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Media constructions of gender and inequality in an educational context

Ana Mladenović (2022) Media constructions of gender and inequality in an educational context. PhD thesis.

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    Past research regarding gender inequality in education can be characterized as dealing with issues that girls are likely to encounter in schools; however, in the 1990s, a new paradigm emerged based on results achieved in international assesments that monitor trends in student achievement – consideration of the unequal position that girls found themselves in was taken over by boys' underachievement. The shift in narrative is present not only in the scientific field but especially in public discourse, one of the key elements in the social construction of gender (in)equality, which is currently marked by "moral panic" about boys' position. What is especially worrying about that is that the media is focusing only on limited aspects of gender inequality. Thus many authors point out that concerns regarding the "boys' crisis" are based on incorrect assumptions about the correlation between girls' high achievement and boys' underachievement; on exaggeration in differences; on the assumption that girls' success is to be seen as proof of achieved (and exceeded) gender equality; and in discussions of discrimination against boys and the feminization of schools. Discourse on gender in education is thus permeated with the undertone of concern about issues boys face during schooling and is constructed and confirmed based on arguments about biological essentialism and natural differences in approaches to learning and abilities of students. The discourses that often result from a comparison of achievements, and create a competition out of education, are a reflection of the neoliberal social climate. Such discourses are also anti-feminist, which is typical of the postfeminist media landscape in which, on the one hand, newfound female power is clearly and loudly highlighted, and the issue of sexism is discussed. On the other hand, the evergrowing presence of women and femininity in media opens up space for new forms of misogyny and retrosexism. The issue of gender and (in)equality in the current social climate is thus marked by a mostly postfeminist attitude, denoted by popular ideas about the omnipotence of women and concerns about the position of men. Such binary oppositions are present also in the field of education, perhaps most clearly seen in the form of sensationalist news articles in the media that highlight problems faced by boys. With the help of the media, a one-dimensional discourse about forgotten and problematic boys has been woven into the public discourse. Such assumptions affect not only the perceptions of parents and teachers but also the creation of educational policies, which abroad (e.g., in the United Kingdom, Australia, United States of America) have already recognized the problems faced by boys as a serious issue. In recent years, also in Slovenia, more and more attention has been paid to discussion whether boys have the same opportunities to succeed as girls, or whether the school system prevents them from progressing because it is not sufficiently adapted to their needs and characteristics. Thus, our main goal was to analyse the discursive construction of gender in the educational context of Slovenian society. The theoretical basis of the dissertation is the feminist theory of education, with a poststructuralist and social constructivist perspective. We begin with the thesis that social reality is discursively constructed and open for individual interpretations, which depend on individuals' respective social, cultural, and economic circumstances. The approach to handling social relations is marked by intersectionality, in which inequalities are understood as structurally conditioned and multifaceted or complex. Key theoretical concepts with which we operate, and are discussed in the theoretical overview, are gender and equality. Gender is a social construct that is established through discursive action. Equality is understood in the context of equity. The concepts of discourse and ideology are also important for our analysis. Discourse is formed by socially and culturally created and mediated language patterns, through which power operates that have a specific way of positioning subjects and objects. Ideology is conceptualized as a discursive practice that provides individuals a subjective position, with which existing social relations of domination and subordination are reproduced. Ideology and discourse are connected, discourses are the carriers of ideology, and analysis needs to focus on the ideological effects of discursive practices. Media are one of the key actors of discursive action; thus, the empirical part analyses their role in the reproduction of discourses about gender in the educational context. The empirical part of the dissertation is research that focuses on analysing the discourse about gender in the educational context between 2007 and 2017 in Slovenia. The research enables an overview of the situation in this field in our country, as well as a comparison with the situation abroad. We use critical discourse analysis (CDA) of digital versions of the main Slovenian print media and pedagogical journals and newspapers. CDA is a tool for studying communication in the socio-cultural, political, and economic context. It takes place on three levels: linguistic (as textual analysis of the sample articles), discursive, and social (as interpretation and explanation of the results of the linguistic level). With such an approach, we reveal the specific context in which relations of power and discourses about gender and (in)equality are (re)produced in social reality. The selection of material studied includes Slovenian newspapers that started publishing before 2007 and regularly report on topics in education, with the condition of digital accessibility of content (in digital archives). The sample includes articles from the main Slovenian media (newspapers and their supplements): Delo, NeDelo, Sobotna priloga, Slovenske novice, Dnevnik, Objektiv, Nedeljski, Večer, Primorske novice, Družina in Mladina. In selecting materials for analysis, we also included pedagogical journals: Didakta, Vzgoja, Razredni pouk, Vzgoja in izobraževanje, and a pedagogical newspaper Šolski razgledi. A total of 319 texts are included in the final sample for analysis, of which 109 are from general media and 210 are from pedagogical journals. In the first stage of textual analysis we examine the occurrence of themes and structure of the articles, paying special attention to the length, titles, subtitles, bolded or otherwise emphasised parts of the text and the use of photography – comparing these differences of structure and format between articles in media and specialized pedagogical journals. We also analyse the use of sources, vocabulary, elements of grammar, macro-propositions and presuppositions. The analysis reveals various implicit and explicit assumptions about gender in education and beliefs about the existence of important differences between men and women. The typical assumptions we could find in the sample studied are, for example, boys/men and girls/women: behave differently, excel in different areas, have different interests, different attitudes towards important questions, and react differently in the same situations. These assumptions combine to form different discursive frames. In the conducting of discourse analysis, we could recognise the following frames: the absent father, the importance of the male role model and appeal to male teachers, poor boys and troublesome boys, the unfairness of grading (or gender-biased grading), schools not being adjusted to boys' needs, biological basis for gender-based differences (in achievements and interests) and also an alternative framework. Furthermore, the discourses are placed into the context of dominant ideologies based on the social analysis, which is the final step of critical discourse analysis. Discourses that construct the knowledge about gender in education also contribute to a broader social level. They form discursive practices with ideological effects, especially neoliberalism and postfeminism, and partially also neoconservatism. These ideologies are worth exploring in a historical, cultural, political, and economic context. The explanation, therefore, focuses on potential crisis moments, changes in the discourse through time, and the elements of intersectional inequality. Analysis shows that the discursive construction of gender and inequalities in education follows the same principles in Slovenia than it does abroad. It is grounded in gender essentialism that is conveyed through the discourse of worry and care. The purpose of the thesis is to uncover the social roots of the construction of gender inequality in education and to alert to the ideological impacts of discoursive action of the media and pedagogical journals. Through that, the importance of considering other, alternative ways of action with which we could recognise gender as an important, but in no way the only factor of inequality is shown.

    Item Type: Thesis (PhD thesis)
    Keywords: Gender, equality, education, social construct, critical discourse analysis, discourses, representations, media, pedagogical journals
    Number of Pages: 384
    Language of Content: Slovenian
    Mentor / Comentors:
    Mentor / ComentorsIDFunction
    dr. Valerija VendraminMentor
    red. prof. dr. Marjan ŠimencComentor
    Link to COBISS: https://plus.si.cobiss.net/opac7/bib/peflj/114699779
    Institution: University of Ljubljana
    Department: Faculty of Education
    Item ID: 7281
    Date Deposited: 08 Jul 2022 11:18
    Last Modified: 08 Jul 2022 11:18
    URI: http://pefprints.pef.uni-lj.si/id/eprint/7281

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