Institution, discipline and gender : an empirical study of in/exclusion in undergraduate American literature and political thought classes
This research clarifies some processes of inclusion and social (re )production within the UK higher education system. It constitutes a description of the realisation in practice of differential modes of participation in undergraduate classes. The analysis presented here foregrounds the interaction between gender, academic discipline and educational institution in the production of these differential modes of participation. To do this, the thesis conceptualises gender, discipline and institution as relatively stable, relatively autonomous discursive fields, in relation to which students are positioned/position themselves when they contribute to class discussions. The empirical basis of the thesis comprises my observations of four undergraduate degree modules. I videoed a series of sessions on Political Thought and American Literature modules in a 'new', access oriented university and a 'traditional', highly selective university. I interviewed both students and tutors, basing the interview on extracts from the observed sessions. The opemng chapters present an initial analytic description of the disciplines, the institutions and the conception of gender that constitute the relatively stable structures in relation to which students position themselves. The description of the disciplines constitutes a detailed account of the object, methodology, and thus of the form of legitimate knowledge claims in Political Thought in contrast to American Literature. It also foregrounds the differential social positioning of the two disciplines. The conceptualisation of gender is based on a Lacanian definition of the feminine. The later chapters constitute my interpretation of students' positioning in the observed sessions. The main argument is that the intersections between discursive fields overdetermine the extent to which students can construct a position within the class that is both legitimate, in relation to the discipline, and coherent, in relation to the students' gender, institutional context and their existing interests and experiences. This analysis constitutes an innovative framework for the sociological description of the relationship between gender and academic disciplines.