UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Marketing childhood : a Foucauldian discourse analysis of elementary dress codes Franzmann, Mariah


“My body is not a distraction” and “Yes, I have breasts” were the slogans used by a group of secondary students from Princeton Secondary School in Princeton, British Columbia who went braless to protest the disciplining of female students for showing their bra straps. In response, the school’s Vice Principal stated “It’s not all about bra straps. I believe in individual expression but I don’t want to see anyone’s butt cheeks” (Demeer, 2018). Body surveillance through dress codes has been a common, but not unattested, practice in public schools. The messages of the dress codes, similar to the Vice Principal’s response, reveals how bodies are constructed as offensive, uncomfortable, distracting, and unruly. Dress codes are often gendered to specifically target girls’ bodies as sexual objects that need to be covered (Arns, 2017; Drewicz Ewing, 2014; Pomerantz, 2007). They can also carry racist or classist assumptions that protect hegemonic white, middle-class values (Aghasaleh, 2018; Morris, 2005). This thesis shifts the discussion from the bodies of secondary students to the place where dress code disciplining begins, at the Elementary school level. Dress codes are not only value-laden, but actively work as a social practice to produce childhood itself (Pomerantz, 2007). The aim of this thesis was to map out how seven public Elementary school dress codes position bodies and how actors in the surveillance of bodies, such as parents, staff, and students, are entangled in the practice of body disciplining. Through the methods of a Foucauldian discourse analysis, which looks at how disciplinary power works through surveillance to produce subjects, it is argued that dress codes construct childhood as a period of co-investment during which the child’s body is the property of parents and, likewise, the student’s body is property of the school. A major theme throughout the analysis is the concept of productivity and its relation to cultural and economic capital.

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