Accountability, Responsibility and Virtue: Young people encountering transphobia in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand High Schools
This paper provides a Butlerian inspired reading of accountability, responsibility and virtue to interrogate how young people conceive of and imagine themselves responding to incidences of gender based teasing at school. Annika Thiem, in Unbecoming Subjects, draws on the work of Judith Butler and Jean Laplanche to rethink the relationship between responsibility and accountability, in a context where the subject is not a self-conscious and self-knowing agent. Such an approach is taken by Thiem as a means to ‘disarticulate accountability as the basis for responsibility’ (145). We also draw on recent writing by Butler which seeks to disarticulate virtue, ethics and responsibility, with a view to arguing against the idea of responsibility as a moral duty [or virtue], rather conceptualizing responsibility as always conditioned by pre-existing corporeal and linguistic resources (2013, 108). Given this reading of responsibility, how might one make sense of strategies young people articulate for attending to gender based teasing of peers?
The paper draws on research conducted as part of an ARC Discovery grant investigating cultural and religious difference in sexuality education in Australian and New Zealand public high schools (2011-2012). Part of the study involved interviews (with students in years 8 and 9) where a range of scenarios were read out loud by the researchers and discussed with students in a focus group and in a one-on-one interview. In this paper we analyse one of the scenarios that was posed to participants. This scenario revolved around a new boy, Jo, who presents as a “sissy” at school. The scenario suggests that Jo is experiencing teasing at school related to his gender identity, though his family environment is supportive. The last line of the scenario reads “What advice would you give to Jo about being teased at school?”. The scenario could be [and was] read as situating the young people we interviewed as somehow accountable for Jo; it called upon them to advise him on how to deal with the teasing of his peers.
This paper critically interrogates the structure of the scenario posed to students in relation to a Butlerian reading of accountability. Attention is also given to student responses to this problematic scenario. These responses are interrogated through a frame which endeavours to disarticulate responsibility and accountability; rather attention is given to how corporeal and linguistic resources condition how it may be possible to respond when young people witness gender based teasing at school.