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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The social construction of gender in the practical arts Eyre, Linda


This dissertation is a contribution to understanding the relationship between schooling and gender inequality. The study explores how gender as a social relation is organized and embedded in the daily experiences of classroom life and in the discourses of people who dwell there. The study deals with how classroom encounters contribute to the reproduction or transformation of gender categories and how students' and teachers' discursive practices build and support patriarchal structures. The study is grounded in critical education theory, feminist theory, and ethnographic research. The specific site for the study is the knowledge area described as the Practical Arts, namely home economics and technical studies. The research is limited to a single Grade 8, coeducational, home economics and technical studies program in an inner-city, multi-ethnic, secondary school in western Canada. Evidence is based on participant observation of classrooms, for one school year, with one group of students as they proceed through a combined home economics and technical studies program. Evidence is also obtained through interviews with students and teachers. The study illustrates how classroom practices support the patriarchal structures of division of labour, violence against women, and sexuality. The study shows how the students' and teachers' discursive practices produce girls and women, and less powerful boys, in subordinate positions and as objects of regulation. As well, students' previous experiences in domestic and technical work, and classroom discourse, produce and support the division of labour. The study shows how the conditions of teachers' work, their authoritarian, product oriented approach, and their powerful, institutional discourses grounded in biological and psychological development and equality of educational opportunity, prevent them from challenging patriarchal structures. Although the study shows how students and teachers are actively engaged in the production rather than the transformation of traditional gender relations, it also shows how patriarchy is incomplete: there were divisions within gender categories and there were many contradictions. The study shows how power relations are not static - they are constantly in process of negotiation, thereby opening possibilities for social change.

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