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A matter of interest: The discursive construction of women's choices

Aveling, Nado (1995) A matter of interest: The discursive construction of women's choices. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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'A matter of interest' is an exploration into the processes whereby women make decisions about their working lives. It takes a case-study approach and is based on a series of interviews with a group of 63 academically successful young women from a range of different ethnic backgrounds, social class locations, and discipline orientations. Although the scope is broad, this study is concerned with three principal questions: the first deals with the manner in which young women make choices about particular occupations; the second concerns the ways in which young women anticipate that their careers will develop; the third illuminates aspects of change in women's lives.

This thesis adopts a feminist poststructuralist position which accepts that females and males are discursively constructed and that subject positions are multiple. By focusing on the social sites of the family and the school, this thesis maps the way a group of young women made sense of competing discursive fields to position themselves in society. Because they had grown up in an era of 'equal opportunity', the women who participated in this study generally believed that for them 'anything was possible', that gender equality had been achieved and that the discrimination their mothers had experienced was a thing of the past. Yet their stories show that, despite the discourse of equality, some subject positions were not open to them; that despite their belief that they were rational and free agents, they were not free to choose just as they pleased. The choices they were making, both at the level of initial career choice and during the career development stage, were gendered choices.

It is the study's conclusion that discursive positions which encourage women to see themselves as 'equal' are as limiting in changing women's position in society as discourses which construct essential differences between women and men. This study argues that both discourses regarding femininity are essential but insufficient and that women need access to discourses which enable them to deconstruct common sense versions of femininity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
Supervisor(s): Currie, Jan and Collins, Cherry
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