Posthuman performativity, gender and “school bullying”

Exploring the material-discursive intra-actions of skirts, hair, sluts, and poofs


  • Jessica Ringrose Institute of Education, University College London, UK
  • Victoria Rawlings Division of Health Research, Lancaster University, UK



In this article we take off from critiques of psychological and school bullying typologies as creating problematic binary categories of bully and victim and neglecting sociocultural aspects of gender and sexuality. We review bullying research informed by Judith Butler’s theories of discursive performativity, which help us to understand how subjectification works through performative repetitions of heterosexual gender norms. We then build on these insights drawing on the feminist new materialist approach of Karen Barad’s posthuman performativity, which we argue enlarges our scope of inquiry in profound ways. Barad’s theories suggest we move from psychological models of the inter-personal, and from Butlerian notions of discursive subjectification, to ideas of discursive-material intra-action to consider the more-thanhuman relationalities of bullying. Throughout the article, we demonstrate the approach using examples from qualitative research with teens in the UK and Australia, exploring nonhuman agentic matter such as space, objects and time as shaping the constitution of gender and sexual bullying events. Specifically we examine the discursive-material agential intraactions of skirts and hair through which ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ and ‘slut’ and ‘gay’ materialise in school spacetimematterings. In our conclusion we briefly suggest how the new materialism helps to shift the frame of attention and responses informing gendered intraactions in schools.


Alaimo, Stacey, and Hekman, Susan. Eds. Material Feminisms. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2008

Allan Alexandra. The importance of being a ‘lady‘: hyper-femininity and heterosexuality in the private, single-sex primary school. Gender and Education, 21.2, (2009) 145-158

Barad, Karen. Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28.3 (2003), 801-831. DOI: 10.1086/345321

Barad, Karen. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. London: Duke University Press. 2007. DOI: 10.1215/9780822388128

Benjamin, S., Nind, M., Hall, K., Collins, J., & Sheehy, K. Moments of inclusion and exclusion: Pupils negotiating classroom contexts. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24.5. (2003), 547-558. DOI: 10.1080/0142569032000127125

Bodén, Linnea. The presence of school absenteeism: Exploring methodologies for researching the material-discursive practice of school absence registration’. Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies. (2014) Epub ahead of print

Butler, Judith. Gender trouble: Feminisms and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge. 1990

Butler, Judith. Bodies that matter: On the discursive limits of "sex". New York: Routledge. 1993.

Chambers, Deborah., Loon, Joost Van. And Tincknell, Estella. Teachers views of teenage sexual morality. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 25.5 (2004) 563-576. DOI: 10.1080/0142569042000252053

Coleman, B. and Ringrose J. Eds. Deleuze and Research Methodologies, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 2013.

Coleman, Rebecca. Inventive Feminist Theory: Representation, Materiality and Intensive Time. Women: A Cultural Review, 25.1. (2014). 27-45. DOI: 10.1080/09574042.2014.901098

Currie, Dawn, Kelly, Deirdre and Pomerantz, Shauna. ‘The power to squash people’: understanding girls’ relational aggression, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28.1. (2007), 23–37. DOI: 10.1080/01425690600995974

Davies, B. (2011). Bullies as guardians of the moral order or an ethic of truths? Children & Society, 25(4), 278-286. DOI: 10.1111/j.1099-0860.2011.00380.x

Davies, Bronwyn. Reading anger in early childhood intra-actions: A diffractive analysis. Qualitative Inquiry, 20.6. (2014), 734-741. DOI: 10.1177/1077800414530256

Duncan, Neil. Sexual bullying: Gender conflict and pupil culture in secondary schools. London: Routledge. 1999.

