Emily’s blog

BLOG PUBLICATION: Using History, Construction of the Subject, and Psychoanalysis to Enrich and Facilitate Feminist Pedagogy

By: Emily Moran

“I know that many men and even women are afraid and angry when women speak, because in this barbaric society, when women speak truly they speak subversively – they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”                                                            – Ursula LeGuin


My name is Emily Jean Moran and I am a high school social studies teacher. I teach Civics and Economics and AP Psychology. I am also a PhD student in the Cultural Foundations program. This blog will serve as my final project for Dr. Leila Villaverde’s Feminist Theories and Education course. I am hoping to critically reflect on the tremendous amount of learning and knowledge that I have been exposed to in this course. My blog will serve as a place to introduce myself and provide a critical analysis of the ways in which history, construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis can help to enrich and inform feminist pedagogy. My hope is to provide a critical synthesis of the necessity of integrating my subtopic into the theory and practice of feminist pedagogy. I also want to philosophize about the ways that these topics can influence and change knowledge creation and production. I will end by posing some critical questions that will challenge educators and feminist pedagogues to incorporate history, the construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis into their teaching practices and classrooms.

This is me and two of my students!

What is feminist pedagogy?

Before discussing the necessity of integrating history, construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis into feminist pedagogies, I believe that we must first look at the definition of feminist pedagogy.

According to Ludlow (2004) and quoted from Chick and Hassel (2009), there are SIX TENANTS of the feminist classroom. They are:

  1. Simultaneous collaboration and contention
  2. Situated knowledges
  3. Unresolved contradictions and simultaneous truths
  4. Intersectional understanding of identity
  5. Accountability
  6. Interrogation of systems of power and privilege

Villaverde argued (2008) that good teaching, feminist pedagogy, and critical pedagogy “theoretically work from the similar premises that pedagogy is an emancipatory process; it is about identity formation and the development of critical consciousness and political awareness” (p. 120). By analyzing power and language, critique and social change can be enacted in pedagogical spaces (p. 120). Villaverde contends (2008) that feminist pedagogy involves an “intellectual and physical jarring, a process of dislodging what was previously understood and envisioned” (p. 121). In claiming and hearing one’s voice and others’ voices in a shared classroom space, knowledge production can authentically take place and progress.

Pedagogy: identity formation + the development of a critical consciousness

“The art of feminist pedagogy rests on the ability of both students and teacher to excavate the recurrent patterns of inequity and oppression, as well as the acts of transformation and activism.”                                                                                      – Dr. Leila Villaverde (p. 123)

In utilizing these definitions of feminist pedagogy, I want to suggest that feminist pedagogy is a type of teaching and learning that explores and problematizes identity and power. Feminist pedagogy raises critical questions about the world in which we live, the relationships between people and institutions, and the process through which we view ourselves. I believe that through the process of jarring and dislodging our prior knowledge, feminist pedagogy seeks to take the blinders off and expose us to a world full of constructions and power relations that may be hidden from consciousness. Feminist pedagogy wants to use teaching as a way to cultivate a critical consciousness that will serve to question the intricacies of power and oppression so prevalent in today’s society.

Now that we have a better understanding of the tenants and beliefs grounding feminist pedagogy, I will argue for the necessity of integrating the subtopics of history, construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis into the practice of feminist pedagogy.

Critical Synthesis of the Necessity to Integrate History, Construction of the Subject, and Psychoanalysis into Feminist Pedagogies

I have really enjoyed the way that Dr. Villaverde’s class was structured to enact feminist pedagogy. Working in small peer groups on a subtopic was a great way to explore many diverse topics and show how each can better inform feminist pedagogy. In the process of reading about and researching history, the construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis, I am convinced that each of these subtopics can aid in the understanding and implementation of feminist pedagogies. This part of my blog will explain why I think these topics should be incorporated into feminist pedagogies.

A) Why should we integrate history into feminist pedagogies?

