Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Barbara Shircliffe, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jeffery Kromrey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarah Kiefer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Zorka Karanxha, Ph.D.


recognition, social change, equality, critical consciousness


Essentially contested concepts result in continual disagreement over their meaning and use because important consequences flow from these disputes. Evidence of the contested nature of the concept social justice, in the context of teacher education, is documented in academic literature. Empirical evidence of the contested nature of the term is found in the transcripts of National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)’s 2006 reauthorization hearing. Scholars note the complex nature of social justice and that teacher educators and colleges of education frequently use the term (e.g. Hytten & Bettez, 2011; North, 2008; Zollers, Albert, & Cochran-Smith, 2000). This study focuses on the various understandings and applications of the concept social justice in academic writing within teacher education. A directed qualitative content analysis of academic journal articles, guided by Gallie’s (1956) framework, was conducted to identify how the phrase, social justice, is used in the context of teacher education. Gallie’s framework was chosen because it has proved a useful tool to analyze complex concepts (Collier, Hidalgo & Maciuceani, 2006). One of Gallie’s goals in designing his framework was to help scholars’ reason about complex concepts. This study found evidence to support the classification of social justice as an essentially contested concept in teacher education. Additionally, this study found indications in the data that the term may be terminologically contested in the context of teacher education and recommends further investigation. I argue that teacher educators interested in social justice as a reform measure for teacher education should define the concept and come to a consensus about what social justice in teacher education means. The lack of precision in the term makes debate over the merits of concept, in the context of teacher education, difficult.