UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Boys doing art : negotiating masculinities within art curriculum Imms, Wesley David


A recent stream of gender discussion has focused on a better understanding of the ways in which boys construct their concepts of masculinity, and the role of schools in this process. However, what has largely escaped attention has been the ways that individual subject curricula provide boys with opportunities to develop their concepts of gender. A participant-as-observer ethnography was conducted over one academic year in a single-sex, fee-paying school for boys to examine this issue. Evidence from informal and formal observations and interviews of 40 staff and students was used to document participants' beliefs concerning the structure of masculinity, the provision of opportunities within the school and art curriculum for boys to negotiate their concepts of masculinity, and the role of art curriculum in boys' development of gender identities. Participants' responses created a four-layered model of boys' engagement of masculinity. They allowed the researcher to describe and analyse a complex hierarchy of forms of such engagement that ranged from a superficial level comprising a predictable picture of stereotypes, to an almost inaccessible layer of "individual" masculinities. This final layer, described by boys as separate from their culture and constructed of their personal values and beliefs, owned characteristics similar to those being sought by contemporary gender research. Six barriers that limited boys' access to this final layer were identified in the school. They included the dominance of cultural stereotypes, a lack of a safe forum for the exploration of gender identities and an emphasis on a school curriculum that failed to facilitate expression. Additional barriers were related to the lack of freedom within classrooms, curriculum that generally came short of accommodating boys' unique ways of learning, and very limited opportunities to develop egalitarian relationships. Participants identified the school's art curriculum as "boy-friendly", in that it assisted boys to overcome these barriers. It held personal significance for boys, mandated exploration of "the self, created a safe venue for expression and communication, and provided academic, intellectual and curricula freedom. It "levelled the playing field" between differing types of boys, allowed multiple solutions to problems, offered curriculum that was relevant to boys "real" lives, was non-competitive, and allowed teachers to focus on "the personal" with boys. These findings hold considerable significance for both art education and masculinity research. The study indicates that many boys already own the impetus to explore egalitarian masculinities. However, they require curricular support for this to happen in schools. Research presented in this thesis suggests that a discipline-oriented art curriculum owns epistemological and pedagogical qualities that can make it an exemplar of this type of curriculum.

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