It seems to me that integrating history into any pedagogy is a common sense necessity. I think that integrating history into feminist classrooms is a prerequisite to anything else. The stories and rituals that have been told and (re)told have much to say about the culture in which we live. If feminist pedagogy is concerned with developing a critical consciousness and seeks to cultivate “intellectual and physical jarring”, it must base and ground its methods, theory, and practice in the knowledge obtained from historical circumstances. Feminist theorists must question history and the different affected ways of knowing. Utilizing history to theorize and critically question institutions of power as well as social power can illuminate patterns of oppression, racism, and sexism. As Kristine artfully showed in our group presentation, historical documents can lead to discussions about ways of objectifying women and children. These documents also showed how pervasive and oppressing patriarchal stereotypes and ways of thinking were perpetuated. Using primary source texts to problematize and interrogate the use of language to oppress people and entire portions of the population for the privilege of a few can be a powerful pedagogical tool in the feminist classroom. The development of a critical consciousness can be facilitated by theorizing about the historical progressions (or regressions) of cultural norms and hegemony.

In Stoler’s article (1995) she discusses the history behind domestic subversions and children’s sexuality. Through a historical lens she writes and expands on work by Foucault about the history of sexualizing children and wet nurses and how the school and women were seen as agents of the state in preparing future citizens. Stoler discussed (1995) the fear of the white bourgeois class of their children losing some of their “pure identities” by associating with wet nurses and peoples of other races. Because of this fear “schooling was deemed a critical moral invention” and that part of schooling’s history can be directly attributed to some goals of schools today (Stoler, 1995, p. 161). Another example of how history can be used to open up dialogic spaces is examining the role of eugenics and Darwinist theories in shaping and producing our current modes of testing and assumptions about intelligence and schooling. Feminist teachers can use topics such as these to facilitate discussion in pedagogical spaces. Students can learn to view history through many lenses and hopefully become more critical and engaged in their own communities. History can be used to dislodge previously held fictions about why racism and stereotypes exist. Issues of power can be (re)visited and problematized within the classroom. Students can use their own lived experiences to engage and produce new knowledge in the face of history.

This is the link for a You Tube video that was created by a group of students in a Women’s Studies course. It shows how discrimination and oppression has affected women throughout history. It basically shows male vs. female statistics. This type of clip could be used to show patterns over historical periods of time and relate that back to feminist pedagogy.

B) Why should we integrate social construction theories into feminist pedagogies?

If feminist pedagogy is concerned with understanding systems of power and privilege, it must seek to excavate the socially constructed systems that created and facilitated the power relations currently in existence. Pedagogical spaces are the places where students and teachers should problematize gender relations and the social constructions of gender and sexuality. As Amber showed in our group presentation, social constructions of women are patriarchal and in many ways reminiscent of some of the historical documents Kristine presented. Feminist teachers should facilitate discussions about the ways in which affluenza and consumerism aids in the construction of gender binaries. Who stands to benefit from the construction of reality that we culturally experience? Feminist classrooms should utilize Wittig’s article (1992), “One is Not Born a Woman” to illustrate theory that argues ‘woman’ is a social construction. Wittig argued (1992) that “’woman’ does not exist for us: it is only an imaginary formation, while ‘women’ is the product of a social relationship” (p. 15). In teaching and facilitating discussion about consciousness and social construction, I believe feminist educators are encouraging “unresolved contradictions and simultaneous truths” (Chick and Hassel, 2009, p. 205).

These unresolved contradictions are further complicated by the interrogation of LaFrance’s (2010) “Embodying the Subject” article. Stephanie’s use of this article in our group presentation provided an interesting foil to social construction theories. LaFrance argued (2010) that there is a “subjective experience of bodily life” (p. 263). LaFrance believed (2010) that “the body – and, of course, the experience of the body – is not only produced by the mind but productive of it “and he argued that a more ‘”wide-ranging understanding of the lived body would enrich feminist approaches to those whose bodies are the source of pain and suffering” (p. 275). The continuum of the topic – embodied identity vs. social construction of identity is an excellent example of “unresolved contradictions and simultaneous truths” (Chick and Hassel, 2009, p. 205). Feminist educators should use theory to inform practice. The feminist engagement with theory that is contradictory lends credibility to the notion that there is no one Truth.

