Bodies, hoodies, schools, and success: post-human performativity and smart girlhood

This article adds to the literature on smart girlhood by exploring the topic through Karen Barad’s theory of post-human performativity. We focus on the transcripts of two participants from a larger study on girls and academic success in Canada in
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found athttp://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=cgee20 Gender and Education ISSN: 0954-0253 (Print) 1360-0516 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cgee20 Bodies, hoodies, schools, and success: post-humanperformativity and smart girlhood Shauna Pomerantz & Rebecca Raby To cite this article:  Shauna Pomerantz & Rebecca Raby (2018): Bodies, hoodies, schools,and success: post-human performativity and smart girlhood, Gender and Education, DOI:10.1080/09540253.2018.1533923 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2018.1533923 Published online: 18 Oct 2018.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 19View Crossmark data  Bodies, hoodies, schools, and success: post-humanperformativity and smart girlhood Shauna Pomerantz and Rebecca Raby Department of Child and Youth Studies, Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada ABSTRACT  This article adds to the literature on smart girlhood by exploring thetopic through Karen Barad ’ s theory of post-human performativity. Wefocus on the transcripts of two participants from a larger study ongirls and academic success in Canada in order to highlight thematerial, discursive, embodied, and temporal entanglements thatco-produce the possibilities for girls ’  academic subjectivities. Usinga di ff  ractive methodology, we highlight the mutually arisingagencies of bodies, hoodies, schools, grades, and mediaconstructions of multi-talented  ‘ supergirls. ’  This analysis highlightsthe importance of an intersectional approach to academic successalongside an understanding that inequalities, such as sexism, stillendure for smart girls. We conclude by emphasizing the power of materiality in girls ’  everyday lives to shift understandings of self,school, and smartness, as well as the importance of movingbeyond dichotomous and decontextualized accounts of girls ’  highachievement that have circulated for over twenty years. ARTICLE HISTORY Received 3 March 2017Accepted 28 August 2018 KEYWORDS Girls; academic success; post-human performativity; intra-activity; Karen Barad Introduction For over twenty years, smart girlhood has remained an important topic of study for fem-inists in the  fi eld of gender and education. Seeking to challenge the biological essentialismthat often structures media and popular psychologicalaccounts ofboys and girls in school,feminists working in this area have sought to tease out the gendered assumptions in the ‘ feminization of schooling ’  argument, the reductionism inherent in arguments that focuson girls ’  and boys ’  brains, and the lack of intersectionality in arguments that focus ongender as a stand-alone category (for an overview, see Pomerantz and Raby 2017). Tocombat accounts that pit  ‘ e ff  ortlessly ’  successful girls against  ‘ predictably ’  failing boys,feminist researchers have written numerous counter narratives that forge new pathwaysinto the lives of high achieving girls by adding social, cultural, historical, economic, discur-sive, and material contexts. This wide body of research continues to deepen discussions of smart girlhood as a complex and intersected social category with multiple dimensions thatmove away from dualistic and biological representations.Much of the research on smart girlhood, including our own, has taken a feminist post-structural approach to the topics of agency and subjectivity (see Butler 1990, 1993). For © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group CONTACT  Shauna Pomerantz spomerantz@brocku.ca Department of Child and Youth Studies, Brock University,1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1, Canada GENDER AND EDUCATIONhttps://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2018.1533923  example, a feminist post-structural lens helped us contextualize smart girlhood vis-à-visthe  ’ interconnection[s] between power, knowledge, subjectivity, and language ’  (Alaimoand Hekman 2008, 1) and to engage with agency as a discursively produced construct,rather than part of a pre-discursive, innate sense of self. We focused on how girls nego-tiated academic success in relation to the discourses of gender,  ‘ race ’ , and class, as wellas popularity, sexism, and contemporary post-feminist narratives that deny the existenceof gender inequality while simultaneously perpetuating it (Pomerantz and Raby 2011,2017; Pomerantz, Raby, and Stefanik  2013; Raby and Pomerantz 2015). In this article, however, we draw on post-human performativity, and the work of feminist philosopherand physicist, Karen Barad, to add to the ever-growing and theoretically rich conversationon smart girlhood. This framework opens di ff  erent questions about girls ’  academic successthat move beyond discursive performativity, which emphasizes epistemological questionsin order  ‘ to avoid a metaphysics of