summary of my thesis


Tarja Kankkunen, 2004:

Girls, boys and ‘gender play’. Gender construction in the everyday context of school art education

The study approaches art education from the gender perspective, focusing particularly on ‘art class culture’, that is, the forms of cultural production and the everyday practices and processes within the context of school art lessons.

A child’s picture making, speech and other actions can be viewed as taking place in a particular cultural position, receiving content from the substance offered by her/his own world of meanings, the cultural structures and the social situation at hand, and partaking in the reproduction of cultural meanings. The suggested connections between children’s visual expression and their personality or their socio-cultural context should therefore be examined and outlined, verified or problematised also by observing the processes where pictures are made, and by listening to their makers. Moving along these lines of thought the attention of this study was shifted from the differences between girls’ and boys’ expression towards the social relations and contexts, and focused on the meaning of gender in the everyday processes of art lessons in school.

The concept ‘gender play’ (Barrie Thorne 1993) contains the idea that construction of gender, either in or outside school, is not a one-way act of adults socialising children into boys and girls, but a process of unfolding divisions and boundaries alternately strengthening and being challenged. The expression encompasses the grass-root complexity and multidimensionality of gender construction, especially the fact that children themselves actively, and more or less playfully or seriously, partake in the production of gender meanings and boundaries, but also in challenging them. The study focuses on ‘gender play’ in the context of school art education, in connection to students’ picture making. It brings to view, describes and interprets the dimensions and ways of constructing difference and how gender meanings are attached to interaction, picture making and the students’ works, processes where mutually contesting meanings arise and are dealt with.

In contrary to what we may have believed, art lessons were not a gender neutral oasis in the school. Gender became significant in the classroom as differences in styles of being and doing, aesthetic values, subject matter and craft of the student artwork. It became an issue when the teacher was setting tasks or giving instructions, or when the representations of men and women in the magazine pictures entered the classroom conversations. Representations of men and women appeared in the classroom textuality and were produced in the student artwork. Gender was also constructed through gesture and repetition, by performing gender. Difference and gender boundaries were constructed in action, speech and picture making, encounters and conversations, but they were also often challenged and crossed. An art teacher who is aware of the subtle ways difference is produced could guide students to analyse them critically in visual culture and the media. Instead of the predominant styles and values the art teacher could consciously point to, and encourage, other possible styles, aesthetics, subject matter and craft, and thus support multiple ways of being a girl and being a boy.

The study moves in the area of art educational research with a feminist, sociological, cultural studies approach. The data was collected and analysed using ethnographic and qualitative, interpretive methods. The main data of the study is based on a period of participant observation in the fall of 1996 during an obligatory 7th grade art course with eleven girl students, seven boy students and their art teacher.

One area and resource utilised in the study has been experimentation in the production of interactive multimedia as a way of writing ethnography and a possible tool for (artistic) research. The written research report is published on a cd-rom together with an interactive ‘multimedia ethnography’ combining the text and excerpts of image, sound and video data.

Keywords: art education, gender, school, school culture, ethnography, multimedia

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