Othering Processes in Feminist Teaching : A case study of an adult educational institution

Abstract: Taking its starting point from a critical dialogue with feminist and postcolonial theory, this dissertation explores processes of othering in a feminist adult educational institution, Women’s Room, in Sweden. Women’s Room is a women-only school and half of the student body has a migrant background. The project is an ethnographic study consisting of nine months of participant observations and interviews, with special attention to courses for migrant women. The active involvement of two groups of women – migrant students and feminist teachers – in processes of negotiation, resistance and reproduction of boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are at the centre of the analysis. While special attention is given to educational practices at the institution, these are also explored within the broader contexts of the Swedish gender discourse on nationhood and belonging as well as the changes taking place within the Swedish welfare state. Using the concept of intersectionality, the dissertation demonstrates how categories of difference are interwoven and intermeshed in processes of boundary making. Different social categories, such as racialized class locations and racialized gender/sexuality, are articulated in different forms of racism. The study identifies racism in the interrelations of power structures and demonstrates that gendered and sexualized racism is embedded in discourses and practices of gender equality and the welfare state in Sweden. Although my results highlight gendered and sexualized racist practices and discourses in feminist teaching and identify how these contribute to boundaries of difference and belonging, my research also illuminates complexities within the two groups of women in my study. Migrant students disidentify with the category of ‘them’ and challenge the stigmatized representation of migrants in society. Teachers present a fractured ‘we’, who criticize the boundaries of difference while also (re)constructing the migrant students as Others in the educational processes. I, the researcher, also participated in the othering process. Taken together this supports the fragmentary and contradictory nature of subject formations and identities. This dissertation aims at furthering scholarship and activism in feminist methodology, feminist teaching practices and theorizing difference. I make the process of conducting feminist research transparent and discuss the dilemma of closeness and distance in writing a feminist research product. With my analysis of the roles of feminist teaching in the processes of othering, I wish the reader to (re)consider how difference can be theorized in feminist scholarship and how boundaries of difference can be resisted in feminist teaching.