Unpacking the effects of power relations in childhood sexuality: A discursive analysis based on conversations with parents, teachers and counsellors
Flanagan, P. G. (2019). Unpacking the effects of power relations in childhood sexuality: A discursive analysis based on conversations with parents, teachers and counsellors (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12805
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12805
This research focusses on language used by adults within Aotearoa New Zealand who are significant in children’s lives, exploring cultural and societal discourses on childhood sexuality. Seventeen individual and three group interviews were conducted involving thirteen parents and nine teachers from two schools, and six therapists from one counselling agency. The participants were consulted on a series of six vignettes which were developed from clinical examples of children’s experiences. These vignettes were presented verbally to the participants. Ethical approval to interview children was granted, but parents did not consent to their involvement. The focus therefore turned to adults and the transcripts from these interviews provided the material for a discursive analysis of text and language based on the interview conversations. Utilising poststructuralist and feminist analysis of discourse as language and practices of power/knowledge, strategies were located in which children’s sexual subjectivities are governed through adults’ talk. This speaking produces gendered and sexed child subjects within dominant discourses of compulsory heterosexuality and normative biological and psychological development. Adults’ own sexual subjectivities also appeared to be regulated by these same practices, influencing the ways it was possible to talk about sexuality in childhood. Parents’ talk indicated care and initial intention to teach the child about sex and sexuality, but there was uncertainty about how and when, and fear about losing the initiative when a child accessed information from others, such as peers at school or from the internet. Through this talk, parents were constructed as ‘judges of normality’, guarding innocence and the heteronormative gender binary. Teachers’ talk reflected on changes in children’s awareness of themselves and others, and spoke of diversity in children’s experiences about sexuality and gender. However, regulated through policy as teachers in their relating to children about sex and sexuality, their talk was cautious. The analysis of interviews with counsellors focussed on the silences in society around talking about gendered norms of male sexuality and sexual behaviour. I found that there were instances where ideas stood in contrast to dominant positions within discourses. While most parents’ talk expressed a desire to be truthful with children’s inquiry and curiosity about sex and sexuality, few parents responded more openly and fully with that information. Overall, I found that the sites of talk about child sexuality were generally populated by women/mothers, and that men/fathers are frequently absent and/or silent in these discussions. The analysis suggested that, within an environment of uncertainty, information is hidden from children, and adults struggle to find public and professional spaces that are available and safe to engage in discussion with other adults about children and sexuality. Confusion and uncertainty characterised adults’ concerns about their responsibilities for deciding when, what and how much information to share with children about sex and sexuality.
The University of Waikato
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