Investigating Gender: Contemporary Perspectives in Education

By Becky Francis; Christine Skelton | Go to book overview

2
Obvious, all too obvious?
Methodological issues
in using sex/gender
as a variable in
educational research

Martyn Hammersley


Introduction

Until the 1970s, when feminism began to have a sustained impact on research in education, comparatively little attention had been given to sex or gender as variables in educational research.1At face value, this is puzzling. After all, gender is an obvious variable in human social life. Indeed, it is so obvious, and was treated as so socially significant, that it was long used in the education system as a key organizing principle. In Britain, up to and including much of the twentieth century, girls and boys were often educated separately; and, even when they were not, differentiation by sex was used formally and informally in schools for both curricular and disciplinary purposes. This differentiation was closely related to the idea that the two sexes were quite different in character, and needed contrasting kinds of education to prepare them for very different future lives (see Purvis 1991). And, in fact, it is precisely this assumption, along with treatment of male-dominated areas of life as the most important, which provides a partial explanation (though no justification or excuse) for the relative neglect of gender in social and educational research before the 1970s. The division of sexual labour, and the status hierarchy associated with it, was largely taken for granted – and thereby rendered largely invisible for research purposes – despite the obviousness of, and great social significance attributed to, gender.

In the 1970s attitudes began to change, and, following the lead of feminist researchers, much more educational research began to focus on, or at least

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