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A genealogy of conversation: gender subjectivation and learning French in England.

Cohen, Michele Betty. (1993) A genealogy of conversation: gender subjectivation and learning French in England. PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London.

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Abstract

Why is French perceived to be a 'female' language in British secondary schools? And why should this explain both girls' superior performance, and boys' under-achievement in the language? My aim in this thesis is to identify, within the framework of a Foucauldian genealogy, the historical conditions for the emergence of the gender of French and of a discourse on gendered achievement in education. Disputing the commonplace that French has always been a frivolous female accomplishment, I argue that in the eighteenth century, though males and females of rank both learned French, conversation in general and speaking French in particular were highly valued skilled for males, as they were constitutive of the gentleman. However, learning French produced contradictory positionings for the gentleman because emerging discourses on English nationalism, and anxiety about masculinity, constructed the French as an effeminate Other. Knowledge of French was problematic for females only if it positioned them in the 'social' space, a space for display, but not in the domestic space. In the nineteenth century, the emergence of a discourse on the sexed mind provided the conditions for a shift in the techniques for the construction of the gentleman, from the cultivation of his tongue to the cultivation of his mental faculties. This entailed a derogation of the tongue, which produced the figure of the taciturn English gentleman, and transformed the learning of French. While upper class males scorned the French tongue and learned only its grammar, French conversation came to be principally associated with females and the construction of femininity. French, I argue, acquired a gender not because of its association with females, but because it was inextricably enmeshed in discourses relating to the construction of masculinity and English national identity. Following the traces of the discourse on gendered achievement, I have shown that females have been constructed as lacking in intellect not because their abilities were ignored or explained away, but because the evidence of their superior ability served to construct their mind as inferior and lacking. Absence of ability, on the other hand, produced the mental superiority of males and their boundless potential. In conclusion, my thesis demonstrates that a genealogical analysis of conversation and of females' learning of French has implications not Just for practices in the classroom today, but for studies concerning masculinity and femininity, and the history of Anglo- French relations in the eighteenth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Controlled Keywords: French studies,Achievement,Sex role,Sex differences,Secondary education,History of education
Depositing User: Mr Andrew Welshman
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2014 09:10
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2015 10:54
View Record in Library Catalogue: http://ioe.sirsidynix.net.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5/3?searchdata1=a128493{CKEY}
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