Queer(y)ing senior subject selection: A mode of inquiry that unsettles boundaries

Year: 2012

Author: Gowlett, Christina

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This presentation seeks to open up discussion about the utility of queer theory beyond the arena of gender and sexualities research. As the title outlines, I see queer theory - or what I like to call 'queer(y)ing' - as a mode of inquiry that unsettles boundaries, thus making it a useful methodological approach that can be used in a variety of education contexts. While I believe there are many varieties of 'queer(y)ing', the version I put forward in this presentation is inspired by the work of Judith Butler. The context I explore is the process of senior subject selection and (often) by extension, post-secondary school pathway planning.

A key idea embedded within the work of Butler is the notion of performative constitution - that we are born into a world of pre-existing ideas, or what Butler refers to as 'rules of intelligibility', that shape our subjectivity. In this presentation, I explore the rules of intelligibility regulating senior subject selection at a 'disadvantaged' secondary school in Queensland and show how some students are positioned in relation to these normative understandings regarding what they should study in the senior years of secondary school. I draw particular attention to the student stories that unsettle the purpose of the rules, thus making them nonsensical. 'Agency' for Butler is located within the signifiers that constitute the subject. How some students manage to maneouvre their way through the rules in order to disrupt them, provides possibility for thinking otherwise about the utility of the practices in place at the school. This, I argue, is a form of subversive politics that 'queeries' normative knowledges about current senior subject selection practices.

In this presentation, I demonstrate how queer(y)ing is a useful methodological approach for unsettling the often taken-for-granted normative knowledges implicated in the activity of students selecting what to study in the senior years of high school. I outline how this approach is not based on a 'politics of rescue' but rather a decolonisation of normative understandings (Youdell, 2011). It unsettles (in this case in regards to subject selection) the boundaries that are often placed around a particular practice, policy and subsequent subjectivities that ensue.