|dc.description.abstract||This doctoral thesis reports on a qualitative feminist study that explored Cambodian school girls’ educational persistence. The study investigated the multiple sources of support school girls utilised to remain in secondary school in rural Cambodia. This thesis contributes to the gap in existing literature on girls’ educational persistence in contexts of social and material disadvantage, and specifically attends to the dearth of in-depth qualitative studies on girls’ education in Cambodia. The theoretical framework for the study was informed by feminist theoretical perspectives, including post-structuralism, and ‘community cultural wealth’. These perspectives helped frame the methodological approach used; guided the study’s ethical considerations; provided analytical tools; and demanded the reflexivity necessary to work ethically in a cross-cultural context.
Methodologically, this study involved two self-funded fieldtrips to Cambodia in 2014 and 2015, where I worked with 43 school girls, 23 young tertiary women, and seven NGO representatives to collect the ‘data’. The study employed ten different data collection methods, including art-based research methods that emphasised participant-led involvement as well as more traditional researcher-led methods, such as interviews and questionnaires. Other methods used were both participant and researcher led, and included card sorting, self-managed video interviews, and member checks. I used a range of methods in order to ameliorate language barriers and power differentials, with the intention of valorising participants’ voices.
Study findings revealed both the personal agency and vulnerability of school girls in contemporary rural Cambodia. The participants drew on a range of competing discourses when they spoke about ideals of girlhood and girls’ education in Cambodia, including discourses of female domesticity, girls’ and women’s rights, female altruism, and girls’ educational worth. In doing so, the participants constructed themselves as homemakers and educated individuals, dutiful daughters and independent women, and unconventional females and positive role models. A community cultural wealth perspective provided a nuanced understanding of girls’ educational persistence, and exposed a rich interplay between individual agency and strong familial and community support, which included resourceful friends, caring teachers, and knowledgeable NGO staff. The participants’ agency was evident in their navigation of institutional barriers and resistance to deficit discourses regarding socially and materially disadvantaged girls; whilst their familial and social capitals provided access to vital resources which allowed them to overcome institutional hurdles within the education system and broader society. Based on their own experiences of remaining in school, the participants provided advice for key stakeholders in girls’ education on the necessary actions required to enable more girls to persist at school.||