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Construing family: a critical discourse analysis of home economics curriculum 1972-2009

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posted on 17.02.2017, 02:13 authored by Farrelly, Cathleen Bernadette
Home Economics as a field has always had the wellbeing of individuals and families as its key focus. Its earliest manifestation as a range of domestic science subjects including cooking, sewing and child rearing, imbued with domestic ideology and technical, scientific know-how, was aimed at improving the effectiveness of women’s work within the home and family. A concern for the plight of ‘the family’ in a context where corporate industrial interests were perceived as having a negative impact on the family, underpinned the rise of the Home Economics movement in the early 1900s. Education was increasingly perceived as a means to national development and it was assumed that girls educated in domestic science would be better mothers and thus better producers of the future workforce. ‘Family’ was clearly understood to be ‘the nuclear family’ consisting of a breadwinner husband and father with a dependent wife/mother and children. Today multiple understandings of ‘family’ exist and various discourses of family can marginalise particular cultural perspectives while at the same time promoting and normalising others. Surprisingly, the ways ‘family’ has been and is conceptualised in Home Economics has remained largely unexamined. Similarly there is an absence of scholarly work on the way ‘family’ has been portrayed in Home Economics school curriculum over time. This is a significant problem for the field given the centrality of ‘family’ to its purpose. In this thesis, I draw on Norman Fairclough’s (1992) approach to critical discourse analysis to explore the conceptualisation of ‘family’ within the Victorian state (Australia) senior school Home Economics curriculum from 1972 to 2009. Critical discourse analysis is based on the understanding that language has constructive effects on social identities, relationships, and systems of knowledge and beliefs. Thus, language in texts can shape knowledge and beliefs about ‘family’ and the identities and relationships of ‘family’ members. The published syllabi, related teacher handbooks and examinations form the corpora of this study. Using the discursive context of this period as a sensitising lens, I explore the textual devices and discourse practices drawn upon by Home Economics curriculum writers to construe ‘family’. This approach also allows me to draw from a broad range of literatures about ‘family’ to engage with the ways ‘family’ is construed within the Home Economics texts. My analysis reveals that the Home Economics course texts frame ‘family’ within structural-functionalist, gender, scientific, management and crisis discourses. I argue that the conceptualisations of ‘family’ within these texts lag the discursive contexts in which they were written. While key Home Economics position statements today claim an emancipative and socially critical role in improving ‘family’ wellbeing, my analysis reveals a disconnect between this intention and the senior school Home Economics curriculum. The fruitfulness of Fairclough’s approach to critical discourse analysis for the development of a text-based curriculum history is revealed through this study


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Jane Kenway

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Monash University. Faculty of Education. Education


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education