The Centre for Gender and Women's Studies has a new Co-ordinator

Date: 7 April 2008

We are pleased to welcome Jane Collins who started as the Centre's Co-ordinator on 7 April 2008. Jane previously worked for the Workplace Basic Skills Network based in Educational Research for a number of years.

Gender, Education and the Body

Centre for Gender and Women's Studies with the Department for Educational Research, Lancaster University

18th September 2008

This interdisciplinary seminar was funded by the Society for Educational Studies and attracted researchers, practitioners and students from a range of institutions and backgrounds. The theme of the conference arose from a recent surge in writing about the body and embodiment, which was not necessarily reflected in the theory of education. Three speakers were invited to present their work in this area, looking at formal and informal education from perspectives including travelling theory, health policy and Deleuzian theory. A discussant closed the event by drawing together the themes from all papers and discussions throughout the day.

Kathy Davis, from Utrecht University, started the seminar with her talk "Feminism as Travelling Theory - The Case of Our Bodies, Ourselves". In her paper Kathy explored aspects of informal education, looking at the ways in which the book Our Bodies, Ourselves (Boston Women's Health Collective) travels and changes over time and place. Described as "US feminism's most popular export", Our Bodies Ourselves taught women not only about how their bodies 'worked', but how to be critical about the ways in which their bodies were controlled and what they were expected to do. Kathy's presentation focused on how Our Bodies, Ourselves moved around the world, changing not only languages, but political focus, conception of the body, and its relationship to the state. The question session following the paper focused on the different conceptions of bodies and gender in different areas, the emerging discourse of choice in new contexts, and what oppositional writing is in opposition to.

The second speaker, Emma Rich, from Loughborough University, looked at the messages that young women were finding about their bodies in formal secondary education in her presentation "Performative Health, Gender and Body Pedagogies". This looked at the ways in which policies monitoring and controlling bodies in schools have proliferated under the guise of health, making health a performative routine in school. Emma looked at the lived experience of girls in these schools, focusing on young women who were undergoing treatment for 'disordered' eating. While many institutions saw the individual as both the cause and potential solution to both eating disorders and the obesity crisis, the young women themselves frequently pointed to the formal and informal messages that they received through their schooling as contributing to a harmful culture. Questions focused on: the role of the family in resisting these cultures, and how this might differ in working class girls' lives; the racialisation of the body, with the elision of whiteness and thinness; the idea of "cleanliness" for young women; and the engagement of young women with their own bodies, and the lack of pleasure, particularly sexual pleasure, permitted in the discourse around bodies in schools.

Bronwyn Davies from the University of Western Sydney gave the final paper, "Difference and Differenciation: embodied subjects in pedagogic spaces". Using Deleuzian philosophy, together with collective biography, the paper looked at the possibilities of classrooms, particularly in early years, becoming spaces for safety and for jeopardising safety. Drawing on detailed accounts of classroom interactions between children or between children and teachers, Davies discussed the ongoing processes of becoming, and the importance of difference in these processes. She talked about the importance of classrooms being a space where children could safely take risks - or 'lines of flight' - in finding new ways of being. The ensuing discussion examined questions about how to make listening an important part of teaching skills, and the possibilities for spaces of indeterminacy. The constraints on teachers needing to conform to curricula at the same time as allowing children's negotiations were noted, as well as the difficulty in balancing the provision of spaces of indeterminacy for children without undermining their feelings of safety. Questions were also raised about the limits and potential of a Deleuzian approach for thinking about the wider social and historical conditions under which children negotiate their relations with one another as gendered and racialised beings.

The discussant, Carrie Paechter from Goldsmiths College, University of London, drew together many of the themes of the seminar, following strands through the - various presentations of the day. Highlighting the idea of what it is to have a healthy body, and a healthy relationship to that body, she drew on ideas of children's cultural bodily pathologies, and un/pre/disciplined bodies. School was seen as a disciplinary process, not just for pupils, but also for teachers. However, there is also space for resistance and intervention in the regime, and much discussion focused on the potential for drawing out these resistances and how to move forward.

"Gender, Education and the Body" provided fascinating presentations and engaged discussion about approaches to thinking about the gendered body and how these might provide a productive focus for educational research.

Clare Hollowell

Centre for Gender and Women's Studies

Lancaster University


Further information

Associated staff: Jane Collins

Associated departments and research centres: Centre for Gender and Women's Studies, Sociology

Keyword: Gender