Original Research

The ‘firstness’ of male as automatic ordering: Gendered discourse in Southern African Business Studies school textbooks

Preya Pillay, Suriamurthee Maistry
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 14, No 2 | a484 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v14i2.484 | © 2018 Suriamurthee Maistry, Preya Pillay | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 October 2017 | Published: 12 September 2018

About the author(s)

Preya Pillay, School of Education Studies, Faculty of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
Suriamurthee Maistry, School of Education, College of Humanities, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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There is little contention that gender equity continues to be a challenge in many societies across the Southern African region. Dominant discourses that perpetuate inequality are often reflected in school materials such as textbooks, which have the potential to socialise girls and boys into particular gender performances. The aim of the study being reported on was to examine representations of gender in a sample of Business Studies school textbooks. The textbooks were selected from four Southern African countries: Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The study employed a sociolinguistic analytical framework, namely critical discourse analysis and was guided by the tenets of feminist poststructuralism in the analysis of this phenomenon. The findings of the study reveal superficial content changes in the texts under study. Gendered ideologies continue to prevail in a remarkably overt fashion. One key finding was at a semantic level, namely the mention of the male pronoun first in sentences and conversation and not the female pronoun, having the likely effect of endorsing the principle of the ‘firstness’ and superiority of the masculine. In the order of two words paired for sex such as ‘Mr and Mrs’, ‘brother and sister’ and ‘husband and wife’, the masculine word came first. This automatic ordering is likely to reinforce the second-place status of women. The article concludes with a discussion on the implications of these findings for pedagogy and the textbook publishing industry. The findings also have the potential to ignite debate, as it relates to re-imagining the programmatic curriculum (school textbooks) as a contested genre.


textbooks; ideology; critical discourse analysis; gender; business studies


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