“It often rests on the shoulders of a passionate individual”: Exploring the discursive constructions of gender and sexuality within education settings in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Graham , Katie Elizabeth Jane
In this thesis I explore the discursive constructions of gender and sexuality within secondary and tertiary education settings in Aotearoa New Zealand. Previous research has established teaching and education practices within Aotearoa New Zealand tend to privilege certain subjectivities (e.g., cisgender and heterosexual) and marginalise others (e.g., queer and trans). While there is a large body of research that explores sexuality education in Aotearoa New Zealand, less is known about the inclusion of gender and sexuality in other curricula. I addressed this research gap by collecting data from a range of subject areas and from students’ and educators’ perspectives. Data was collected from four secondary schools and two tertiary institutions using group and individual interviews. These methods were chosen to gain in-depth insight into the range of experiences from each participant group. Group interviews were conducted with 32 tertiary students and individual interviews with 12 secondary students, 9 secondary educators and 7 tertiary educators. Interview questions explored gender and sexuality within teaching, and constructions of gender and sexuality circulating in the broader education environment. Within this thesis, conceptualisations of knowledge and power were informed by post-structuralism and Foucauldian notions of discourse. Foucauldian discourse analysis was used to explore the participants’ accounts of gender and sexuality within education. Analysis was done with a specific focus on subjectivity, subjectification, available subject positions and systems of power. Analysis resulted in three findings chapters. The first chapter demonstrates that restrictive discourses of gender and sexuality continue to be reproduced by students and educators. Reproduction of restrictive discourses results in assumptions of heterosexuality, restrictive constructions of appropriate career pursuits, and school policies which unfairly favour cisgender, heterosexual experiences. The second chapter covers discursive barriers articulated by educators. These barriers included fears about getting it wrong or having parents react negatively, and limited educators’ inclusion of diverse discourses of gender and sexuality. The third chapter explores students’ and educators’ talk about resistance to restrictive discourses of gender and sexuality. Examples of resistance include students challenging dominant constructions of gender through their school ball attire and educators revealing their queer sexuality within the classroom. These acts of resistance made diverse discourses of gender and sexuality visible within education settings. The reliance on individuals for exposure to diverse discourses of gender and sexuality means that not everyone is exposed to these discourses. Educators also raised concerns about the instability of exposure to diverse discourses when this exposure relies on an individual. My findings demonstrate the negative effects of restrictive discourses and highlight the need for more inclusive discourses to circulate within education settings. My research suggests diverse discourses of gender and sexuality need to be incorporated into education policy and curriculum so exposure to these discourses is sustained and widespread. Educators also require support to overcome the discursive barriers that limit their willingness and ability to include more diverse discourses. The inclusion of diverse discourses at the level of the educational institution rather than the individual could help improve the educational experiences of all students.
Advisor: Treharne , Gareth; Nairn , Karen
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Department of Psychology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Gender; Sexualtiy; Discourse Analysis; Education
Research Type: Thesis