LINGUIST List 14.143

Wed Jan 15 2003

Review: Pragmatics: Mcllvenny (2002)

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  1. rdelbene, Mcllvenny (2002), Talking Gender and Sexuality

Message 1: Mcllvenny (2002), Talking Gender and Sexuality

Date: Wed, 08 Jan 2003 17:34:20 +0000
From: rdelbene <>
Subject: Mcllvenny (2002), Talking Gender and Sexuality

McIlvenny, Paul, ed. (2002), Talking Gender and Sexuality. John
Benjamins Publishing Co. ISBN 90 272 5114. Pragmatics & Beyond, New
Series, ISSN 0922-842X; v.94

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Roxana Delbene, Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics 

The book ''Talking Gender and Sexuality'' combines two main issues:
(a) The speakers' interactive construction of 'gender,' and (b) the
theoretical and methodological tools of Conversation Analysis (CA) and
Discursive Psychology (DP). These methodologies are used by the
authors to analyze every-day conversations in which gender and
sexuality become relevant for the speakers, rather than for the
researchers (see Schegloff, 1991, 1997). In brief, the two main
issues discussed are the verbal performance of gender (and sexuality)
on the one hand, and gender performativity on the other. The authors
of the book agree in defining gender as a contingent and never
completed construction, instead of a predetermined and prefix social
variable. Both issues (a and b) are combined in the book. The reason
for their combination can be found in the underlying notions of
language, interaction, and gender held by the authors. For example,
according to these notions, a person becomes gendered by doing and
talking gender. This idea implies that gender and sexuality are
accomplishments instead of being pre-existing categories.
Ethnomethodologies, such as Garfinkel, had a strong influence in CA's
theoretical stands. For him, social facts such as power and
oppression --involving gender and sexuality-- are considered to be
process or accomplishments, not categories or variables. The
combination of both issues presents a very innovative and useful
approach that sheds light on theoretical and methodological problems
concerning CA, as well as the theory of gender performativity. The
discussions are illustrated with abundant examples drawn from
every-day conversations involving face to face interaction and a
conversation in a text-based online world (see Sunden Jenny, chapter
10). The book addresses the major criticisms imputed to CA by other
branches of discourse analysis and sociolinguistics. The criticisms
are, for example, CA's apparent: (a) narrowed definition of context,
(b) obsession with micro-analysis involving minute details, (c)
holding an impoverished notion of participant's orientation, and (c)
lacking political involvement. The purpose of examining these
criticisms may lie in the intention to do justice to CA's methodology
and to clarify its contributions, as well as its limitations, to the
studies of social interaction - particularly, to the studies of gender
and sexuality. By doing that, the authors undertake many challenges.
First, the studies of gender and sexuality have been traditionally
carried out by feminist authors who tend to see feminism and CA as
oxymorons (Speer, 1999). Second, the authors combine a
post-structuralist and performative theory of understanding gender,
and sexuality (principally, following Judith Butler's paradigm) with
the empirical approach of CA's methodology. The combination of the
performative theory of gender with the empirical analysis conducted by
conversationalists, triggers three major questions (see McIlveeny,
Introduction and chapter 4): (a) What is the proper object of study
for conversation analysts? In other words, whether or not CA's
methodology is appropriate for studying gender and sexuality. If it
is appropriate, then, (b) what are its methodological limitations?
And finally, (c) what is the political contribution of CA to the study
of gender and sexuality? Regarding question (c), the authors seem to
be aware of the political danger that may involve sticking closely to
the methodology of study 'every-day life' conversations. The editor
acknowledges that it can reproduce hegemonic power and beliefs.
Because of this awareness, another important topic is addressed. That
is, how gender and sexuality are made into 'natural objects,' i.e.,
how they are naturalized as identities and, in this manner, insulated
from inspection and contestation of becoming potential tools of social
oppression. McIlvenny concludes that CA can effectively uncover the
invisible naturalization process done through talk, but it cannot
explain why that process can have an oppressive effect.

Another important theoretical and methodological problem attended in
the book is the CA's principle of 'participant's orientation'
originally derived from Garfinkel (1967). The problem is whether or
not to analyze gender if, first, the participants do not orient to
this issue in their interaction? Second, if the participant does not
orient to gender directly, but s/he does it indirectly. Then, how can
gender's relevancy can be analyzed in conversations without imposing
the analyst's own interpretation? To reflect on this problem
recycles, at least, two methodological and linguistic issues: First,
the interpretative role of the researcher as a human being having
his/her own biases that can be projected into the interpretation of
the data; and, second, the challenge for linguists to prove verbal
evidences upon the inferences drawn from the analysis of indirect
discourse. This includes silence, the use of metaphoric and
mitigating devices, and also deceptive discourse.

