GEA Interim Conference, 11th – 13th April 2012

The interim conference, Gender and Democracy: Gender and Research in Times of Change’, was hosted by the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Education and Special Education.

A tremendously enthusiastic and dedicated scientific committee (led by the Head of Department Eva Gannerud) created a conducive atmosphere for the 104 delegates, who had travelled from nineteen countries including Iceland, Taiwan, Egypt, Canada, Australia, Finland, Slovenia, Switzerland, Sweden and the UK.

In the first presentation, Inga Wernersson mapped the gender research undertaken by seven research groups at the University of Gothenburg since the 1970s.  She reminded us of the early gender studies on sex role theory and quantitative work on boys’ and girls’ school subject choices.  She spoke of the ‘bloodless revolution’ that took place in Sweden when the growing economic need for labour in the 1970s led to the growth of pre-school nursery provision which enabled women to enter paid employment. She described how the gender order had been reconstructed between the 1970s and 2012 and indentified the postmodern focus on multiple identities and individual lifestyle choices as dominant issues in contemporary gender research.

Elisabet Ohrn’s keynote, titled ‘Gender, student influence and demographic education: another success story?’ progressed the theme of postmodernism by pointing to the trend towards individualised pedagogies.  Her research on the teaching of democracy in schools found that individualised pedagogies rarely supported girls who spoke out in schools about ways to include students’ voices.

Fatmagul Berktay’s keynote meanwhile gave a fascinating insight into how women in Turkey were forming women’s centres that have developed strategies to help others fight a range of oppressive social structures. She described how the women enabled other women to experience progressive transformation and to literally find a voice to talk back to all groups in society including male religious leaders.  She described how the use of what she called the ‘I’ language enabled women to find a sense of subjectivity where they had previously experienced male objectification. She compared the strategies of this grass roots approach to earlier western radical feminism that had refused to speak or negotiate with groups that represented patriarchal oppression.

In the final keynote Lynn Davies spoke on ‘Fundamentalist religion and gender: the case for secular education’.  She provided a theoretically informed model of how to promote gender equality.  Her recent thinking draws on complexity theory, complex adaptive systems and specifically the notion of self-organising, open-systems. Her argument for framing gender equality within human rights and within children’s rights legislation in order to protect the principle of equality yet allow for global diversity turned out to be controversial.  Many feminists in the audience clearly showed a desire to extend the debate.

Delegates felt that they had been extraordinarily well looked after at the conference, both in body and mind.  One highlight was being sung to by a wonderful choir of mainly gay men interspersed with insightful commentary from the conductor who described the genesis and growing social influence of their intelligently subversive approach to gender inequality. The GEA executive would like to thank the conference organisers for all of their hard in work in making the conference stimulating, exciting and great fun.  Don’t forget we are actively looking for a venue for the next interim conference in 2014….

Gabrielle Ivinson and Emma Rawdon, GEA Executive

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