‘gender is made non-relevant’ (new waldorf dissertation)

But  look! Here’s a new doctoral dissertation on waldorf education! It’s written by Sara Fröden of Örebro University, a small university in a small town in the middle of Sweden. Here’s a glimpse of it, taken from the abstract:

The aim of this study is to generate new knowledge of the educational practice of a pre-school and of how it may contribute to the understanding of doing gender. The ethnographic study examines the place and practice of a Steiner Waldorf pre-school, and it focuses specifically on materiality, age, spirituality and the intentions of the pre-school teachers. Fieldwork has been conducted for a period of one and a half years in one pre-school.The methods used are mainly participant observation and interviews withthe pre-school teachers. The results highlight the importance of the material and spatial dimensions of the pre-school for the constitution of children’s gender. The concepts of performativity and ritualization have been used as the main analytical tools. The study draws on the scope of these concepts as understood by Judith Butler and Catherine Bell. / On the basis of the analysis of the empirical material, a theoretical concept, situated decoding of gender, is suggested. It is argued that what at first glance can be interpreted as a ‘female universe’, turns out to be a place where gender is made non-relevant through an unintentional, yet powerful ongoing process of naturalization. … [Spaces between words inserted to enhance readability. -a]

Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

You can download the entire thing as a pdf-file here. Unfortunately it’s in Swedish, but once I tell you it’s got some stuff about reincarnation, the incarnation process, waldorf-anthroposophical rituals, and so forth, I’m sure you’ll enthusiastically decide to learn Swedish! Page 184 and following seem interesting. I’ve already been reminded of words that waldorf kids learn but probably no other kids — unusual colour words, like ‘cinnober’ (a kind of red, and a word almost never used by ‘normal’ people), which, according to the dictionary is ‘vermilion’ in English.

I’m not sure if this has something to do with the verses containing these words or more with the fact that the only reading material available was the text on the Stockmar crayon labels.

I wonder, though, if the dissertation author has discovered and discussed some interesting anthroposophical ideas on these things (such as incarnating alternately as physically male/female and when the physical body is male the etheric — that’s the one, right? — body is female), which, more than any contemporary gender studies perspective gained at any wacky course at the university, might perhaps explain waldorf kindergarten teachers’ possibly somewhat more gender indifferent attitude, by which I mean that both boys and girls, not yet fully incarnated anyway, are expected to take part in the same activities and so on. But I guess she hasn’t. If this is even a model of explanation worth taking seriously, I don’t even know. My impression so far is that although the author has done all the gender studies courses and learnt all the hip gender studies lingo, she probably only brushes the surface of anthroposophy (despite mentioning some central anthroposophical tenets).

11 thoughts on “‘gender is made non-relevant’ (new waldorf dissertation)

  1. Alicia,
    Thanks for the link to my blog! (http://notablewomen.wordpress.com) I hope you like it. And I hope it’s actually useful to Waldorf teachers. My goal is to present material that they can use to create lesson plans that are more inclusive of women and issues of gender. I think that being more inclusive (whether about gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.) is completely in line with Steiner’s teachings, but we have to keep actively working at it.

    I don’t read Swedish, so I can’t comment on the dissertation. But I am happy that the issue of women in Waldorf education is being addressed by others as well. If you happen across other resources, please pass them along!

    And thanks for the wonderful blog you’re hosting here.

  2. You’re welcome! I got the link from a friend and have so far only had time to look at a few things on your blog, which I had not come across before! But I immediately spotted the relevance of it in the context this new, cryptically postmodern dissertation. I can’t actually remember seeing anything like it before, but I’m very tired right now so that might explain it…

    Well, he (Steiner) did have, at least partly, a fairly modern view of women, seeing them as no less capable than men, for example professionally. And waldorf was always co-educational and boys knit and so forth. But the more subtle things are more difficult. One thing that strikes me, and it’s a slightly comical observation, is that neither waldorf nor anthroposophy seem to appeal to ‘macho’ men ;-) As far as race and antheoposophy are concerned, that’s a far more contentious issue!

  3. I took the liberty to google her name, and it seems like Sara Frödén has at least on child in a Waldorf school (I’m sure it’s mentioned in the dissertation as well, sounds like key info to me, but I can’t be bothered to look for it). That makes her knowledge about anthroposophy a bit more interesting, and perhaps a slightly less objective observer than the usual scientist.

  4. Interesting. She seems positively inclined towards waldorf education (which, of course, she must be to have her own child there). There was a press release about the research that I hadn’t seen until today, but it shows a positive attitude, repeating old stuff about waldorf teachers seeing the ‘whole child’ (not explaining what that means). (In swedish: http://bit.ly/PR1jPY.)

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