I also think that integrating social construction theories is crucial to a dialogue about identity. For feminist teachers and students, identity construction and socialization should be of key interest and should provoke investigation. Critically thinking about the construction of gender, power, hierarchy, and patriarchy can awaken students to new ways of viewing and producing knowledge. I think that by constructing and (de)constructing the subject, students can see and theorize the ways that their own identity has been constructed by cultural and historical forces. It also encourages a political activism that critically questions institutions and constructions of power and oppression.

These are two links for You Tube videos that illustrate the social construction of gender roles. Both look at Disney films as their text. The first clip explores messages that males receive from watching the gendered roles in the films. It focuses on how masculinity and dominance are glorified and constructed within Disney films. The second clip is a girl’s tribute to her favorite romantic Disney clips. I chose this to show how hetero-normative relationships are portrayed in Disney films. The message that is “cherished” by the creator of the clip is problematic. It sends the message that all relationships should look like this in order to be deemed “normal”. It also has pretty stereotypical images of needy, weak, beautiful women that need to be rescued or saved by strong men. Both clips could be used by feminist teachers to illustrate how gender roles are socially constructed. Enjoy!

C) Why should we integrate psychoanalysis into feminist pedagogies?

In addition to integrating history and social construction theories into feminist discourse, I also excitedly argue that psychoanalysis has a place within feminist pedagogy. Psychoanalysis has a wealth of ideas and theories to question and (de)construct identity formation. In my personal research, I’ve found that Britzman and Anna Freud have a great deal to add to feminist pedagogy. In reflecting on their own education, feminist teachers can use concepts from psychoanalysis to name processes that take place in the classroom apart from the curriculum. Britzman and Pitt argue (1996) that transference between students and the teacher characterize learning and that psychoanalysis is relevant in education because “teachers cannot anticipate how their students affect them and how they affect their students; it is only in the pedagogical relation that one begins to encounter one’s self as a teacher” (p. 118). By acknowledging that transference, projection, displacement, and sublimination are present in the pedagogical space, feminist teachers can (de)construct and (re)construct old and new knowledge. I believe that psychoanalysis can be integrated into feminist theory by explicitly realizing that there are unconscious processes that go on in the classroom. I believe that feminist theorists should advocate for spaces where teachers can experience a “working through” of one’s own painful education. Another interesting dimension of psychoanalysis is that it describes learning and education as a painful process because old knowledge is replaced with new knowledge. This makes similar connections to Villaverde’s (2008) call for a dislodging or jarring of old knowledge. Psychoanalysis gives feminist pedagogy some new tools to analyze and critique the psychic processes that accompany education. Britzman and Pitt argued (1996) that “at the center of our pedagogical adventure of insight lies the seemingly paradoxical assumption that learning how one learns from the lives, histories, cultures, and dilemmas of others involves a close study of one’s own conditions of learning” (p. 119).

While feminist theory has questioned assumptions of Freud and other psychoanalysts in the past, I argue that interrogating psychoanalysis has great theoretical benefits to feminist pedagogy. Psychoanalysis can be used to better understand peoples’ lived experiences and the formation of self-identities. I also see psychoanalysis as a beneficial tool in the development of a critical consciousness. In creating spaces to discuss childhood memories and past experiences of education as a student, feminist teachers can allow students that are now teachers to reflect of how these experiences may impact their pedagogy. I think that discussing the unconscious from a theoretical perspective allows learners to better see constructions of power and oppression as well. I also believe that object-relations theorists and psychoanalysts can contribute to the discussion of self-discovery and creativity in pedagogical spaces.

Psychoanalysts that can contribute to feminist theories: (From left to right: Britzman, Freud, A., Klein, Lacan, and Winnicott)

So what? Why does it matter?