presence or substance ’  (Jagger 2015, 323). Instead,post-human performativity asks ontological questions that theorize matter as an activeparticipant in the production of distributive agencies and co-created subjectivities. Taylor (2013, 690) suggests that a post-human lens creates deep contextualization thatpushes beyond discursive/epistemological inquiries to reconsider how subjectivities are ‘ transformed and continually re-made through the concerted co-constitutive acts of objects – bodies – spaces. ’  Inwhatfollows,we pursue thisperspectivein relation togirls ’ aca-demic subjectivities and the co-constitutive agencies out of which possibilities for smartgirls might arise.Drawing on multiple identity contexts as they entwine with material objects, bodies,locations, and temporal shifts helps us to highlight not just the impossibility of genderas an independent unit of analysis that de fi nes whether and how a girl will be smart,but also the deep complexities of smart girlhood that have been left to the wayside inheadlines and popular books about girls ’  academic success and boys ’  concomitantfailure. As part of this constantly shifting constellation of meaning, we  fi rst situate ouranalysis within the literature on smart girlhood to highlight the varied trajectories and cri-tiques that gender and education researchers have brought to the topic. We then describeour post-human framework, and, speci fi cally, Barad ’ s (2007) understanding of post-humanperformativity as a form of non-intentional a ff  ective force that occurs due to collidingagencies among human and non-human phenomena. Our use of the term  ‘ a ff  ectiveforce ’  follows other feminist theorists who have brought the Deleuzo-Guattarian notionof a ff  ect into conversation with Barad ’ s post-human performativity (see Davies 2014;Hultman and Lenz Taguchi 2010; Ringrose and Renold 2014). Referring to a collective and shared intensity within spheres of relations, in his introduction to  A Thousand Plateaus ,Massumi (1987, xvi) notes that a ff  ect is  ‘ an ability to a ff  ect and be a ff  ected, ’  but notthrough conscious and individualized human intension. Instead  –  and drawing on thea ff  ective turn in the social sciences since 2000  –  we use the term a ff  ective force to referto a much wider and  fl atter understanding of interactions, bodily expressions, and experi-ences to contextualize smart girlhood as a shifting and  fl uctuating social category thata ff  ects and is a ff  ected by myriad possibilities within material, embodied, discursive,spatial, and temporal relations.Following this discussion of the world ’ s  ‘ ongoing intra-activity ’  (Barad 2003, 803), wedescribe Barad ’ s (2007) notion of di ff  raction as methodology, where forms of interferencecreate shifts in meaning and understanding. We then o ff  er a post-human analysis of  2 S. POMERANTZ AND R. RABY   interviews with Ginger and Veronica,  fi fteen-year-old sisters and self-de fi ned smart girls, toillustrate the complex connectivity that gives rise to smart girl subjectivities and to furthercontribute to the unsettling of smart girlhood as a known, uncomplicated, and discreteentity. Smart girlhood in the literature  Two decades ago, popular and scholarly attention in the West turned to girls ’ ‘ newfound ’ academic success and boys ’  associated failure. Coverage emphasized girls ’  achievement interms of high school grades and extracurricular achievements (e.g. Conlin 2003; Kindlon2006), university entrances and graduation rates (e.g. Lewin 2006), and increasing enrol- ments in certain typically male-dominated  fi elds, such as medicine and law (e.g. DiPreteand Buchmann 2013). This  ‘ successful girls ’  narrative (Ringrose 2007) was considered evi-dence that educational initiatives for girls were no longer needed (Pomerantz, Raby, andStefanik  2013; Ringrose 2007). Instead, concern for the comparatively lower academic success of boys became widespread in media, popular psychological, and educationalaccounts of gender and schooling (e.g. Conlin 2003; Rosin 2012; Sax 2009; see Francis and Skelton 2005 and Ringrose 2007), with some critics suggesting that girls ’  successwas at the expense of boys, and that girls were leaving boys behind (e.g. Sommers2013; see Epstein et al. 1998). In response, school policies and resources shifted dramati- cally to support boys (Ringrose 2007).Stories of   ‘ successful girls ’  and  ‘ failing boys ’  are often framed by a post-feminist narra-tive, which draws on liberal feminist language of choice, self-empowerment, and  ‘ girlpower ’  within an assumed context of equality (Baker 2010; Gill 2007; McRobbie 2009; Ring- rose 2007). Feminist research into smart girlhoods has countered this post-feminist myth(McRobbie 2009), however, critiquing the successful girls and failing boys narratives forneglecting ongoing gender inequalities experienced by girls and for homogenizinggirls ’  (and boys ’ ) lives (Harris 2004; Pomerantz, Raby, and Stefanik  2013; Ringrose 2013). Ironically, gender inequality continues to thrive in the context of its denial, includingwithin schools. Girls are less likely to be in the lucrative and prestigious areas of scienceand