Duits, Linda. and van Zoonen, Lisbeth. Headscarves and Porno-Chic: Disciplining girls’ bodies in the European multicultural society. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13 (2006), 103–117. DOI: 10.1177/1350506806062750

Egan, Rhonda, Danielle Becoming Sexual: A Critical Appraisal of the Sexualization of Girls. New York: Polity Press. 2013

Ellwood, Constance and Davies, Bronwyn. Violence and the moral order in contemporary schooling: A discursive analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 7.2. (2011), 85-98. DOI: 10.1080/14780880802477598

Galloway, David and Roland, Erling. Is the direct approach to reducing bullying always the best? Bullying in schools: How successful can interventions be? P. K. Smith, D. Pepler & K. Rigby (Eds.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (pp. 37-53) 2004. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511584466.004

Haraway, Donna. Simians, cyborgs, and women: The reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge. 1991

Horton, Paul. School bullying and social and moral orders. Children & Society, 25.4. (2011) 268-277. DOI: 10.1111/j.1099-0860.2011.00377.x

Jackson, Alecia. & Mazzei, Lisa Thinking with theory in qualitative research: Viewing data among multiple perspectives. London: Routledge. 2012

Jackson, Alecia. Movement Ontologies and Nonhuman Material-Affects: Rhythms of the Skirt, Critical Studies<>Critical Methodologies (forthcoming)

Jackson, Caroline and Dempster, Steve. I sat back on my computer . . . with a bottle of whisky next to me: Constructing cool masculinity through effortless achievement in secondary and higher education. Journal of Gender Studies, 18.4 (2009), 341-356. DOI: 10.1080/09589230903260019

Jackson, Sue. Girls’ Embodied Experiences of Media in Handbook of Children and Youth Studies eds. Joanna Wynn and Helen Cahill, 2015, pp 229-242

Juelskjaer, Malou. Gendered subjectivities of spacetimematter. Gender and Education, 25.6 (2013) 754-768. DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2013.831812

Kehler, Michael. & Atkinson, Michael. Examining the (em)bodied boundaries of high school locker rooms. Contemporary Debates in the Sociology of Education. (eds) Rachel Brooks, Mark McCormack and Kalwant Bhopal (2013).

Kofoed, Jette and Ringrose, Jessica. Travelling and sticky affects: Exploring teens and sexualized cyberbullying through a Butlerian-Deleuzian- Guattarian lens. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 33.1(2012) 5-20. DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2012.632157

Kosciw, Joseph, Greytak, Emily and Diaz, Elizabeth.Who, what, where, when, and why: Demographic and ecological factors contributing to hostile school climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38.7(2000), 976.

Lahelma, Elina. Gendered conflicts in secondary school: Fun or enactment of power? Gender and Education, 14.3 (2002), 295-306. DOI: 10.1080/0954025022000010749

Lenz Taguchi, Hillevi & Palmer, Anna. A more ‘livable’ school? A diffractive analysis of the performative enactments of girls ill-/well-being with(in) school environments. Gender and Education, 25.6. (2013) 671-687. DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2013.829909

MacLure, Maggie. Qualitative inquiry: Where are the ruins? Paper presented at the New Zealand Association for Research in Education Conference, Auckland, New Zealand. 2010.

MacLure, Maggie. Promiscuous feminists postscript. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26.5 (2013), 625-628. DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2013.786848

Meyer, Elizabeth Jane. A feminist reframing of bullying and harassment: Transforming schools through critical pedagogy. McGill Journal of Education, 43.1 (2008), 33-48. DOI: 10.7202/019572ar

Nayak, Anoop and Kehily, Mary Jane Playing it straight: Masculinities, homophobias and schooling. Journal of Gender Studies, 5.2. (1996) 211-230. DOI: 10.1080/09589236.1996.9960644

Olweus, Daniel. Aggression in the schools: Bullies and whipping boys. Washington: Hemisphere. 1978.

Olweus, Daniel. Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell. 1993

Olweus, Daniel. Bully/victim problems in school: Facts and intervention. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 12.4. (1997), 495-510. DOI: 10.1007/BF03172807

Pascoe, CJ. Dude, youre a fag: Masculinity and sexuality in high school. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. 2007

Payne, Elizabethe. Sluts: Heteronormative policing in the stories of lesbian youth. Educational Studies: A Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 46.3. (2010), 317-336.

Pomerantz, Shauna Girls, Style, and School Identities: Dressing the Part, New York Palgrave. 2008.

