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Re-thinking home economics : from modern to postmodern accounts of pedagogical bodies

By Donna Pendergast


Two perceptions of the marginality of home economics are widespread across educational and other contexts. One is that home economics and those who engage in its pedagogy are inevitably marginalised within patriarchal relations in education and culture. This is because home economics is characterised as women's knowledge, for the private domain of the home. The other perception is that only\ud orthodox epistemological frameworks of inquiry should be used to interrogate this state of affairs. These perceptions have prompted leading theorists in the field to call for non-essentialist approaches to research in order to re-think the thinking that has produced this cul-de-sac positioning of home economics as a body of knowledge and\ud a site of teacher practice. This thesis takes up the challenge of working to locate a space outside the frame of\ud modernist research theory and methods, recognising that this shift in epistemology is necessary to unsettle the idea that home economics is inevitably marginalised. The\ud purpose of the study is to reconfigure how we have come to think about home economics teachers and the profession of home economics as a site of cultural practice, in order to think it otherwise (Lather, 1991). This is done by exploring how the culture of home economics is being contested from within. To do so, the thesis uses a 'posthumanist' approach, which rejects the conception of the individual as a unitary and fixed entity, but instead as a subject in process, shaped by desires and\ud language which are not necessarily consciously determined. This posthumanist project focuses attention on pedagogical body subjects as the 'unsaid' of home economics research. It works to transcend the modernist dualism of mind/body, and other binaries central to modernist work, including private/public, male/female,paid/unpaid, and valued/unvalued. In so doing, it refuses the simple margin/centre geometry so characteristic of current perceptions of home economics itself. Three studies make up this work. Studies one and two serve to document the\ud disciplined body of home economics knowledge, the governance of which works towards normalisation of the 'proper' home economics teacher. The analysis of these\ud accounts of home economics teachers by home economics teachers, reveals that home economics teachers are 'skilled' yet they 'suffer' for their profession. Further,home economics knowledge is seen to be complicit in reinforcing the traditional roles of masculinity and femininity, thereby reinforcing heterosexual normativity\ud which is central to patriarchal society. The third study looks to four 'atypical'subjects who defy the category of 'proper' and 'normal' home economics teacher.\ud These 'atypical' bodies are 'skilled' but fiercely reject the label of 'suffering'. The discussion of the studies is a feminist poststructural account, using Russo's\ud (1994) notion of the grotesque body, which is emergent from Bakhtin's (1968) theory of the carnivalesque. It draws on the 'shreds' of home economics pedagogy,scrutinising them for their subversive, transformative potential. In this analysis, the giving and taking of pleasure and fun in the home economics classroom presents moments of surprise and of carnival. Foucault's notion of the construction of the\ud ethical individual shows these 'atypical' bodies to be 'immoderate' yet striving hard to be 'continent' body subjects. This research captures moments of transgression which suggest that transformative moments are already embodied in the pedagogical practices of home economics\ud teachers, and these can be 'seen' when re-looking through postmodemist lenses. Hence, the cultural practices ofhome economics as inevitably marginalised are being\ud contested from within. Until now, home economics as a lived culture has failed to recognise possibilities for reconstructing its own field beyond the confines of modernity. This research is an example of how to think about home economics teachers and the profession as a reconfigured cultural practice. Future research about home economics as a body of knowledge and a site of teacher practice need not retell a simple story of oppression. Using postmodemist epistemologies is one way to provide opportunities for new ways of looking

Topics: Home economics Study and teaching, Sex discrimination in education, thesis, doctoral
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 1999
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