Legacies of poststructural feminism in education

Year: 2008

Author: McLeod, Julie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper explores the status and implications of poststructural feminist studies of gender in education, addressing the contemporary state of play by initially considering some of its antecedents. In a somewhat quizzical and historical mood, I ask 'what was poststructural feminism in education?' I attempt to interpret these ideas not only as a group of theories that challenged thinking and research practice, but as a kind of historical phenomenon that has represented a particular zeitgeist about 'theory', about feminism, and about educational reform. These observations are developed via two main routes: first, in relation to emphasised themes and ambitions in the recent history of poststructural feminist thinking in education; and second in response to contemporary re-assessments of the purpose, legacy and history of 'Theory' in the post 1960s humanities and social sciences. Within an overall view that looks historically at the formation and characteristics of the field, I draw out two significant features. First, I explore some of the effects of poststructural feminism's attention to subjectivity, examining how an emphasis on identity construction and de/re-construction has played out in gender equity reform and policy. Second, I document influential 'founding' debates about definitions and the proper purposes of poststructural feminism, marking out the major points of disagreement and convergence. I show how such debates constituted the field along polarised lines of 'good' or 'bad' and note some of the sticking points in these disputes. In my final comments, I compare these earlier debates with more recent discussions regarding the purposes and 'future' of feminist theory in the wake of poststructural interrogations of the subject and a sense of a radically disrupted present.