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  • Educational Formations: Gendered Experiences of Schooling in Local Contexts
  • Joan DeJaeghere and Frances Vavrus

Situating Schooling in Gender Studies

Schools are complex sites of cultural politics and production, and they are particularly important institutions for feminist scholars seeking to understand gendered processes of cultural, economic, and political marginalization. On the one hand, schooling is imbued with the potential to transform lives by developing critical thinking, self-esteem, and broader perspectives on the world and one’s place in it; on the other hand, schooling can circumscribe opportunities for individual development and social change through the narrow content of the curriculum and the policing of gender, race, and class relations by students and teachers. This Janus-faced dimension of schooling is critical to recognize when analyzing the gendered experiences of students in different contexts.

Schooling has been curiously absent from feminist scholarship in the humanities and has been limited in the social sciences beyond the interdisciplinary field of education, despite the universality of schooling as a social institution (Baker and LeTendre 2005; Meyer and Ramirez 2000). As a quotidian part of most, though certainly not all, young people’s lives, schooling’s taken-for-granted structures are often unexamined, and its role in re/producing, interrupting, and transforming gender relations and identities is frequently overlooked. The study of schooling in marginalized communities in the global North and South remains a lacuna, even among scholars of gender and international development whose attention is often focused on more distinctly political state and non-state institutions and actors. As Arnot and Fennell (2008) accurately note, “There is a sharp disciplinary divide that cuts through the research on gender, education and development” (2), a divide that this special issue of Feminist Formations seeks to bridge.

In this issue, we place schooling at the center of feminist analyses of gendered social relations in local contexts and consider how such relations are shaped by global discourses of development and “progress.” Young women’s and men’s experiences of schooling are affected by complex interactions of local, national, and international forces that act to deny education or create unequal [End Page vii] gendered experiences in the classroom due to cultural, material, and political marginalization. We seek to highlight the contributions of scholars who study gender and schooling, which has, in the past few decades, “cohered as a recognizable field of enquiry” (Dillabough, McLeod, and Mills 2009, 1). However, much of the inquiry in this area has been conducted by scholars focused on the global North and concerned with gender as an aspect of identity formation within schools without necessarily considering its interplay with larger global and national discourses of economic development, colonialism, and poverty (see, for example, Dillabough, McCleod and Mills, 2009; Arnot and Mac an Ghaill 2006; Jossey Bass 2002; Lesko 2000; Orenstein 1994). Among those who focus on gender and schooling in the global South, particularly in the field of international development, schooling is often cast as an inherently positive experience that inevitably fosters gender equity and transforms women’s productive and reproductive lives (Vavrus 2003). Thus, expanding access to schooling for girls and women has become a critical objective of national governments and international development organizations even though this approach falls short of addressing gendered relations of power in cultural, economic, and political domains that are not easily rectified through schooling. As Aikman and Unterhalter (2005) have noted, the term “gender” in much of the scholarship on schooling in the global South refers only to girls and does not engage with broader movements for human rights, social justice, and political transformation. Our intent in this special issue, then, is to broaden the scholarship on gender and education to focus on the interplay between global and local forces that affect gendered relations in schooling as well as to draw attention to the intersectionalities of gender, race, class, caste, and sexuality as they play out in schooling.

The Interplay of the Global and the Local

Despite the rather limited views in some scholarship on schooling, feminist researchers in the field of education and development studies have consistently called for broadening theoretical and empirical scholarship to better understand the complex and contradictory ways that schooling produces gendered social...


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