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Analysing gender representations in schools texbooks

Carole Brugeilles et Sylvie Cromer

Children’s books, as key vectors of socialisation in contemporary societies, convey norms and values with respect to differentiated gender roles. How does this gender-based socialisation accommodate the principles of equality and education for all? For the last thirty years, this question has been a focus of concern in many countries, notably via the activities of international institutions. The challenge is vast: to provide high-quality education and promote equality, for boys and girls alike.

Using the concepts of “social representations” and “gender” and applying a quantitative method to objects that are traditionally studied from a qualitative standpoint, a practical approach was developed to analyse male and female representations in the various printed media intended for a child readership (school textbooks, illustrated albums, etc.). The aim is to decompose the construction of social gender by looking at the varied attributes associated with the characters portrayed in children’s books – who are key to the production of social representations – and to consider the structure and internal logic of this written medium.

This manual presents an analytical approach and the data collection methods used to capture gender represent¬tations. We show how the data collection tool presented provides a means to answer questions such as: What are the prescribed gender identities and roles? To what extent are the two sexes shown together or apart? Are the societies depicted gender-equal?

The methodology described in this book is designed for the analysis of school textbooks. We make use of an English-language mathematics textbook used in Cameroon to detail the method, and present a study of a series of primary school mathematics textbooks used in francophone Africa to illustrate our approach and demonstrate how it can be applied.

The methodology presented can be readily adapted for other types of printed media – children’s novels, magazines, etc. – and for other issues, such as cultural discrimination or ethnic segregation. It provides a general framework for examining the treatment of difference in society.

Carole BRUGEILLES, is a demographer. She teaches at Université Paris X-Nanterre and holds a research position at the Centre d’Études Populations et Sociétés. She is associated to the Centre de Recherche et de Documentation sur l’Amérique Latine (Université Paris III). Her research interests include gender-based socialisation of children, analysis of reproductive choices, family planning and reproductive health.

Sylvie CROMER is a sociologist. She teaches at Université Lille II and her research focuses on gender representations and violence against women.

Une version française de cet ouvrage est également disponible : Analyser les représentations du masculin et du féminin dans les manuels scolaires.