Investigating Gender: Contemporary Perspectives in Education

By Becky Francis; Christine Skelton | Go to book overview

3
Using poststructuralist
ideas in gender theory
and research

Carrie Paechter


Introduction

In recent years, poststructuralist ideas have become increasingly important to researchers and scholars working in the field of gender and education. They have had a wide influence, particularly in terms of ways of interpreting and theorizing about gender research, with a lesser impact on data collection foci and methods. In this chapter I want to explore some of the reasons that I use poststructuralist approaches, and how they have influenced my thinking about the nature of gender.


What is poststructuralism?

I will start by examining what is meant by 'poststructuralism'. There is a wide range of poststructuralisms in the same way as there are a variety of feminisms, but they do have a number of features in common. First, there is the importance given, within the social sciences at least, to the concept of discourse. A discourse is a way of speaking, thinking or writing that presents particular relationships as self-evidently true. Because such 'truths' are presented as unchallengeable, this means that, within a particular discourse, only certain things can be said or thought; to challenge these assumptions is to step outside the discourse. Another way of putting this is to see discourses as 'socially organized frameworks of meaning that define categories and specify domains of what can be said and done' (Burman 1994: 2).

Discourses are important because they structure the ways in which we can think about things. Because they are treated as, and appear to be, selfevidently a reflection of 'reality', they can remain unchallenged, prescribing

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