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Making classed sexualities: Investigating gender, power and violence in middle-class teenagers' relationship cultures

Holford, Naomi 2012. Making classed sexualities: Investigating gender, power and violence in middle-class teenagers' relationship cultures. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis investigates gendered power relations, including violence, control and coercion, within teenage heterosexual relationships, and broader relationship cultures. It focusses on upper-middle class 14-16 year olds, whose sexualities – unlike those of working-class teenagers – are seldom seen as a social problem. It explores the interactions of romantic and sexual experiences with classed identities and social contexts, based on data generated within a large, high-performing state comprehensive in an affluent, ethnically homogenous (white) area of south-east England. The research, conducted in and outside school, used a mixed-methods approach, incorporating in-depth individual and paired interviews, and self-completion questionnaires. It draws on insights from feminist post-structural approaches to gender and sexualities, and is situated in relation to work that explores the negotiation of gender in “post-feminist” neoliberal societies. Despite (in some ways, because of) their privileged class positioning, these young people faced conflicting regulatory discourses. Heteronormative discourses, and gendered double standards, still shaped their (sexual) subjectivities. Sexuality was very public and visible, forming a claustrophobic regulatory framework restricting movements and choices, particularly girls’. But inequalities and violences were often obscured by powerful classed discourses of compulsory individuality, with young people compelled to perform an autonomous self even as they negotiated inescapably social networks of sexuality. These discourses could exacerbate inequalities, as participants denigrated others for vulnerability. A significant proportion of participants reported controlling, coercive or violent relationship experiences, but girls especially downplayed their importance. Girls shouldered the burden of emotion work, taking on responsibility for both their own and partners’ emotions. Sexual harassment and violence from peers were often regarded with resignation, and sometimes led to further victimisation from partners or peers. Policing of sexuality was bound up with classed prejudices and assumptions; participants’ performances of identity often rested on dissociation from the working class. Young middle-class people’s heterosexual subjectivities sat uneasily with educationally successful, future-oriented subjectivities; sexuality was an ever-lurking threat to becoming an educational and therefore classed success.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Funders: ESRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2018 03:15

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