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PRIVATE METAPHORS AND PUBLIC WORLDS: Symbols of Domesticity and Women Teachers’ Work in Global Times Jo-Anne Dillabough (please do not cite this work without the permission of the author).

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PRIVATE METAPHORS AND PUBLIC WORLDS: Symbols of Domesticity and Women Teachers’ Work in Global TimesJo-Anne Dillabough(please do not cite this work without the permission of the author)

I read the collection Fathers: Reflections by Daughters, or Ann Oakley’s Taking it Like a Women and feel the painful and familiar sense of exclusion from these autobiographies of middle class girlhood and womanhood, envy of those who belong, who can, like Ann Oakley, use the outlines of conventional romantic fiction to tell a life story. And women like this, friends say: but it was like that for me too, my childhood was like yours....What they cannot bear, I think, is that there exists a poverty and marginality of experience to which they have no access, ‘structures of feeling’ that they have not lived within (and would not want to because these are structures of deprivation).... They are caught then in a terrible exclusion, an exclusion from the experiences of others that measures out their own central relationship to culture. Carolyn Steadman, ‘Landscape of a Good Woman’


Central Theoretical Argument

  • *women’s teachers’ work can be viewed as a gendered ‘space’ (see Massey, 1995) and prime representative of the spatial division of labour shaping professional identity and social language of female work
  • *‘cultural/material field’ (Bourdieu, 1998, McNay) where contradictory tensions surrounding the symbolic/cultural meaning of female identity are played out
  • *‘space’ or ‘field’ seen as complex site which embodies particular elements of modernity that are premised upon historically structured forms of masculinity and femininity
  • *impact of reforms is highly uneven, variegated and differentiated socio-cultural process (re: institutional hierarchy)
  • *presence of a gendered 'habitus' in the cultural field of teaching/teacher education, linked to larger changes in the quasi-market focus of the university/schools, as well as in the history of women’s relationship to education
  • *middle-class cultural capital and notions of legitimate citizen as premise upon which stories about female work are told across diverse social locations
  • *representation in/organization of field as instrumental in maintenance of social inequality, distributing advantage over disadvantage


  • *expose various meanings that 25 women teachers teacher educators attribute to their work [in general and with low income and working class youth] in periods of substantial global reform and change
  • *link sociological/empirical accounts of teacher professionalism and policy shifts with theoretical concepts of teacher/gender subjectivity
  • *the relationship between educational restructuring and work in the ‘social work professions’;
  • *explore how transnational reforms ultimately regulate and reproduce an uneven & ‘deeply sedimented’ gendered division of labour, and serves as one “strategic nexus” supporting success of global reforms in education
  • *explore how broader neo-liberal ideals -- as central to the global reform movement -- insinuate themselves into women's professional lives in what Bourdieu (1999) calls the 'social work' professions
  • *address the relationship between teachers’ work, its contemporary cultural and symbolic meanings, and role of subjectivity in the formation of professional identity (micro-cultural level)




*assess cultural/symbolic elements of work organization and its manifestations in women’s narratives of working life. What are the symbolic codes which have, as Lois McNay argues, sedimented over time in teaching/teacher education? What are the discourses which continue to shape teacher education as a discipline and a field of work for women? What are the symbolic rituals and conventions which can be detected in the culture of work and which both undermine and shape women’s conceptions of professionalism?


* links two concepts: the rise of women’s work in education and the academy with women’s symbolic location in the private elements of democracy. What precisely did democracy or the private hold for women in the ‘service professions’? What does service or professionalism mean to women teachers in the state? What do these terms, particularly when they are linked with social welfare, mean when they are applied to the category of women’s work? How do we critique the category of women’s work keeping the metaphor of the private in mind? How does women’s work in the academy at times both resemble elements of change and continuity?

Four Conceptual Ideas Con’d

3. Interpretation and Subjectivity

*one’s interpretive registers of working life not only reflects working conditions but also the tensions and paradoxes in relation to the ‘self’. Who is the working self, who is the professional self, what is the history of the profession, what link does the working self have to this historical elements of female subjectivity as they have developed through time

4. Worker Narratives as Gendered Habitus

*one’s narrative of working life provides the epistemological and empirical tools for understanding the uneven and differentiated reproduction of a gendered habitus of working life as it is reflected in teaching and teacher education


Policy Context: Ontario

  • School choice policy (specialist schools, specialist
  • teacher model)
  • Standardized Testing (literacy test, grade 10)
  • Devolution of School Governance (self funding model,
  • 1997 for all schools/middle class schools)
  • Emphasis on Literacy and Numeracy in Schools
  • Teacher accountability and assessment (teacher
  • Accreditation, teacher cuts, closing of equity unit, largest teacher
  • redundancies in 1990’s, special ed, librarians, teaching assistants, infra-structure money. Open competition for additional project-based funding)
  • Zero Tolerance Policies (criminalization of young people and teachers, rise in surveillance strategies of both students and teachers)
  • Ontario College of Teachers’ Assessment Bodies (Deans Agreements supported assessment)

