Gender and the construction of identities in Indian elementary education
This study is set in Madhya Pradesh, India, where development policy is inspired by the
work of Amartya Sen, and education is valued as a mechanism for the equitable
transformation of gender identities and relationships.
The investigation is a mixed method case study focussing on two government
elementary school classes. It explores the educational aspirations and practices of girls,
their teachers and families; their formation; the achievements enabled by the
intersection of these aspiration and practices and the factors shaping girls' different
Sen's capability approach is used to access state pnonl1es and the foundational
distributional, professional/institutional, knowledge and gender regimes of 'the social
arrangements for education'. Connell's social embodiment paradigm frames deeper
exploration of gender regimes and the construction of gender identities, focussing on
power, production, emotional and symbolic relationships.
Fieldwork was conducted over three phases, totalling thirteen months. Analysis of
policy, statistics and textbooks provides the framework for ethnographic observations in
schools, classrooms, offices and communities, supplemented by structured classroom
observations, semi-structured interviews with teachers, pupils and families, and
The thesis focuses on Indian gender and education literature; state policy and
programmes and their negotiations; schooling, gender, bureaucratic and professional
regimes; families and family regimes; focus-school teachers and school regimes; focusclass
teachers and classroom regimes and girls' aspirations and achievements.
Dominant distributional, professional/institutional, knowledge and gender regimes
discouraged any transformations, yet girls, families and teachers were dissatisfied with
the status quo and inclined towards change. These fragile inclinations were undermined
where teachers' de-professionalised positions compromised practice, school quality
undermined family commitment and classroom regimes and curricula discouraged girls'
success and persistence.
When teachers, schooling and curricula enabled academic success and rendered girls'
aspirations realistic, family commitment was encouraged and girls manipulated
opportunities for greater autonomy. This 'virtuous circle' was significantly enhanced by
one teacher's gender-sensitive practice.