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Politics, pedagogy and diversity: Towards Non-normative representations

Cumming-Potvin, W. and Martino, W. (2010) Politics, pedagogy and diversity: Towards Non-normative representations. In: Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress (ISEC) 2010, 2 - 5 August 2010, Queen's University Belfast, Northern Ireland


Concerned with maximizing engagement and minimizing exclusion for all students, this paper addresses the concept of diversity as it relates to differences in school communities. Aiming to illuminate the politics of normalcy for children, families and communities, the paper links teachers’ knowledge and understandings to pedagogical practices for addressing non-normative constructions of families involving same-sex parenting and relationships. Drawing on selected data from interviews and reflective literacy activities conducted with a group of elementary school teachers, the paper is based on a qualitative study set in urban Western Australia.

Framed within the broader politics of difference, the study was informed by Australian Commonwealth legislation, which does not legally recognize same-sex marriages, thus impacting negatively not only same-sex couples, but also on their children. Despite the publication of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2007 report, which lead to the amendment of 84 laws discriminating against same-sex couples in areas such as taxation, employment and superannuation, samesex marriages are still prohibited in Australia. Furthermore, notwithstanding some judicial arguments, the absence of a constitutional Bill of Rights in Australia suggests that an implied right to equality for same-sex marriages is not guaranteed (Lindell, 2008).The legal recognition of same-sex relationships has increasingly emerged as a world-wide civil rights issue in the 21st century; nonetheless, in 2009, same-sex marriages have only been legally recognized in seven countries.

Framed by a political context which discriminates against human rights on the basis of sex, sexuality and gender identity in marriage, the study drew on theoretical frameworks elaborated by Foucault (1979, 1980, 1984) and queer theorists such as Britzman and Kumashiro. Britzman (1998) argued that queer theory offers possibilities for reflecting on the production of knowledge to unveil shifting boundaries of power, tensions and contradictions in pedagogy. From this perspective, Foucault’s concept of regimes of truth is particularly useful for investigating fear, anxiety and contradiction observed in the production of normalcy and its systems of surveillance and regulation. For Kumashiro (2004), although no teaching approach is unproblematic, queer theory is especially pertinent for critiquing normalcy and reconceptualising ways of thinking about oppression, social justice and diversity in schools.

Schools can be viewed as systems aiming to maintain the status quo, despite social changes, such as increasing numbers of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families (Jeltova & Fish, 2005). To examine teacher discourses and pedagogical practices with reference to embracing diversity and challenging social injustice in the elementary school context, the analysis was inspired by the work of Gee (1990, 1999) and Bakhtin (1981). Drawing on viewpoints adopted by Britzman (1998, 1992) and Kumashiro (2000, 2001, 2004), the analysis unveiled a complexity of discourses about inclusion, exclusion and the teaching and learning of literacies in school communities. Specifically, a case study approach (see Gillham, 2000; Patton, 2002) interrogated the hetero-normative limits of teachers’ understandings for using literacy resources to discuss same-sex parenting and family relationships in the classroom.

To maximize students’ and families’ engagement, results point to the need for redefining queer family constructions in local school settings, where sexual minorities can be embraced, rather than erased. The need for systemic change on a broader political and pedagogical level is also increasingly apparent. However, the critique of institutional regimes which normalize heterosexuality as natural (see Britzman, 1995; Martino, 2009) should be undertaken simultaneously with serious consideration for implementing effective student learning (see Athanases, 1996; Sumara et al., 2006).

Publication Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Education
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