technology, for instance (Francis and Skelton 2005; Huhman 2012). Girls also continue to face ongoing sexual harassment and objecti fi cation (see Francis, Read, and Skelton2012; Renold and Allan 2006; Ringrose 2013; Walkerdine, Lucey, and Melody 2001). Broader gender inequalities continue later in girls ’  lives, including unequal pay for equiv-alent work, the persistent glass ceiling, and women ’ s  ‘ double day ’  of both paid work andthe bulk of the housework and childcare (Baker 2010; Francis and Skelton 2005; Hayes 2003; Noonan 2013). Rather than viewing girls ’  high grades as evidence of gender equality,we can instead see girls ’  academic focus re fl ecting increased competition and compulsoryperfectionism among girls who strive to be individually successful to surmount theseanticipated gender inequalities (Francis and Skelton 2005; Pomerantz and Raby 2017).  These pressures undoubtedly take a toll on girls in terms of stress and anxiety (Pomerantzand Raby 2017; Skelton, Francis, and Read 2010; Walkerdine, Lucey, and Melody 2001). Research on gender and education also continues to highlight intersectional inequal-ities beyond gender that are deeply relevant to young people ’ s academic success. Ring-rose (2007) argues that it is, in part, the liberal feminist focus on a girl/boy binary,alongside the measurement of gendered achievement through standardized testing GENDER AND EDUCATION 3  that has fostered the current climate of pitting boys against girls in education debates. Shepoints out that this approach  ‘ decontextualizes gender from all class, cultural, racial andeconomic dimensions through which gender manifests as an axis of experience and iden-tity ’  (480). Interventions to support boys ignore girls who are economically or racially mar-ginalized (Ringrose 2007). Hayes (2003) similarly suggests that advantage and disadvantage in school is signi fi cantly complicated by class and Indigeneity, while Gero-detti and McNaught-Davis (2017), Harris (2004), and Walkerdine, Lucey, and Melody (2001) all emphasize that the successful girl narrative is really a middle-class story thatfails to consider the relevance of socio-economic status.Many feminist post-structural studies examine how diverse girls navigate academicsuccess within this post-feminist context. Often, girls negotiate tension between their aca-demic lives and popular femininity  –  a challenge that shifts based on school context andgirls ’  diverse identities (Pomerantz and Raby 2017; Renold and Allan 2006; Skelton, Francis, and Read 2010). Girls at both the primary and high school levels  fi nd that they must prior-itize either smartness or popular femininity (Raby and Pomerantz 2015; Renold and Allan2006), although some (super) girls manage this tension by carefully embracing academicsthrough a successful embodiment of popular femininity (Francis, Read, and Skelton 2010;Skelton, Francis, and Read 2010), including heterosexual dating (Cobbett 2014). However, such balance between academic success and popularity is precarious, tends to be concen-trated around conventional attractiveness (Francis, Read, and Skelton 2010) and class-based privilege (Pomerantz and Raby 2017), and remains elusive to most girls (Renoldand Allan 2006).More recently, gender and education scholars have drawn on post-humanism to con-textualize gender and success in school. Taylor (2013, 688) engages with Barad ’ s theory of intra-activity to explore  ‘ how material cultures of everyday classroom life are both activeand constitutive in processes that recreate gender inequalities. ’  Taylor focuses onspeci fi c objects, such as a teacher ’ s chair, a  fl ipchart, and words on a student ’ s t-shirt toillustrate how mundane forces intra-act to produce a gendered school space. Lenz Taguchi and Palmer (2013, 684) have similarly drawn on Barad, exploring Swedish girls ’ ill- and well-being, including over-achievement and stress,  ‘ as enactments of (material-dis-cursive) intra-activities ’  that shift across contexts and are collectively produced. Ourengagement with post-human performativity in this article seeks to add to this strandin the literature by focusing on how subjectivities are intra-actively produced througheveryday material contexts that enact a ff  ective force in the lives of smart girls in seeminglysubtle, yet ultimately profound, ways. A post-human framework for exploring smart girlhoods While post-human theory manifests in numerous forms (see Braidotti 2016), in this article,we focus on Karen Barad ’ s (2003, 2007) theory of post-human performativity, which opens new ways of thinking about subjectivity and agency that avoid ontologically privilegingany phenomenon over another. Instead, Barad (2003, 2007) calls for a relational ontology, where all human and non-human phenomena are understood to be co-constitutedthrough  ‘ intra ’  actions or relations within, rather than  ‘ inter ’  actions or relations of exter-iority. Barad ’ s relational ontology draws from physicist Niels Bohr ’ s quantum insightsinto the  ‘ inseparability of   “ observed object ”  and  “ agencies of observation ”’  (Barad 2003, 4 S. POMERANTZ AND R. RABY 
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