In my above exploration into why history, social construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis is necessary to integrate into feminist pedagogy, I gave many reasons why it is important to do this. Listed below are a few of the reasons I described above.

  • HISTORY matters to feminist pedagogy because:
    • As a culture we should learn from history and actively challenge its interpretation.
    • We can understand the evolution and progression (or regression) of cultural phenomena over time.
    • Power and oppression can be peeled back like an onion through the past of history.
    • We can better challenge how we are a part of history and the ways in which we are complicit or subversive to its construction and interpretation.
    • History can make us aware of social constructions and hopefully enable us to actively seek political and communal change.
  • SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF THE SUBJECT matters to feminist pedagogy because:
    • It allows learners to (de)construct and (re)construct their identities.
    • We can discuss embodied identity theories vs. social construction theories.
    • Power and oppression can be (de)constructed.
    • Critical consciousness can be fostered through the exploration of our socially constructed reality.
    • Political consciousness can be elevated and produce new knowledge about the construction and operation of power.
  • PSYCHOANALYSIS matters to feminist pedagogy because:
    • It provides unique tools to name and explore unconscious processes that go on in the classroom.
    • It provides theories that are controversial and need to be problematized by learners.
    • It encourages teachers to look to their past and (de)construct their childhood experiences in school settings and to reflect on how these might affect their present pedagogy.
    • It gives unique tools to interrogate identity formation and critical consciousness.

What salient issues must be theorized/struggled over? How might this play out in pedagogical contexts?

There are many salient issues surrounding the integration of history, social construction theories, and psychoanalysis into feminist pedagogy.  In regards to history, a central issue to struggle over is: whose history are we talking about? Whose perspective are we hearing and valuing in presenting historical data and experiences? I think that in any historical analysis it is extremely important to see what is left out and what is prioritized. Learners will also be holding on to previously learned knowledge that may be hard to dislodge in the face of new historical research and interpretation. In the classroom, this could play out in a dialogue between students about which version of history is “correct” or “accurate”. With the addition of historical literature, students could also problematize various ways of interpreting the material and different ways of hearing the author’s voice.

In introducing social construction theories, there will be issues that arise about whether everything is socially constructed. Some students will question the role of “nature” is the grand scheme of things. It also could be difficult for a feminist teacher to discuss social constructions and who benefits if students aren’t open to social construction theories. I think these types of debates will play themselves out in feminist pedagogical spaces and regardless of what the learners believe, they will be exposed to the idea that our world and social systems and institutions of power have largely been socially constructed by those that benefit and stand to gain the most power.

Psychoanalysis is the subtopic that would probably illicit the most struggle and debate among learners. The history of psychoanalysis is problematic and I think students would greatly learn from interrogating many of the sexist beliefs and theories that emerged from psychoanalysis. There will be students that don’t buy the unconscious argument and that is okay. I think that psychoanalysis provides another framework through which to evaluate identity formation and the development of a critical consciousness. In pedagogical spaces, works by Freud, Winnicott, Lacan, Britzman and Klein could be problematized by students. I believe that while psychoanalysis may be somewhat controversial, students could engage psychoanalytical theories with feminist theories to produce new knowledge.

How does it change learning (spaces, curriculum, knowledge production, language, communication, relationships)? How is this lived?

The integration of history, social construction theories, and psychoanalysis into feminist pedagogy will change learning in several key ways. An emphasis on history and the history of power and oppression will foster a new understanding among learners about the ways in which history is interpreted and the ways it shapes current social relationships. Exploring the historical ways that language was used to oppress and patronize groups will be pertinent. Hopefully, feminist educators are encouraging their learners to change settled in patterns of history. Learners need to understand the power of history in the implementation of laws, institutions, and families. I believe that social construction theories can be used to interrogate the language we use to describe gender and power in our society. Feminist teachers can integrate popular culture into pedagogical spaces to interrogate the social construction of our consumer and sexualized culture. By linking social construction theories real life experiences learners will be encouraged to develop a critical consciousness about images and messages socially constructed by the media and will hopefully be more aware of the forces at work. These types of connections will hopefully lead to action.

