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Gendered Perspectives in Higher Education: Women in Science and Engineering in Cameroon

  • Author(s): Fielding, Patience
  • Advisor(s): Kramsch, Claire
  • et al.
Abstract

Abstract

Gendered Perspectives in Higher Education: Women in Science and Engineering in Cameroon

By

Patience Fielding

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

University of California, Berkeley

Professor Claire Kramsch, Chair

While women's participation in the national economic growth is seen as critical to sustainable development, women's underrepresentation in Cameroon's higher institutions, such as École Nationale Superieure Polytechnique (ENSP), tasked with training human capacity contradicts such development discourses. Despite calls to provide equal educational opportunities for women to enable their acquisition of the skills needed to compete in the global labor market, females in Cameroon too often lack access to girl-friendly, safe, and supportive spaces in formal schools largely due to patriarchal traditions which restrict women's roles in the society. Most recently, females in Cameroon have sought entrance into ENSP, which has historically prepared male technocrats to serve in the government and private industry. While the institution has opened limited spaces for women, it continues to discursively constitute them as "outsiders within" as women venture into traditional environments and participate in activities from which they have been expressly or tacitly excluded.

My dissertation thus uses ENSP as a space to examine how the discourses of gendered education come to be defined and practiced. Through analysis of institutional discourses, archival documents, and interviews with staff and students at ENSP, it investigates the conflicting narratives in gendered constructions. Paying attention to institutional texts and individual utterances, the dissertation illustrates the complexities of intimate relationships and highlights the processes of contestation that are so crucial in shaping contemporary, gendered identities. While I underscore the importance of an approach that permits the exploration of the ambiguities of gendered identities, I also present identifications and relationships as imagined and performed in discursive practices. To track the complexity of the process, my analysis includes the ways in which education discourses shape and constrain our understanding and engagement in the world and how gendered beings come to understand themselves and their given situation. While global, national, and local interests shape and structure student efforts at ENSP, the process of becoming an engineer is full of contradictions, tensions, and struggles, thereby leaving open the possibility that female students might take on new roles and behaviors that are deemed contrary to their identities. The dissertation thus situates the current interest in women in Math, Science, and Technology in relation to contemporary and historical definitions and underscores the shifts in education thinking. It lays out the different perspectives held by different social actors to advance a more nuanced understanding of the education practices through which gender is being framed, constructed, contested, and negotiated. It also presents the approaches of ethnography and critical discourse analysis used and employs critical discourse analysis to tease the different subjectivities and power relations at this site. In examining the status quo and patriarchal dominance in the exercise of power against female subservience and determination, I also underscore how female voices challenge the social constructs that define them as 'others' and `outsiders' and how they strategically negotiate their identities using the discourses of schooling. This study thus illuminates the ways in which institutional and individual discourses confirm existing social relationships and behaviors while at the same time introducing new meanings and patterns of being and conflicting enactments of gender within the production of linguistic forms.

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