Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Brett Geier

Second Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Third Advisor

Dr. Todd Kuchta


English learners, identity reconstruction, second language motivation, subaltern studies, postcolonial studies, self-esteem


English enjoys an unassailable position of dominance in the world today, especially as the language of leadership. In most of the developing world, fluency in English is a must for meaningful employment and leadership opportunities. Yet English is the preserve of a tiny elite class, who use it as a first language. For the vast majority, the prospects for learning English are bleak. However, some individuals not hailing from the elite classes acquire the language through personal effort and perseverance. Yet, researchers have not studied this population.

The purpose of this study was to understand the lived experiences of non-elite Pakistanis in educational leadership positions concerning how they: (a) learned English through self-initiation, (b) reconstructed their identities as a result thereof, (c) changed their view of themselves as educational leaders, and (d) changed their behaviors as educational leaders. This research carries out foundational work to understand the intersectionality of English acquisition and leadership emergence among non-elite learners in a postcolonial society.

I used a qualitative approach to study a sample of people from non-elite backgrounds in Pakistan who became leaders on the basis of their ability to speak English effectively and fluently. These individuals were educated in public or non-elite private schools in which English was not used across the curriculum. In addition, their parents spoke little or no English. I interviewed twelve people from a mix of ages, genders, qualifications and locations. The semi-structured interviews encouraged participants to discuss their changes in consciousness and behaviors as they became progressively more familiar with English. Participants were asked how knowing English helped them develop leadership. Interviews were conducted in English to validate their command over the language.

I argue that English has become a basic Human Right in the present global reality, without which the possibility to reach one’s potential is constrained. Non-elites are only taken seriously when they speak in English—are listened to—in Pakistan, is the most significant finding of this study. I found that without English, an educated identity, and a leadership identity is impossible in Pakistan. English creates the space where elites and non-elites can meet as equals. English often creates leadership possibilities and always enhances those possibilities. English is more important than almost any qualification, and the ability to speak English has become enmeshed in people’s self-esteem. The knowledge of English can even enhance greater respect of the Urdu language, when leaders use English to advocate for Urdu. I suggest new terminology, “deliverance motivation” or “liberative motivation” to encapsulate desires among non-elites to acquire English as a means to their own mental liberation.

This research is about English as a path towards fulfilling the human need for dignity and self-respect. It answers Spivak’s (1993) seminal question by evincing, that when the subaltern speaks in English, she is heard. English acquisition has become a powerful element in the development of leadership consciousness and behaviors for non-elites in many postcolonial societies. I present evidence that marginalized people can leverage the global lingua franca to self-actualize as fully functioning human beings, and as leaders.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access