There's a Leader in You!: A Critical Mapping of Leadership Discourse in the American University
Ferry, Nicole Capriel
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Leadership development is a prominent focus of U.S. higher education in the 21st century. Overwhelmingly, contemporary theories of leadership suggest that everyone can be a leader given enough training, and leadership research has largely concentrated on identifying the specific processes or behaviors of leaders to improve leadership development efforts. In contrast, this dissertation research proposes a critical examination of the ‘everyone-can-be-a-leader’ model as an ostensibly inclusive approach and looks at how such meritocratic narratives may legitimate and normalize systemic inequality and inequities. Considering a socio-political-economic and historical understanding of leadership—with special attention to the rise of the neoliberal moment—this dissertation uses several strategies of Critical Discourse Analysis to map leadership within the university. The methods used include: (a) analysis of personal narratives and participant observation; (b) critical historiography of popular leadership development texts and practices; and (c) thematic readings of documents, field notes, and archival materials. Drawing on queer, feminist, and poststructural scholarship, this qualitative dissertation highlights how commonsensical ideas of leadership, and the notion of ‘leader,’ are constrained by discourses of race, gender, sexuality, and ability. With findings that current dominant leadership practices are advancing masculinist, white, and heteronormative theories of leadership, this dissertation suggests that contemporary practices of leadership may individualize, discriminate against, and exclude historically marginalized students, rather than politically mobilize all students toward the democratic, equitable, and socially just aims higher education seeks to cultivate.