Historical analysis and social construction can be lived by students by linking theoretical knowledge to action in the real world. Psychoanalysis can greatly change learning spaces because it calls into account our unconscious. By making students aware of psychoanalytic theories, they will have the tools to better evaluate and question their own identity formation and their lived experiences. Language can be problematized using psychoanalytic theories as well. Students will come to learn that language is in fact a censored version of our thoughts that are put into words. Psychoanalysis argues that language and reading undergo many unconscious processes. Hopefully, feminist learners will come to realize the unconscious processes that accompany education and life in general. The integration of these subtopics into feminist theory can aid in new knowledge production and impact students’ and teachers’ lived experiences. Hopefully these subtopics can encourage critical thinking and foster a critical consciousness.

What current events or images provide a detour/context/example for this theorizing?

There are several things that could serve to detour the integration of these subtopics into feminist pedagogy. I have listed a few below.

  • The teacher’s or students’ reluctance to grapple with material that concerns history, construction of the subject, and psychoanalysis.
  • Concerns that the topics and literature supporting these topics are somehow politically incorrect or too controversial to interrogate.
  • Polarizing political or religious views could rob a classroom of a detailed analysis.
  • In regards to high school teachers trying to incorporate these topics into the curriculum, I see NCLB as a detour. If there is an emphasis on testing or a planned paced curriculum for teachers to follow, this type of theorizing could be problematic due to time concerns and political correctness.
  • A lack of accountability and respect for different opinions could also detour engaging critical pedagogy.

While I think that there are detours in any type of theorizing and teaching, I believe that these can be overcome by using tools from feminist pedagogy. Some classes have better relationships and chemistry than others. Hopefully feminist educators can facilitate a learning environment that utilizes the tenants of feminist pedagogy to integrate these subtopics into the curriculum.

Questions & Challenges Posed to Blog Readers

Hopefully my blog has provided a compelling case for the necessity to integrate these subtopics into feminist pedagogy. I will close with some questions and challenges to you – the audience – in regards to enacting feminist pedagogy in your own classrooms.

  • What actions are feminist educators hoping to illicit from their students?
  • What are some specific events in history that need to be interrogated and problematized in feminist classrooms?
  • How can history be tied to social construction theories? Can history provide an path for uncovering the social construction of our lived experiences?
  • How can psychoanalysis be used to critically question identity formation and our own personal histories?
  • Where do social construction theories and psychoanalysis overlap? What pedagogical connections can be made between the two theories?
  • What are specific ways that you as a feminist educator can integrate these issues into your pedagogical spaces?
  • How can your educational spaces use these issues to develop critical and personal consciousness?

Thanks for a great semester Dr. Villaverde and my fellow feminist theorists! It has been an honor to work with all of you this summer! If you have questions or comments about my blog, please post a comment below! Thanks! 🙂


Britzman, D. and Pitt, A. (1996). Pedagogy and transference: Casting the past of learning into the presence of teaching. Theory into Practice, 35 (2): 117-123.

Chick, N. and Hassel, H. (2009). “Don’t hate me because I’m virtual”: Feminist pedagogy in the online classroom. Feminist Teacher, 19 (3): 195-215.

LaFrance, M. (2007). Embodying the subject: Feminist theory and contemporary clinical psychoanalysis. Feminist Theory, 8: 263-278.

LeGuin, U. (1989). Dancing at the edge of the world: Thoughts on words, women, and places. New York: Harper Row.

Stoler, A. (1995). Domestic subversions and children’s sexuality. In Race and the education of desire: Foucault’s history of sexuality and the colonial order of things (pp.137-164). Durham: Duke University Press.

Villaverde, L. (2008). Feminist theories and education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Wittig, M. (1992). One is not born a woman. In The straight mind and other essays (pp. 9-20). Boston: Beacon Press.

~ Emily Moran

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