Tuesday 25th March

Silverstone, Room SB325, 1-2pm

Speakers:
Kelly Spring (University of Manchester)
Beatrice Balfour (University of Cambridge)

Chair:
Dr Barbara Crossouard (Education, University of Sussex)

Abstracts:

Kelly Spring – Rationing and Gender Construction of the Second World War on the British Home Front

The Second World War ushered in a conflict that was unprecedented in its all-encompassing nature. The extent of the conflict required both men and women living in Britain to pursue roles and engage in activities that they did not normally follow in peacetime such as civil defence and military service, creating an environment which posed challenges to idealised forms of hegemonic masculinity and domestic femininity. These altered wartime gender dynamics pervaded all aspects of home front life, including the administration of the food controls. The British government determined that it needed to mobilise housewives in order to ensure the success of the food regulations, resulting in rationing publicity that overwhelmingly targeted married women.

Despite the relationship between women, feeding activities and propaganda, little historical research exists which analyses these links. Historians Richard Farmer and Sian Nicholas have both carried out studies which acknowledge the connections between food and gender in wartime publicity; however neither historian discusses the associations of food propaganda with societal notions of femininity and masculinity on the home front.

This paper, entitled ‘“A Good Housewife in Wartime”: Food Rationing and the Construction of Femininity on the British Home Front’, will expand on the historiography by investigating how the government conceptualised married women’s food activities through an analysis of official propaganda in the form of radio broadcasts and newspaper columns. This examination will explore three key themes in the publicity including: women’s national duty, motherhood and marital responsibilities. Through an examination of these areas, I will demonstrate that the government valorised women’s cookery activities in order to promote idealised femininity and maintain hegemonic masculinity in the shifting gender climate of wartime. I will also show that the government’s anxiety surrounding perceived deviations from prescribed gender archetypes resulted in publicity which questioned women’s femininity, patriotism and morality. Overall, this paper will use food rationing as a lens to understand the gender constructions, constraints and variations in a wartime environment.

Beatrice Balfour – ‘Leave those kids alone’: Dilemmas for Vygotsky’s theory of gender in child-centred education

Since the 1980s, feminist educational theorists have challenged the progressiveness of child-centered education in terms of gender (Dahlberg et al., 2007; Steedman et al., 1985). Educational theorists have also argued that the developmental psychology on which child-centered education relies often describes children as detached from their socio-cultural context, undermines power relations, and can contribute to the reproduction of traditional gender roles in schools (ibid; see also Langford, 2007). Recently, however, educational theorists have also put forward an alternative model of child-centered education that relies on the developmental theory of Lev Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism (Connolly, 2004; see also Scheweifsfurt, 2013). This theory states that the socio-cultural context in which children develop is essential to their growth. These theorists also argue that Vygotsky’s theory may be used to overcome the traditional gendered character of child-centered education by accounting for the socio-cultural context. No empirical research has yet been conducted on the deployment of Vygotsky’s theory in child-centered practices and its impact on the gendered dynamics in classrooms. This paper aims to fill this lacuna by exploring the deployment of Vygotsky’s theory and its impact on gender in child-centered education. This research consists of in a critical ethnographic study in a school that uses Vygotsky’s theory and it reveals that the school under consideration is very much an environment driven by the interests of the boys. It also shows that a certain interpretation of Vytosky’s social constructivism –a ‘non-interventionist interpretation’ that claims that teachers should not intervene to change children’s social behaviors in the classroom – can contribute to the reproduction of oppositional gender dynamics in the classrooms. The unique contribution of this paper, is that it shows that Vygotsky’s theory may be interpreted in ways that can serve to reproduce unequal gender dynamics in child-centered classrooms. These findings therefore call into question the fact that Vygotsky’s theory can function as an alternative model in child-centred education.

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