Understanding boys' play and gendered violence in school : the school playground as space for construction of masculinities at a primary school in KwaZulu-Natal.
This study applies the theoretical lens of Connell’s (1995) hegemonic masculinity theory to explore and understand the construction of masculinities and the use of violence by boys at play at the school playground. A qualitative methodological approach and an ethnographic design were used to examine school boys’ experiences during break time play. The purpose of this study was to investigate how boys’ play at the school playground is embedded within violent gender cultures. Through exploring the power dynamics that play out among boys and between boys and girls at the school playground, the research study offers an in-depth examination of the school culture that manifests in the playground activities and interactions of Grade 7 boys, aged 12 to 14, at a primary school in a township in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Observation, focus group discussions and individual interviews were used to collect relevant data. The participants were purposively selected and the data was triangulated at methods level and analysed using thematic analysis. The findings reveal that break time was considered to be exciting and to be a time for boys to play and “have fun” at the school playground. Furthermore, the study found that, whilst certain boys see girls as friends to play with, talk to and share their problems with, boys’ tendency to construct themselves as ‘boys’ is intricately woven into their understanding of what it means to play and “have fun” at the playground. This self-construction of identity was revealed to be a certain way of doing gender which is understood as not only negating girls as “other”, but as using violence to negotiate and/or legitimate enforcement of the identity, “boy.” It was also found that girls are active agents in the use of violence in school. Girls’ use of violence is perhaps associated with their negotiation of the masculine hegemony that is evident at school playground spaces. Hegemonic masculinity produces and replicates boys’ and girls’ use of violence in and around school. The study recommends that policy interventions to end gender violence against girls in and around school should involve and evolve from a nuanced understanding of what defines boys’ and girls’ play in school. It also recommends gender positive approaches to enhance learners’ schooling experiences.