Positioning Theory


Co-construction and maintenance of social roles

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … social constructs (the meaning of an object or event by a community)
  • Knowing is … fulfilling a social position
  • Learner is … a participant (in a system of social positions)
  • Learning is … being enculturated into a position
  • Teaching is … co-participating




Positioning Theory is a Social Constructionism that defines a “position” as an assemblage of rights and duties, which is non-permanent, situational, and disputable. It starts with the observation that positions can vary dramatically, and it focuses on the roles and deployments of discourse – including word choice, metaphor, rhetorical strategy, tone – in positioning selves and others. Associated discourses include:
  • Standpoint Theory (Nancy Harstock, 1980s, although argued to be rooted in the work of Geory Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the early 1800s) – Oriented by the realization that one’s knowledge and sensibilities are shaped by one’s unique-but-multifaceted social and political experiences. Standpoint Theory asserts that one’s complex and evolving knowledge is the source of one’s authority. It is typically invoked as a frame from which those in marginalized groups can critique, challenge, and overturn constructs of normality and status quo.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Michel Foucault; Bronwyn Davies; Rom Harré

Status as a Theory of Learning

Positioning Theory is a theory of learning, provided one is attentive to the fact that the dynamic, self-maintaining system in this instance is not a solitary individual but a social collective.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Positioning Theory is not a theory of teaching, but it can be applied to analyze role norms and social inequities in any social setting – including classrooms, playgrounds, staffs, and so on.

Status as a Scientific Theory

See Social Constructionism.


  • Standpoint Theory

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Positioning Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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