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Title: Sex or sensibility? : the making of chaste women and promiscuous men in a Sri Lankan university setting
Author: Ruwanpura, Eshani Samantha
ISNI:       0000 0004 2729 6905
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2011
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It is often claimed that education confers a range of benefits to individuals. From realising their thinking capacities to overcoming class boundaries, the outcomes of education are considered especially beneficial for women. Feminist theorists make a direct and strong link between education and female autonomy. Those who critique this line of thinking point to the numerous societal and structural factors which come into play in preventing education from delivering its promises of a world with greater productivity, equality and freedom. However even these critics concur that higher education does help to overcome the many structural inequalities which affect the everyday lives of women and also men from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This thesis explores the ways in which the sexuality of students, at a Sri Lankan university, is constructed. It looks at the extent to which social factors – be it through personal interactions, established norms or explicit rules – exert control over and determine how individuals can express their sexuality in a setting which is ostensibly liberating and progressive. Based on 15 months of fieldwork at the University of Kelaniya, the findings are used to argue that when it comes to constructing their sexuality students continue to be constrained by a reiteration of social and cultural expectations which are at play in larger society. The onus on women to uphold these expectations is reinforced by other women and the men play a key role in ensuring their maintenance. Hailing predominantly from working-class backgrounds, these young women expect university education to provide them with the ticket out of their workingclass background to better opportunities. Thus they endeavour to maintain, produce and reproduce social norms which will mark them as respectable and chaste women. The potentiality of a better life offered by university education becomes the very thing that constrains women students from using their autonomy to express their independence and sexuality. Based on these findings, it is then argued that since higher education itself is shaped and constrained by factors of nationalism, class and gender, the numerous benefits it offers to women do not always provide them with the autonomy that is needed to overcome the double standards that apply to how sexuality is constructed in most societies. The intersections between gender, class and nationalism dominated the milieu in which this Sri Lankan university is placed and thus it is these factors, rather than education, which determined the ways in which women could construct their sexuality. The aspirations brought on through their university education of a better life, rather than liberating them, further constrained their behaviours. As such these women engaged in a system of surveillance – both of self and the other – which maintained and reproduced notions of respectability and sexual sobriety in their everyday behaviours.
Supervisor: Spencer, Jonathan. ; Fustukian, Suzanne. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: sexuality ; Sri-Lanka ; education ; university