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Research interests

Gender, sexuality and schooling

Based initially on an ethnographic study of a secondary school in the West Midlands, UK, this aspect of Mary Jane’s work explores student-centred perspectives on gender relations, sexuality and sexuality education. Her early work in this field traces the contours of masculinities and femininities in interactions between the formal school and the informal sexual cultures of teachers and young people. Taking a unique approach to social learning she suggests that, in the context of increased regulation of school life through testing and monitoring, young people’s sexual cultures may become sites of resistance, as adult-free and education-free zones in which students can collectively negotiate their own sexual values (Kehily 2002). Later work has considered gender relations beyond the school, providing accounts of femininities in the context of globalisation (Kehily and Nayak 2008) and from an intergenerational perspective (Kehily 2008).

Youth cultures, popular culture

Mary Jane has a long standing interest in youth cultures. Her published work documents the creative cultural practices of young people and the ways in which researchers have made youth visible through ethnographic study and semiotic analysis (Kehily 2003; 2007). Building upon and expanding this work, she has collaborated with Anoop Nayak to develop a global perspective on youth in ‘new times’ (Nayak and Kehily 2008). A second edition of Gender, Youth and Culture: global masculinities and femininities was published by Palgrave in 2013. Throughout this body of work Mary Jane considers the impact of popular culture on young people in different geographic locations and the ways in which it can be drawn upon as a resource for thinking, talking and learning.


As part of a productive long term collaboration with Rachel Thomson , Sue Sharpe and Lucy Hadfield, Mary Jane has explored the ways in which motherhood as a concept, an identity and a social practice has changed over three generations. Beginning with the experience of first time mothers in the present, the research develops an account of contemporary motherhood as a diverse and changing identity, shaped by age and socio-economic circumstances, in ways that produce new social divisions between women (Thomson and Kehily 2008; Kehily 2011). This study is part of a wider project to understand the shifts in women’s lives that have taken place over the twentieth century and the implications of these for social theory.

Childhood, sexual innocence, discourses that bring the child into being

Informed by her teaching at The Open University, particularly the innovative undergraduate Childhood course (Kehily and Swann 2003), Mary Jane has developed a research profile in Childhood Studies that examines the idea of childhood as a social construct, the reification of childhood innocence (Kehily and Montgomery 2003), the ways in which Western childhoods have changed and the formation of discourses that view contemporary childhood as ‘in crisis’ (Kehily 2010).