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Performative Praxis

Teacher Identity and Teaching in the Context of HIV/AIDS

Mary Jean Baxen

It is widely recognized that the South African government’s exemplary HIV/AIDS education policy is not making the behaviour-changing impact that it ought. Why is this? What is actually happening in the school classroom?
In this book, Jean Baxen makes an important contribution towards understanding the complex interface between the HIV/AIDS education curriculum and what and how teachers are teaching in the classroom. Bringing Judith Butler’s theory of performativity to bear in an analysis of the pedagogic practice of a number of teachers in the Western Cape and Mpumalanga, the author shows how teachers’ personal conception of their role and identity as educators plays a vitally important role in filtering and shaping the classroom transmission of key information and attitudes.

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2 Dominant sociological debates in understanding social action 51

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51 2 Dominant sociological debates in understanding social action Fundamentally, social science is concerned with how we claim to un- derstand social action and activity. Early explanations of how society works tended to describe it in terms of the “fixed arrangements of the parts of the social system that constrain the actions of actors in that sys- tem” (Cheal, 2005: 137). As will become clearer later in the discussion, more recent explanations have evolved to include an explanation of struc- tures as fluid, unstable and open to change. Cheal (2005) identifies five broad concepts that he claims constitute the major debates in social theory. These include debates over the unit of analysis; modes of explanation, key factors to be used in explanations of social evolution; the relation- ship between sociology and ideology, and finally the debate over struc- ture and agency (2005: ix). While these factors are interrelated, the key issue for the purpose of this discussion is the tension between structure and agency and its relevance in understanding social action. I limit the discussion here since my unit of analysis is the teacher and the interactions that occur in the Lifeskills classroom when sexuality and HIV/AIDS are taught. Even though teachers are the focus, I start from the premise that they are situated in contexts in and through which they make meaning of their lives, as individuals and as teachers, but also to which they contribute. Therefore, the basis of the work this book reports on is the notion...

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