This thesis, an investigation of gender and emotion within the context of literacy reform, began as an investigation of Literate Futures; an initiative introduced at the beginning of the new millennium, as part of a more broadly based attempt at reforming schooling in Queensland. In this study I explore how gender and emotion were implicated in different aspects of the literacy reform process — from designing the policy and approach, to developing resources, to implementing new practices based on new understandings in schools. These factors are routinely ignored, hidden or neglected by theorists and researchers of reform policies and practices. Through this study I am seeking to further understandings of the relationship between gender, emotion and subjectivity; to explore emotion as both a source of power, and a site for awareness-raising in terms of social justice; and to establish the need for recognition to be given to the gendered demands of emotion work in education.
As emotion and emotion work emerged as crucial aspects of the study, the focus turned to the emotion work demanded particularly of professional women who undertook leadership roles during this period of major change. The understandings of emotion that inform my thesis derive from the works of Arlie Hochschild and Megan Boler. Hochschild argued that links exist among social structure, feeling rules, emotion management and emotive experience, and that because emotion is shaped by societal rules, emotions become the focus of personal and social management. Emotional labour, Hochschild explained, is silent work that involves evoking and suppressing feelings in one’s self and in others. Boler also supports the notion that emotions are integrally linked to culture, social class, race and gender, but further argues that, although similar patterns of gendered rules of emotion exist across cultures and ethnic groups, dominant cultures apply inconsistent norms and rules to different communities. Thus, as emotions are a site of social control, they constitute a mode of resistance to dominant cultural norms such as the imposition of authority. Boler argues that the dominant discourses of emotion that have controlled and shaped society are moral/religious, scientific/medical and the rational discourse of emotion.
My thesis, based in feminist poststructuralism, critiques the power inherent in the irreconcilable dualisms that, from the time of the Enlightment, have aligned emotion with the feminine and as the binary opposite of rationalism. These dualisms, naturalised in patriarchal societies, permeated the development and implementation process. Because dualistic thinking positions men as leaders and women as workers, the reform context failed to recognise and reward the essential work done by women. Thus gendered binaries served to sustain the hegemonic masculinity of the bureaucracy and failed to give recognition to emotion or emotion work.
The methodology and data analysis are situated within a specific qualitative approach to research defined by Kamberelis and Dimitriadis (2005) as Chronotope IV. Central to this approach are Foucauldian understandings of discourse as more than text, and power as co-constituted in relationship to knowledge. The topics addressed in the analysis of the interviews are organised using Gee’s seven building tasks of language. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is applied to reveal the language of affect, and to explore how different power relationships, established through the literacy reform process, created feelings of powerlessness and empowerment. Forms of injustice experienced by participants are identified using Nancy Fraser’s three dimensional approach to social justice encompassing the cultural dimension of recognition, the economic dimension of redistribution and the political dimension of representation. It is my contention that by juxtaposing Fraser’s framework with a theoretical understanding of emotion, analysis can be taken to the personal level, thereby enabling an investigation of injustice and the impact on those women and men involved.
The findings of this study, focusing on gender, language, emotion and social justice, revealed that the discriminatory practices inherent in the operations of bureaucracies and the hierarchical structures of organisations restricted the capacity of women to contribute fully to reform. This study demonstrated that emotion is a significant factor in reform, for change initiates fear, frustration, anger and resentment, as well as positive feelings that come from recognition and success. I argue that the continuation of unjust practices negatively impacts on students’ literacy learning and that, because emotions are socially constructed and sites of resistance, efforts to improve students’ literacy must also take into account the emotional demands on teachers. Finally, drawing upon Fraser, I contend that the thesis supports a re-invigorated feminism, where consideration of emotions and emotion work can lead to a gender-sensitive revision of democracy and justice.