Exploring the constitution of Canadian-born working-class women’s subjectivities in higher education through Collective Biography

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Tomlinson, Erin R.
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Mount Saint Vincent University
This thesis takes up a gender and class focus to explore the following research questions: What does it mean to be a working-class woman in higher education in Canada? How are working-class women’s sense of self shaped in the higher education milieu? I explore these questions through feminist poststructural theory and the feminist methodology of collective biography (Gannon & Davies, 2006; Gonick & Gannon, 2014). Through an analysis of memory stories written by six working-class women, including myself, about our experiences in university, I show how dominant discourses around smartness, contemporary femininity, neoliberalism, race, geographical differences, value, and respectability, and the affective responses produced by these discourses intersect with gender and working-class identity to produce particular subjectivities. I also explore how these discourses play out in the psychic and relational realms, informing the subject positions assumed by working-class women in higher education. My analysis reveals that Canadian-born working-class women take up a range of subject positions in university, including ones that reflect and resist the dominant middle-class discourses found within the discursive field of the university.
Canadian women, working-class women, education, Canada