Pomerantz Shauna and Raby, Rebecca Girls, Intra-Active: Dynamic Agency and the Negotiation of Smart Girlhood, Feminist Theory (forthcoming)

Poteat, V. P., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. W. (2009). Willingness to remain friends and attend school with lesbian and gay peers: relational expressions of prejudice among heterosexual youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(7), 952-962. DOI: 10.1007/s10964-009-9416-x

Raby, Raby School Rules: Obedience, discipline, and elusive democracy. Toronto: UofT Press. 2013

Rawlings, Victoria. Gender regulation and social realities in contemporary high schools. (PhD), University of Sydney, Sydney. 2013

Rawlings, Victoria. And Russell, Kate. Gender control- (Re)framing bullying, harassment and gender regulation. University of Sydney Papers in Human Movement, Health and Coach Education, eds. D. OConnor & W. Cotton, Sydney: Sydney University Press. 2012: 17-27.

Renold, Emma. Girls, boys and junior sexualities: Exploring childrens gender and sexual relations in the primary school. London: RoutledgeFalmer. 2005

Renold , Emma and Ringrose, Jessica. What (else) can sex education research do?: towards diffractive methodologies, response-ability and feminist intra-activisms, Handbook of Sexuality Education, eds. Louisa Allen and Mary Lou Rasmussen. (forthcoming)

Ringrose, Jessica and Renold, Emma. Normative cruelties and gender deviants: The performative effects of bully discourses for girls and boys in school. British Educational Research Journal, 36.4. (2010) 573-596. DOI: 10.1080/01411920903018117

Ringrose, Jessica and Renold, Emma. Slut-shaming, girl power and ‘sexualisation’: thinking through the politics of the international SlutWalks with teen girls, Gender and Education, 24. 3 (2012): 333-343. DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2011.645023

Ringrose, Jessica and Renold, Emma. “F**k rape!”: Mapping affective intensities in a feminist research assemblage, Qualitative Inquiry 20. 6. (2014) 772-780. DOI: 10.1177/1077800414530261

Ringrose, Jessica and Renold, Emma Teen Feminist Killjoys? Mapping Girls’ Affective Encounters with Femininity, Sexuality, and Feminism at School, Girlhood and the Politics of Place, eds. Claudia Mitchell and Carrie Rentschler, New York: Berghahn (2016).

Ringrose, Jessica and Renold, Emma. Cows, Cabins and Tweets: Posthuman Intra-acting Affect and Feminist Fires in Secondary School, Posthuman Research Practices in Education, eds. C. Taylor and C. Hughes. London: Palgrave (2016)

Ringrose, Jessica, ‘Every time she bends over she pulls up her thong’: Teen girls negotiating discourses of competitive, heterosexualized aggression, Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1.1 (2008): 33-59. DOI: 10.3167/ghs.2008.010104

Ringrose, Jessica. Post-Feminist Education? Girls and the sexual politics of schooling, London: Routledge. 2013.

Salih, Salih. Judith Butler. London: Routledge. 2013.

Taylor, Carol. Objects, bodies and space: Gender and embodied practices of mattering in the classroom. Gender and Education, 25.6 (2013) 688-703. DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2013.834864

Tom, E. ‘Flip Skirt Fatales: How Media Fetish Sidelines Cheerleaders’, PLATFORM: Journal of Media and Communication ANZCA Special Edition (April) (2010): 52-70.

Walkerdine, Valerie. Schoolgirl Fictions. London: Verso. 1991

Walton, Gerald. Bullying widespread: A critical analysis of research and public discourse on bullying. Journal of School Violence, 4.1 (2005), 91-118. DOI: 10.1300/J202v04n01_06

Walton, Gerald. Spinning our wheels: Reconceptualizing bullying beyond behaviour-focused approaches. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 32.1. (2011) 131-144. DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2011.537079

Witthaus, D. Beyond thats so gay. Redress, 15. 2. (2006) 24-28.

Youdell, Deborah. (2005). Sex–gender–sexuality: How sex, gender and sexuality constellations are constituted in secondary schools. Gender and Education, 17.3. (2005) 249-270. DOI: 10.1080/09540250500145148

Zabrodska, Katerina; Linnell, Sheridan, Laws, Cath, and Davies

Bronwyn, Bullying as Intra-active Process in Neoliberal Universities Qualitative Inquiry 17. 8. (2011) 709-719.