Philosophical discussion as a starting point for research

In order to clarify the way in which we proceeded to set up the action-research carried out by the "Gender and Society" group composed of college students and co-researchers on the subject of the construction of identities during adolescence, let us present the philosophical approach that we followed.

The first work sessions consisted in setting up a philosophical discussion on the question of gender identity, as it was, at this time of the year, a concern of the students. At their request, we met to reflect on the issues that the conception of gender represents in our time. In recent years, questions about gender, both on an individual and societal level, have taken on a fundamental importance for the proper development of individuals. Indeed, the recognition and acceptance of various gender identities allow young people to feel more at ease in their living environments. It therefore seemed interesting to us to address these topics in the school setting.

We therefore questioned the terms "gender", "identity", "masculine", "feminine" without giving normative definitions but always trying to problematize them in order to raise the issues at stake, here are some examples: are gender and biological sex equivalent? Why is the affirmation of one's gender important in society? Do we always have to identify with a gender? What consequences does one's gender have on one's life? Is our democratic society egalitarian regarding what is considered masculine and feminine? We tried to understand the evolution of these concepts in the history of thought, notably by relying on the philosophical writings of Simone de Beauvoir (Le Deuxième Sexe, 1949). The objective was not to present the author's doctrines in a dogmatic way, but we used them to invite the student co-researchers to put themselves in a philosopher's posture and to take in hand, with their own words, these complex questionings.

As the discussion progressed, we realized, as is often the case in philosophy, that questioning a specific subject leads to broader questions, in this case on the concept of identity in its relationship to the feelings of adolescents and in its construction in society. We then continued our reflections during the following sessions.

Beyond the fact of reflecting together on these concepts, we were able to note, as more experienced researchers - and this is also where co-research is interesting because it enriches the points of view - that this philosophical discussion in itself made it possible to change the identity constructions of the college students (Delanoë, 2019). Indeed, it allowed them to question deeply about themselves, about others, about representations and societal norms, and it was also an opportunity for them to talk about their personal feelings, without having been forced to do so, with people of different generations with different experiences and backgrounds. Likewise for us as supervisors, we were able to learn more about the issues specific to younger generations who observe and project themselves differently in the world. In sum, this discussion was a relevant way to implement the research because it enriched the student co-researchers as much as the adults on individual, intellectual, and generational levels.

When the focus group became a research project, we then presented a research methodology to the students because it was important that our project be based on a scientifically recognized framework. We made sure that the way we described the methodology was clear and accessible to middle school students. Here are some of the slides presented:

In the pursuit of our reflections and using this method, we clarified the terms, issues, and research problems in order to develop, during the following sessions, the questionnaire published in a previous blog post:

Beyond serious work, it is also important that the co-researchers enjoy questioning and reflection. Philosophy, the love of knowledge, seemed to be a good starting point for this research.