Engendering success: Constructions of achievement in schooling and higher education
This symposium explores how gender and social class intersect with students’ learning and identity processes in schooling and higher education (H.E.). All three papers consider the ways in which ‘success’ is constructed in different educational settings, and the relationships between these constructions and discourses about gender, effort and ‘talent’. The papers by Nyström et al., and Allan both draw on research undertaken in elite H.E. contexts, where being a high achiever is expected. Allan’s work focuses on the narratives of privileged young women in a UK university, while Nyström et al.’s study focuses on masculinities in elite university contexts in Sweden and the UK. Holm and Öhrn’s paper draws upon data from ethnographic research with girls and boys in schools in Sweden to explore gendered discourses on performance and knowledge. All papers consider intersections between gender, privilege and achievement.
- Gendered discourses on knowledge and performances in secondary school - Ann-Sofie Holm & Elisabet Öhrn (University of Gothenburg, Sweden)
- Formations of success: Gender, class and academic achievements in elite undergraduate programmes - Anne-Sofie Nyström1, Carolyn Jackson2 & Minna Salminen Karlsson1 (1Uppsala University, Sweden; 2Lancaster University, UK)
- Who I was, where I am, what I want to be: Young women’s retrospective tales of class, gender and achievement - Alexandra Allan (University of Exeter, UK)
Discussant – Debbie Epstein (Roehampton University, UK)
Gendered discourses on knowledge and performances in secondary school
Ann-Sofie Holm & Elisabet Öhrn
Department of Education and Special Education,
University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Recent research points at declining achievement trends for Sweden in comparison with other countries, and also increasing differences between municipalities, schools and student groups. The longstanding pattern that girls achieve better than boys in school still occurs. This paper aims to explore various discourses of gender and achievement in student peer groups and in various teaching contexts in Sweden. Ethnographic field studies (class room observations, informal and formal interviews) were conducted in three grade 9 classes (including 70 students 15-16 years old) at three different schools. The findings indicate the presence of intertwined and gendered discourses on performance and knowledge. One is stressing everyone’s equal chance of success if only they make an effort and study hard, and the other presenting ‘real’ knowledge as related to ‘natural talent’. The latter is connected to a ’laid back’ attitude towards schooling and is highly valued and generally ascribed to boys. Studying is not denied by the boys, but put in perspective of other (valuable) social activities and relations. The analyses also indicates that the ‘anti-school cultures’ in the study might be seen as to represent cultures of talent. Girls’ higher grades are, on the other hand, often devalued and related to ‘swotting’, although seemingly adhering to demands on individual achievement. If anything, knowledge based on hard work might be suspected as attempts to cover up for lack of real talent. This discourse is more pronounced among privileged students, but is also expressed by teachers.
Keywords: secondary school, maculinities, femininities, study achievements, performativity
Formations of success: Gender, class and academic achievements in elite undergraduate programmes
Anne-Sofie Nyström1, Carolyn Jackson2 & Minna Salminen Karlsson1
1Centre for Gender Research, Uppsala University, Sweden
2Department for Educational Research, Lancaster University, UK
This paper explores constructions of achievement in relation to gender, class and learning/teaching contexts. In particular, we consider the ways in which ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are rendered visible in English and Swedish elite higher education environments, and how such instances relate to the programmes’ different structures and cultures. The body of research about boys’ and young men’s ‘underachievement’ and ‘effortless achievement’ is substantial, especially in relation to schooling. However, far less is known about how discourses of masculinity intersect with those of academic achievement among undergraduate students, especially in contexts where students are expected to be high flyers and excel academically.
We draw on data from a large, ongoing, three-year (2015-2018), cross-national (Sweden and England) comparative interview project that investigates how constructions of masculinities and student identities inform strategies for coping with risks of academic failure and/or striving for success. The research focuses on Medicine, Law and Engineering Physics undergraduate programmes, all of which are regarded as competitive and high status, and recruit predominantly middle and upper-middle class young people. However, the programmes vary in terms of pedagogy and culture, as well as the gender composition of the intakes. Data are being generated by focus group and individual semi-structured interviews with students and staff. In this paper we draw mainly on data from staff.
Through our discussion we shed light on some of the ways in which men undergraduates’ learner identities are constructed within these privileged academic contexts.
Keywords: Privilege; Masculinity; Social Class; Student Identity; Higher Education;
Who I was, where I am, what I want to be: Young women’s retrospective tales of class, gender and achievement
Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter, UK
This paper seeks to explore the different (often multiple, complex andfragile) relationships which young women have with academic achievement (their experiences of achievement and their own subjective sense of what it means to achieve). It will do so by drawing on the narratives of a group of relatively privileged young women (aged 18-21) who all attended the same ‘top’ UK university. The paper will explore what it meant for these young women to position themselves, and be positioned as, high achievers, in an educational context where high achievement was often taken for granted and commonly explained as simply ‘running in their blood’. In particular, the paper will look at the narratives which these young women constructed about their past achievements; stories which were central to the tales which they told around achievement and which appeared to be deeply felt. The point is not to view these ‘histories’ as a way of recapturing self-evident and static pasts (and, therefore, as devices which might also tell us something concrete about how these young women ended up where they did today). But rather, to understand how these retrospective narratives were being constructed in the light of the young women’s present experiences, and used in a variety of ways as they attempted to understand and position themselves as certain sorts of achievers in the present, and as they sought to prepare for and imagine possible futures.
GEA 2016 interim conference, Gender Equality Matters: Education, Intersectionality and Nationalism Social Justice, Equality and Solidarity in Education