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Girls' tales: experiences of schooling

posted on 25.06.2020 by Wolfe, Melissa Joy
This doctoral study consists of a written thesis with embedded filmic dialogues and an artefact (a documentary film). The thesis explores female experience encountered while attending Australian secondary schools as a schoolgirling process. An empirical study was undertaken that included a qualitative online survey (153 participants), followed by individual, semi-structured, filmed interviews (14 participants) and a focus group (11 participants). Two intergenerational participant groups recount pedagogical interactions, experienced as affective encounters in the classroom, in a direct performative dialogue that is filmed. This is not a study of what ‘is’ but a study that attempts to understand how what ‘is’ has come to be for these participants and incorporates an understanding of how ‘is’ continues to evolve. The intergenerational participants’ testimonies enable some insights into why entrenched gendered pathways for schoolgirls still persist despite implementation of gender equity programmes in Australia for the past forty years. The importance of this research lies in unhinging practices that continue to be productive of inequity as a material, social, economic, physical and psychological consequence for students. Karen Barad’s (2007) agential realism theory underpins the ‘filmic methodology’ developed in the undergoing of this thesis. Filmic methodology disregards the notion of film as a truth document, as a representation of reality, and, instead, takes up the concept that film is a projection that allows the creation of a non-prescribed reality through the research encounter. Filmic methodology draws from the research domains of education, sociology and the creative arts and is my major contribution to knowledge. This study examines the process of sedimentation of pedagogical routines and practices that create inequity in secondary school. Assemblages examined evolve around the underexplored consequence of affect and, specifically, the affect of shame within classroom encounters. Recounted incidents of bullying at school, often unnamed and misrecognised, illustrate ways that shame is employed and the refractive outcome of these incidents. The subject of Mathematics emerged, unsolicited, as problematic, in a highly gendered and reductive relationship with these female participants. Participants articulated current and past life aspirations that illustrate how they not only re/negotiate their past but are actually continually re/making their future in the present. The filmic methodology employed allows an empathetic opening to examine ways that educational practices beckon students to differentiate themselves in performative ways. It does this as a pragmatic and positive operation through employing affect. In this way, it demonstrates a paradigm shift like Barad’s (2007) quantum leap into theories of new materialism. This new research method effectively draws attention to a bodily ethic that notices the pedagogical impact on precarious bodies (as affect) and the impact of non-linguistic communication in schooling. This thesis promotes an alternative ethics in education as one that promotes noticing the impact entities have on each other, in relation, as negative differentiation and then enacting an affirmative difference that may lead to greater equity for all students. This consideration may allow, and promote, desires for alternative ways of knowing what it is to be a successful girl at school and beyond.

Additional material(s) submitted with thesis.

Awards: Winner of the Mollie Holman Doctoral Medal for Excellence, Faculty of Education, 2016.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Mary Lou Rasmussen

Additional supervisor 1

Iris Duhn

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education