29-44. Published by Pennsylvania Sociological Society.


In this paper I focus on two arenas of student resistance that have come under closer sociological analysis. I do this to illustrate that teaching will always be difficult, but that we have more opportunities and challenges in these interesting times. One of those challenges just might be to expand our definitions of student resistance in order to further develop our own thinking about teaching and learning. The first form of student resistance I consider to be the “classic” form in which teachers focus on classroom disruptions and why their educational messages are not absorbed by students; the second is a more contemporary consideration of student resistance as a form of building social capital for learners and teachers alike.

Classic student resistance is taken as an affront to the authority of college professors and the meaning of the liberal arts degree (Perry 1970; Becker et al, 1985). The shared assumption is that most students are either unprepared or unwilling to learn what is presented in the traditional college classroom. Forms of student resistance might reflect cognitive deficits (dualistic thinking in Perry’s scheme) or a subculture of student resistance to the values of the academy (Becker et al.). Learning takes place in environments fraught with individual and group resistance, especially resistant to the dominant patterns of teaching and learning in the social structure of higher education.

The second more contemporary form of student resistance I bring to the discussion draws from critical perspectives on learning with classroom resistance serving as a form of social capital. These perspectives are often radical, critical or liberatory pedagogies that engage distinctive forms of resistance as a potential learning tool, or as a challenge to our mainstream sociological teaching strategies (Sweet 1998, Yasso 2005).

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