Resistance as Engagement in Self, Institutional, and Social Transformation (RESIST): Understanding Agency in Individual and Collective Learning and Change
Susannah Davis

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of New Mexico

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
Institutions of higher education face myriad internal and external challenges and pressures for change, but change initiatives often fail. Within literature on organizational change in higher education, faculty resistance is often cited as a major challenge and reason for failure. This study broadens and reframes our understanding of faculty resistance, considering it a form of engagement and agency within organizational learning and change. It explores not only ways in which resistance may hinder change, but also whether and how resistance can be a contribution and resource for organizational change. Drawing on theoretical and empirical scholarship on workplace learning, agency, resistance, and intersectional power relations, this study examines the function and experience of both resistance as change and resistance to change through a multi-phase, qualitative multiple case study in two universities in the United States. By considering resistance as an exercise of agency and a potentially productive aspect of change and learning processes, rather than solely a hindrance to be avoided or suppressed, this study can inform the design of organizational change initiatives that affirm faculty’s agency, consider the role of power relations, and leverage resistance as a resource in participatory transformation.
About Susannah Davis
Susannah C. Davis is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico. Her research explores organizational change and equity in educational institutions, including how educational leaders and other stakeholders navigate organizational change and reform efforts and learn in the process. Her current research focuses on how postsecondary institutions create more equitable and just policies, practices, and climates, as well as how systems of power shape reform efforts. Her work on two National Science Foundation Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) projects employs design-based implementation research (DBIR) methods to design, implement, and evaluate curricular, pedagogical, and structural changes aimed at creating a more inclusive culture and improving students’ opportunities for ambitious and equitable learning. Dr. Davis is also a principal investigator on a study funded by the National Science Foundation examining how power, privilege, and perspective shape the development of equity-oriented educational change projects. Another line of research investigates organizational policies and leadership practices that motivate and support collaborative data use and decision making for continuous improvement in teacher preparation programs. Dr. Davis holds a Ph.D. and M.Ed. from the University of Washington and a B.A. from Smith College. She builds on prior work experience in a public elementary school in Washington, D.C. and providing professional development and support for teachers and other educators through a community-based nonprofit organization and a national literacy organization.

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