Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Shannon Suldo, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Linda Raffaele-Mendez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarah Kiefer, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jennifer Wolgemuth, Ph.D.


Conflict, Control, Ethic of care, Mini-ethnographic case study


With a culmination of evidence suggesting the perception of caring relationships is associated with students' well-being (Natvig, Albrektsen, & Qvarnstrøm, 2003; Siddall, Huebner, & Jiang, 2013; Suldo, Friedrich, White, Farmer, Minch, & Michalowski, 2009), there is a need to better understand the ways in which care operates in the classroom. Further, there is a need to move beyond a prescription of caring behaviors to investigate the ways in which care, control, and conflict interact to impact classroom relationships. In the current study, I took a mini-ethnographic case study approach to investigate the concept of care within one fifth grade classroom. Assuming the role of a participant-observer, I observed and interviewed 17 students and their teacher about classroom practices, structures and relationships. I represent the data in a re-constructed story of the classroom in which normative assumptions about care are put into question. Specifically, students described the same classroom structures and procedures with differing perceptions of care based on the extent to which they believed the classroom operated in their best interests and how they were treated in comparison to others. Students’ descriptions of treatment aligned closely with mechanisms of control such that the more closely one adhered to classroom norms (e.g., positivity, productivity) and values (e.g., self-control, work ethic, integrity) corresponded with one’s social positioning (e.g., favorite, troublemaker) and perceived sense of being cared for in the classroom. Results of the study call for critical examination of ethical control within an ethic of care and an opening of dialogue between class participants to establish caring relationships that are mutually negotiated.