“Looking out”
: Neoliberal discourses and English language teacher professionalism in Rwanda

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis is concerned with discourses of teacher professionalism within and surrounding a professional teacher association in the sub-Saharan education context: the Association of Teachers of English in Rwanda (ATER). ATER positions itself as a grassroot, teacher-driven professional development association to address the dearth of professional opportunities in Rwanda, but is also a site for extensive influence from global education and English language industry powerbrokers, including the British Council and the US Department of State. Utilising a Foucauldian understanding of discourse, I examine the discourses of teacher professionalism that exist within ATER and trace examples of assimilated, mediated, or contested discourses emanating from the surrounding national and global contexts – both of which are permeated by the rationalities and power technologies of neoliberal globalization.

I used a variety of data collection methods within a comparative case study methodology to illustrate the discursive environments around and within ATER. At each of ATER’s stratified levels, I employed different methods to draw out collective and individual expressions of professionalism. Alongside analysis of ATER documentation, association leaders participated in focus groups and one-on-one interviews. Community leaders participated in multi-stage case studies which included observations, interviews, and visual methods. Finally, I led a professionalism workshops within community groups to reach peripheral members and attendees. For the national and global levels, I conducted broad desk review of relevant actors within education policy, English language teaching, and Rwandan governance. I then worked between the three levels to trace discursive threads using Foucauldian discourse analysis. Three primary discursive strands were identified, with differing uptake, deployment, and contestation at each level of the case study: epistemic neutrality, individualism, and depoliticization and externality.

My findings indicate that neoliberal discourses of individualization, responsibilisation, and personal financial investment are especially prevalent in the leadership level of the association, where globally-savvy Rwandan English education experts calls for a modernized, ‘new’ professional subjectivity which aligns with national development imperatives and global marketplace norms. These discourses, though, are contested at the lower levels of the association, where a more nuanced and culturally-located understanding of ‘self-reliance’ calls for the sharing of pedagogical resources and resists neoliberal individualisation. In sum, the valued professional teacher subject within ATER is one who broadly aligns with global prescriptions of managed professionalism, invests financially in their professional development, uncritically deploys global pedagogies, maintains political neutrality, and embodies the ideal self-governed Rwandan citizen.
Date of Award29 Sept 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorAngeline M Barrett (Supervisor) & Leon P Tikly (Supervisor)


  • responsabilisation
  • neoliberal governmentality
  • discourse
  • Foucault
  • Rwanda
  • Rwandan education
  • English language teaching
  • English medium of instruction
  • teacher professionalism
  • professionalism

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