Sexual harassment in higher education: a feminist poststructuralist approach


Clarke, Helen 2012. Sexual harassment in higher education: a feminist poststructuralist approach. Thesis
AuthorsClarke, Helen
Qualification namePhD

his study focuses upon the relatively unexplored area of sexual harassment in British universities. In sum, the thesis suggests that although MacKinnon's (2004) aim is to enable women to feel more powerful and less stigmatised, the contribution of feminist harassment discourses may, in part, generate in some women an understanding of powerlessness and vulnerability. In particular, it suggests seemingly prevailing discourses surrounding sexual harassment in higher education and considers if and how the women interviewed define themselves through these discourses. Thus, by exploring the power effects of and resistances to these suggested prevailing discourses, it is possible to infer the degree to which these discourses may have constituted the participants' subjectivities. Further, the thesis argues that feminist harassment discourses may have generated specific effects of power with regard to my participants. That is to say, many of my participants seem to understand sexual harassment as exploitative behaviours rooted in the unequal distribution of ascribed power in higher education. Feminism's understanding of power as a static and gendered appears to have generated for the participants, at least in part, the understanding that sex at work is used to humiliate and degrade women, maintaining and reproducing ascribed notions of power. For this research, twenty-four unstructured interviews were carried out with women who had identified themselves as having experienced sexual harassment within higher education, either as a student or a member of staff, or who had witnessed events they had defined as sexual harassment. This was a passionately interested form of inquiry, recognising the partial nature of knowledge and identifying my political positionings (Gill 1995; Aranda 2006). The analysis is Foucauldian oriented, understanding power as fluid - rather than possessed - and as generating particular ways of being. In addition, although it notes that the participants did resists specific effects of power, this resistance always takes place from a new point of power and does not, therefore, carry us beyond power into a power free space. The prevailing discourses suggested from my data are: the 'grades for sex' discourse; the 'all boys together' discourse; the 'trustworthy lecturer' discourse; the 'knickers in a twist' discourse; and the 'sexual harassment as unwanted sexual behaviour' discourse

KeywordsFoucault; Sexual violence; Liberal feminism; Higher education
PublisherUniversity of Derby
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Web address (URL)hdl:10545/311445
File Access Level
File Access Level
Output statusUnpublished
Publication process dates
Deposited16 Jan 2014, 16:53
Publication dates2012
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