Review of the chapters:

Chapter 1. Introduction: Researching talk, gender and sexuality by
Paul McIlvenny. McIlvenny examines the traditional debates about
language and gender initiated in the 1990s. The debate is classically
held between two paradigms: the gender difference (see, for example,
Tannen 1990) and the gender dominance (see, for example, Fishman 1978,
and Zimmerman and West 1975) paradigms. By summarizing the debates,
the editor contextualizes the contributions of Conversation Analysis
(CA) and more recently Discourse Psychology (DP) to the studies of
gender and sexuality, and asserts the philosophic tenets in which the
book is build on. These tenets are: (a) the promotion of a
'constructionist turn' that led to an increasing concern with gender
and sexuality, as manifested in every-day practices, and include the
marginalized speech of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered
interlocutors; (b) gender and sexuality understood as a contingent and
never completed construction based on concepts such as performativity,
agency, practice, normativity, and conversation; (c) the confluence of
four recent theoretical and methodological 'turns' - first, the turn
to interaction in studies of social and cultural practices, second,
the 'turn to language' in social psychology (e.g., in feminine
discursive psychology), third, the 'turn to performativity' in gender
and queer studies that recognizes the fundamental work of Judith
Butler, and lastly, the 'corporeal turn' across the social sciences to
the analysis of situated and virtual embodiment. In the introduction,
McIlvenny states three purposes of the book: First, to examine the
theoretical and methodologies basis of CA and DP by comparing them
with other empirical and qualitative analysis of talk concerning
gender and sexuality. Second, to uncover how gender and sexual
identities, agencies, power and desires are accomplished in
conversational practices. Third, to dialogue with poststructuralist
(and psychoanalytic) theories of discourse, which in turn can be used
to complement and expand the analysis of talk in social interaction.

Chapter 2. Doing feminist conversation analysis by Celia Kitzinger.
Kitzinger disputes feminist criticisms that discarded CA as a feminist
approach. These criticisms argue that: (a) CA suffers from
''seduction from the data'' (Forrester 1999: 34); (b) it is
exclusively concerned with micro-analysis (see Wetherell, 1998); and
(c) it assumes that in social interactions, participants have equal
rights of speakership (see Billig, 1999), which lead their researchers
to neglect social oppression reproduced in conversations. Kitzinger
constructs a solid argumentation against those criticisms and shows
the irony involved in CA criticisms. She draws upon Garfinkel's
(1967) theory of agency and social factors, Sacks' (1995) analysis of
racist talk through a phone conversation between two white women who
failed to orient racism in their conversation, and Schegloff's (1997)
example of orientation to gender ('Ladies last!'). With this
theoretical background, she analyzes an ethnographic example drawn
from her own experience, and performs a micro conversation analysis of
two interviews by two women announcing their ''coming-out'' as
lesbians. Kitzinger shows that CA's methodological tools constitute a
powerful way of disclosing the naturalization process of exerting
heterosexual power in everyday conversations. The author reaffirms
CA's compatibility with the disciplines of ethnomethodology, social
constructionism, post-modernism and queer theory. All of them have in
common to interpret genders and sexualities as constantly produced and
reproduced in everyday interactions, instead of being prefix and
naturalized categories.

Chapter 3. Gender and sexuality in talk-in-interaction: Considering
conversation analytic perspectives by Elizabeth H. Stokoe and Janet
Smithson. Stokoe and Smithson point out the usefulness of CA's
methodological stand of participant's orientation because it
guarantees the effective study of what it appears to be in people's
talk. The authors consider gender and sexuality as 'emergent
properties' of social interaction (see, for example, Butler 1990, West
and Zimmerman 1987). According to them, one of the advantages of the
methodology of participant's orientation is that prevents analysts
from ending up in presenting tautological arguments (see Kulick, 1999)
about the gender and the sexual orientation of the participant. They
also suggest that a strict sequential implementation of conversation
analysis may be inadequate to address feminist concerns, especially
when dealing with interactions in which participants seem to be
unaware of their heteronormativity privileges. As a methodological
solution, Stokoe and Simthson reconsider ''membership categorization
analysis'' (MCA) as proposed by Sacks (1992, 1995). This method
focuses on the local management of speakers' categorizations by
treating talk as culture-in-action. When analyzing their data, Stokoe
and Simthson address their attention on participant's disclaimers.
For example, framing a discussion of 'gay parenting' in which one of
the participants says, ''I hate myself for saying this, but^�...'',
the authors analyze that the participant meant his rejection to that
social possibility. Through their analysis, they show that in order
to investigate issues concerning the speakers' talk, analysts also
need to take into account the participants' cultural knowledge that
lead them to negative assessments, or disclaimers, such as that one
expressed by the participant.

