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Deconstructing Masculinity in the English Classroom: a site for reconstituting gendered subjectivity

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In this paper I claim that a particular investigative critique of dominant versions of masculinity based on an interpretive analytics of Foucault and Derrida can be elaborated through promoting a particular pedagogy in the English classroom. A particular deconstructive approach to reading pedagogy, therefore, is elaborated and an analysis of the way students responded to a particular text is provided to support claims made about the efficacy of such a pedagogical approach in the English classroom. In the first part of the paper I focus on elaborating a theorisation of gender in terms of multiple positionality within discourse. Such an approach is based on the understanding that subjectivity is socially, culturally and historically constituted within multiple discursive frameworks and that textual practices have a part to play in the structuring and regulation of gendered identity formations. I argue that it is in this way that a move can be initiated beyond what Armstrong terms an oppressive 'gender bind', which means thinking about masculinity and femininity outside of a binary oppositional semantic structure. By drawing on feminist psychoanalytic and post-structuralist understandings of subjectivity, claims are made about the feminist conceptualisation of masculinity as a unitary construct. Psychoanalytic feminists such as Scott and Alcoff, like Henriques et al., have also attempted to theorise gender and subjectivity in terms of positionality within multiple discourses, but have focused exclusively on questions pertaining to the construction of femininity. In their justified and exclusive emphasis on how dominant versions of masculinity as oppressive regimes have operated to constrain and limit women politically from realising their needs, however, I claim that these theorists have conceptualised masculinity as a unitary construct. This notion of the unitary masculine subject is problematised in this paper and an attempt is made to acknowledge alternative masculinities which are undercut by race, class and ethnic factors as well as questions pertaining to sexual orientation. I draw particularly on the work of Felski and her notion of the counter-public space within which multiple subject positions for women can be constituted as a point of departure for a discussion and exploration of how teachers might deal with questions of masculinities and the valorisation of alternative subjectivities in the English classroom. This paper, therefore, attempts to address the problems associated with constructing masculinity as a monolithic category, while elaborating a particular pedagogical approach designed to open up a space for the examination, legitimation and valorisation of alternative subject positions for boys in the English classroom.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: June 1, 1995

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