Sexuality, Gender and Schooling: Shifting Agendas in Social Learning

By Mary Jane Kehily | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Producing heterosexualities: the school as a site of discursive practices

It would be less than exact to say that the pedagogical institution has imposed a ponderous silence on the sex of children and adolescents. On the contrary, since the eighteenth century it has multiplied the forms of discourse on the subject; it has established various points of implantation for sex; it has coded contents and qualified speakers…the sex of children and adolescents has become an important area of contention around which innumerable institutional devices and discursive strategies have been deployed.

(Foucault 1976:29-30)

Modern sexuality, from a Foucaultian perspective, can be understood as a historical construct; the product of particular discourses which are articulated around a cluster of power relations. Foucault counterposes the Freudian notion of sexual repression by suggesting that modern Western societies have developed numerous ways of talking about sex and regulating sexual activity. The development of mechanisms to talk about sex in fields such as religion, medicine, criminal justice and education was underpinned by a notion that sexuality was a thing to be known and spoken in the 'public interest'. Foucault links this shift from taboo to 'discursive explosion' in the sexual domain as central to the emergence of 'population' as an economic and political problem. From this perspective the sexual conduct of a population becomes an object of classification, administration and regulation. The deployment of discursive strategies in relation to sexuality can be seen to demarcate the terrain for the production of sexual identities. In this schema the hysterical woman, the homosexual, the masturbating child, the sex worker can be viewed as actively generated

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