Chapter 4. Critical reflections on performativity and the 'un/doing'
of gender and sexuality in talk by Paul McIlvenny McIlvenny compares
ethnomethodology's and conversation analysis' perspectives on
conversational performativity, focused on doing gender with
performative approaches to the study of gender and sexuality in
feminist and queer theories. He focuses on the model of 'doing
gender' proposed by West and Zimmerman (1987) in comparison with
Butlers' (1990:25) particular argument that gender identity, ''is
performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to
be its results.'' The purpose of such comparison is to illuminate the
tenets of the different theories in the hope of finding a much clearer
articulation between CA and 'post-identity' gender theory. McIlvenny
expresses CA's compatibility with Butler's performative theory and
West's and Zimmerman's stand that sociolinguists might avoid creating
categorical identities/subjects, who talk in categorical ways. In
other words, CA agrees that there is not, for example, anything about
women's talk that performs femininity. McIlvenny also finds some
similarities between West and Zimmerman's account of 'doing gender,'
and Butler's account of gender as performativity. However, McIlvenny
argues that CA disagrees with West and Zimmerman's original
formulation of doing gender as accountability; i.e., the idea that
people's talk as womanly or manly, accounts for social expectations
about cultural notions of gender and sexual orientation. McIlvenny
asserts that for CA, 'doing gender' is accomplished in concert with
others, namely 'co-participants' in social practices. He also finds
that this is a similar problem with Butler's theory, which seems to
neglect co-participants' interaction. McIlvenny points out, that
gender performativity as accountability lacks a notion of constitutive
audience or interaction that it is problematic for CA. McIlvenny's
chapter presents a very thorough reflection about these theories.
However, examples from the authors' analyses would have helped to
illustrate and clarify the theory.

Chapter 5. From performatives to practices: Judith Butler, discursive
psychology and the management of heterosexist talk by Susan A. Speer
and Johathan Potter. Speer and Potter focus on the management of
heterosexist talk from the perspective of discursive psychology (DP).
The authors define discursive psychology as a discipline that combines
the insights from the ethnomethodology, conversation analysis (CA),
and poststructuralism, but focusing on psychological issues. They
draw upon Judith Butler's theorization of the notions of discourse,
performativity, and, in particular, hate speech. Speer and Potter
analyze compatibilities and imcompatibilities between CA and DP, and
Butler's work. One incompatibility is seen by the authors, in the
abstract theorization of Butler's analysis of gendered and prejudiced
talk. They argue that Butler's theorization lacks demonstration and
illustration of the local accomplishment of gendered and prejudiced
actions in everyday conversations. By contrast, DP emphasizes the
analysis of the concrete productions through which gender identities
are locally occasioned and oriented. The authors stress that hate
speech and prejudices do not need to be explicitly verbalized in order
to be considered that participants orient, e.g., to heteronormative
prejudices. They indicate that hate speech and prejudices can also be
disclosed through psychological traces oriented by the participants.
The authors' corpus is part of a project exploring the constitution of
gender and sexuality in talk about leisure. They claim that DP can
demonstrate, what counts as prejudice for the participants when
managing potentially negative uptakes and irony, in particular. Since
negative uptakes and irony are also part of the cultural knowledge of
the participants; it would be interesting to see, not only the
relationships with Butler's work, but also with the methodology of
membership categorization (Sacks 1992, 1995). This methodology was
proposed, for instance, by Stokoe and Smithson, in chapter 3, as a
solution to address the problem of the participant's orientation when
lacking explicit references to heteronormativity.

Chapter 6. Negotiating gender identities and sexual agency in elderly
couples' talk by Liisa Tainio. Tainio analyzes the negotiation of the
social identities of male and female (along with wife and husband, and
old) in a conversation between two elderly heterosexual spouses living
in the countryside in mid-western Finland. The couple was asked about
their courtship memories, which invoked sexually oriented teasing.
She focuses on the talk-in-interaction to analyze how certain
stereotypical categories of masculinity and femininity are negotiated
and resisted by the participants. Tainio bases her analysis not only
on the sequential analysis of the turn organization, but also on the
linguistic structures of Finnish, in order to illustrate participants'
semantic and syntactic choices to mark gender and agency. In Tainio's
chapter, the most important contribution to feminist studies and to CA
is her observation of linguistic choices involved in the performance
of teasing. These linguistic strategies may render ambiguity on
behalf of participants, and may also be considered political and
interactive strategies for negotiating sexual agency.

