Theses Doctoral

“Hijas de la Lucha”: Social Studies Education and Gender/Political Subjectification in the Chilean High School Feminist Movement

Errazuriz Besa, Valentina

Over the past years, particularly during 2018, Chilean society has experienced a robust feminist movement led by high school students. At the same time, mainstream society and researchers claim that Chile is experiencing a youth civic and citizenship education crisis, particularly among young women. I address this apparent contradiction by challenging the futuristic approach in citizenship education taken in the country and exploring how young women are currently politically engaged and challenge gender oppression within their high schools and their activist spaces. I have used a post-human and post-colonial feminist theoretical framework to answer the following research question, How do female public high school students in Chile who identify as feminist or politically active produce their gender/political subjectivities in the 2018 context of contentious feminist politics? And, sub questions; How do they do this while engaging with feminist discourses and practices in and outside of school? How do they do this while engaging with historical narratives? Finally, how do they do this while engaging with formal political education in school? A context of contentious feminist politics will be understood as a context where feminism is prevalent in public discourse, which forces people -in this case students- to take a stance concerning this subject.

To answer the research questions, I conducted a critical ethnography, observing classes and other activities at Edelbina González High School, a Chilean all-female public high school with an active group of high school feminists. During my fieldwork, I invited six 12th-grade participants to be my focal group of observation and to take part in individual testimonios interviews and collective art-based testimonios workshops. Through these methods, I produced fieldnotes of observations, transcriptions and audio-recordings of the interviews and workshops, and photographs of the school space and students’ art pieces. I analyzed the data through a three-layer process using thematic coding analysis, narrative structural and content analysis, visual analysis, and “plugging in with theory” analysis (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012).

This study engages with lengthy discussion regarding education and reproduction of gender regimes; it explores how oppressive systems transform but remain, particularly in regards to citizenship and formal political education through neoliberal discourses of girl empowerment. It also shows how feminist female high school students communally and creatively respond, theorize, and re-imagine political engagement within these frames, providing insights into what is, and what can be education for democratic citizenship and gender justice. The Feminist students in this study produced themselves as nomadic mestiza bodies engaging with pre-existing political frameworks but at the same time built something more. The students assembled themselves within an antagonistic us/them framework within the Chilean Student Movement, which considers the state and school as adversaries attempting to oppress them. Their high school attempted to reproduce them as feminine, successful, conflict-free neoliberal girls. Regardless, the feminist students displaced both the antagonistic and neoliberal model producing their gender/political subjectivities as nomadic, ever-shifting, vulnerable and strong, and connecting themselves with collective memories and historical narratives. The production of the feminist students’ gender/political subjectivities through “affectivism,” resistance, and political caring rendered the participants as nomadic mestiza bodies, always becoming, collectively connected and empowered by one another to produce political change.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Teaching of Social Studies
Thesis Advisors
Schmidt, Sandra
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 6, 2020