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In a global climate increasingly shaped by neoliberal agendas that privilege meritocratic individualism, it is apparent that society as a whole and educational policy-makers and practitioners in particular expect students to take more ‘responsibility’ for their own learning and behaviour at school. In the Australian context, as elsewhere, schools are seen as sites in which students should develop and practise responsibility for self and others in ways that are enterprising, productive, civic-minded, and in accordance with social norms. Yet, few studies have critically examined how the concept of responsibility features in the everyday, taken-for-granted, discursive practices of policy-makers, teachers and students. This paper discusses findings from an ethnographic study concerned with how the discursive constructions of responsibility in three regional Australian primary schools shape upper-primary students’ understandings and experiences of responsibility for self and others. Using the theoretical insights of Michel Foucault, Emmanuel Levinas and Judith Butler to interpret data, I argue that gendered discourses of biological determinism and peer pressure work to reinforce the misconception that violence and irresponsibility are ‘naturally’ masculine traits.


School of Education

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Journal Article

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