Resistance Theory


*For the sake of our understanding and future use of the following theory, I will explain each type of behavior and resistance as if a student is the one exhibiting the behavior. Please remember that all people can exhibit these forms of behavior and that no person is contained to just one level of resistance at any certain time.

Resistance theory proposes that students actively or passively resist learning as a way of responding to the oppressive school system. “Resistance theories demonstrate how individuals negotiate and struggle with structures and create meanings of their own from these interactions.” (Bernal & Solorzano, 2001, p. 315).

There are four types of oppositional behaviors and resistance; reactionary behavior, self-defeating resistance, conformist resistance, and transformative resistance. The difference between oppositional behavior and resistance are based on Giroux’s basis of two intersecting ideas that qualify resistance: 1) Students must have a critique of social oppression, and 2) students must be motivated by an interest in social justice.

Reactionary behavior is not defined as a type of resistance because it lacks both a social critique and a social justice motivation. Reactionary behavior can be seen as disruptive behavior, “acting out” or challenging authority figures “for kicks.”

Self-Defeating resistance is when students have a social critique of the systems that oppress them, i.e.; school, but are not motivated by any interest concerning social justice. As a reaction to their social critiques they engage in resistant behavior, i.e.; dropping out of school, which is self-defeating because this behavior and resistance does not transform the system or the oppressive state that they are in. This type of resistance is considered self-defeating because despite the student's sense of agency, their actions cause harm to themselves and possibly unto others depending on the situation.

Conformist resistance occurs when a student understands the need for social justice but lacks a critique of the oppressive systems. For example, if a student sees that many of her peers are dropping out of school, she will offer to tutor other students after school. This form of resistance is simply a "bandaid" solution for the systemic issue. This is referred to as conformist resistance because the student continues to operate within the oppressive structures instead of transforming them, but it is still considered as a form of resistance because the student exhibits one of Giroux's qualifying ideas of resistance; the motivation by an interest in social justice.

Transformative resistance is when a student possesses both of Giroux's qualifying ideas of resistance; a social critique of the systems and structures which oppress them, and the motivation for social justice. Because of this deeper knowledge and motivations, these students have the most potential to create social change or transform the oppressive situations and systems they exist within.


Bernal, D.D. & Solorzano, D.G. (2001). Examining transformational resistance through a critical race and latcrit theory framework : Chicana
and chicano students in an urban context. Urban Education. (36). pp. 308-342.