Research Study 1: Retrenchment, Work Intensification and De-professionalization (8-12 context)

I took on the job not because I wanted it but because the head was’s recently been scaled back from

Major headship to a minor headship because of cuts…I find that very frustrating..I’m overwhelmed with all the

Details, the meetings, the consumables….Nevertheless even with a only a very few personality problems I find it Overwhelming…I feel guilty about the fact that I go to my classes and shoot from the hip because I don’t have time Prep because I’ve been doing department stuff…so not having a prep period, which is cutbacks…now we have to be available to all elementary schools to help them improve their curriculum and that’s impossible.. I can barely keep up with responsibilities in this teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less

We should all be ‘coming to a space where they[we] feel we own it.. That the students are comfortable, they are safe, and they want to be here…That’s what we should be trying to do and we can’t do because we are too the best I can do is create that in space in the four walls of my classroom…Kids come in and they need to be safe and um welcome, and so I can you know, no pejorative putdowns, no racial slurs,,,,but they I go into the halls and I pass colleagues who are too tired to deal with…to deal with the challenges low inome kids face…The hallway is a big place. The kids spend a lot of time there and they abused there…and we are just walking by because we are too overwhelmed …[There is no teaching to assess]





I’m pretty confident that 80% or more have part time jobs. Many of them work 20-40 hours a week..

Many go with their parents to work at night and they come to school tired…I appreciate that and I respect that and they know[]

It’s not that my expectations are lower. [.I come in early] and they do their homework then and I don’t mind as long as they do it..

They don’t boast about the fact that there is no milk in the house..they come very tough backgrounds..It’s an achievement

for them to get to school …[only we have no literacy training to teach many of them…but we are asked to do it].

The reason I’m at this school is because of the diversity..a lot of our kids come from different countries..refugee or

immigrant statusAnd the reason I need to stay at this school is because I need to be a mentor for this kids..I went through

tough times here, being a teenager…These kids are needy and I need to be here for them..They need understanding


Surveillance, Social Control and its Role in Reconfiguring Professional Identity

There’s a teacher assessment done but the administration they understand how difficult the new model is..

it was totally ridiculous in terms of expectations, the admin was rather desperate [having to prove our worth the nobody did it basically you couldn’t do it and run a school…You’d spend the

whole time evaluating the teachers [so guess whose under the gun]…

So we’re supposed to evaluate a third of the staff over a three period, each

Staff member will have been evaluated by the administration, then you’ve had your pre-interview and your

Professional growth…[guess who has to look after it all]….




Research Study 2: Gender, Retrenchment and Professional Legitimacy (Teacher Education)

Women as ‘Units of Production’ or ‘Objects of Marketizing’ Reforms

(Teacher Education, Canada, with S. Acker)

  • We lived through a very serious process of re-organization. Departments were merged [..] we went through a serious process of merging[…]. I strongly opposed this….I stood up […] many times. The director of ---was a women […] . She insulted me but I had a mandate. Quite often woman were used for that. Women with little experience were hired in the name of equity and that was not a favour to anybody. Then they were very obedient to central administration because they didn’t have the authority of experience. (Canada, Traditions and Transitions)
  • The changes were hegemonical with the aura of common sense or universal or has to be [Bourdieu’s doxa, symbolic violence] But it isn’t a coincidence that they didn’t pay attention to experience when hiring female administrators [who they thought could be easily manipulated] (Canada, Traditions and Transitions)

Women who are in the teacher ed. management positions are knocking themselves out. [They] are being completely destroyed by these kinds of economic measures. (Carin, TE, Canada)

  • I’d actually brought in all these grants and managed to keep them going and I thought, God, they expect me to carry on working at this rate and I had thought I was working too hard already, just in terms of having to be a good girl all of the time (Rebecca, professor, Canadian Study)


      • *symbolic domination is embedded in narrations of working life (Weight of the World, internalization of historical order, Arendt refers to as “carrying the burden of our history”)
      • *social work discipline as conflated with space/field of private
      • *reproduction of ontological notions of female service in symbolic sense (gender codes are intensified) is intensified in social work professions and in schools identified or targeted as ‘low income’
      • *micro-macro relation is crucial to understanding larger conditions and culture of female work (policy reform and retrenchment is undermining women’s gains in public institutions (public is eroding as a political concept of protection)
  • *symbolic markers of the private sphere, as well as professional status in educational hierarchies, mediate effects of regulatory controls and their impact on female work in professions with a history of institutionalizing female labour

Conclusion Con’d

      • *regulation and reproduction are occurring simultaneously
  • *particular representations of female work as exercise in social-class
  • reproduction and social differentiation