Chapter 7. Framing gender: Incongruous gendered identities in Dar es
Salaam adolescents' talk by Sigurd D'hondt. D'hondt argues that the
sequential notion of context currently used in CA investigations of
talk, promotes a narrow and binary conception of identity that makes
it unsuitable for the investigation of gender. He states that gender
resists a particular 'social-structural locus' unequivocally
identifiable in a binary fashion. Rather, gender is a contextual
feature that can constantly be resignified and may be also considered
to be 'omni-relevant.' By 'omni-relevant,' D'hondts means that
individuals can, on any occasion, be identified on the basis of their
perceptual availability for getting involved in a sexual relationship.
The author analyzes a conversation held in Dar es Salaam Tanzania
between three adolescents, who are speakers of Kiswahili. The
adolescents talk about a fourth adolescent female, who has just run
into the adolescents gathering, but did not participate in the
conversation. One of the participants notes that the girl's body has
Then, they speculate about her pregnancy status, and whether or not
she has had an abortion or a miscarriage. The observation that the
girl is no longer pregnant is perceived by one of the adolescents as a
sign of the girl's renewed sexual availability. In this conversation,
D'hondt analyzes how particular discourses of desire as well as
religion, and moral regulations are overlapped with gender. He also
analyzes that these discourses involve interactional consequences for
the participants. Consequently, D'hondt proposes to incorporate into
the analysis of gender, participants' argumentative practices by using
membership categorization analysis (Sacks, 1992) and Goffman's (1974)
notion of 'frame.' The author illustrates how the articulation of
sexual desire and religion repertoires held by the participants, make
them constantly transform and reconstruct their gender and religious
identities, which are overlapped. With this conversation extract,
D'hondt provides a clear example of the relevancy of sexual desire, as
well as the religious norms, in the analysis of participant's gendered
talk. It also provides a very clear argument of why, a wider notion
of context needs to be used in conversation analysis. However, it is
not completely clear why CA's notion of context leads to a binary
conception of identity that makes it unsuitable for gender. While
other authors in the book also disagree with a binary conception of
gender; they, however, argue in favor of CA methodology for precisely
being able to demonstrate the unsuitability of such binary conception
for the study of gendered talk.

Chapter 8. The repressed on parole: Gender categorization,
performativity and the unsaid in talkin' dirty jokes by Andrew Fish.
Fish reexamines Sacks' (1995, II: 470-494) analysis of the telling of
a dirty joke. A seventeen year old boy retells his peers a joke after
listening to it from his twelve year old sister. Fish makes clear
that his reexamination of Sack's analysis is not intended to attack
his work, but to shed light onto a topic that was rarely addressed by
analysts, e.g., the 'unsaid'. The reason is that in CA, topics that
did not seem to be empirically accountable were discarded as objects
of analysis. Fish observes that Sacks' analysis unwittingly imposes
unwarranted gender (as female) and age (as designed by twelve year old
girls) categorizations on the interpretation of the dirty joke, as
momentously being caught by cultural presumptions. Fish focuses his
analysis on the interaction between the kids in the pre- and post-joke
talk, rather than focusing on the joke itself --as discourse. He also
pays a great deal of attention to the fact that Ken, the boy who tells
the story to his peers, frames the joke as a story that his little
sister has told him. By using a membership categorization analysis as
well as sequential analysis of the talks, Fish finds that the way Ken
introduces and frames the narrative of the joke to his peers, may have
a strong impact on the adolescents' verbal interactions and on their
interpretation of the story. Fish finds that the metaphoric
interpretation of the dirty joke that juxtaposes connotations related
to eating and sexual practices, remains repressed or unsaid by the
adolescents. The author argues that it is precisely the unsaid,
leading to ambiguity which excludes any fixed categorization of
gender. By contrast, it is, ironically, the presence of the unsaid,
and its ambiguity, which allows the performance of gender in talk, and
the gendered talk.

Chapter 9. Figuring gender in teachers' talk about school bullying by
Alexa Hepburn. Hepburn draws upon Derrida's (1976, 1978, 1982) work
on deconstruction and post-structural insight into language, in order
to examine interview talks with Scottish teachers who give account of
their students' bullying behavior. She conducts this study from a
Discursive Psychology (DP) perspective. The author analyzes traces of
prefix and naturalized constructions of gender found in the teachers'
reports which were stereotypically oriented to binary gendered terms.
These stereotypes reinforce the cultural and normative character of
bullying associated with male behavior. With these interviews,
Hepburn illustrates Derrida's critique of binary logic, his
development of supplementary logic and the fundamental role of
figurative language. By doing that, she provides a richer
understanding of the normative logic, and stereotypes that inform
participants' orientation to gender in binary terms. Hepburn claims
that further analysis based on Derrida's work is needed in order to
uncover the logocentric frameworks and normative enrollments that
people use to make sense of our world. I suggest that it would be
extremely useful, if studies in the same line of Hepburn's, would also
compare teachers' talks about adolescents' bullying behavior with
actual, row data, of adolescents' verbal behavioral practices (see,
for example, Eckert P. 1989, 1990, Eisikovits, E. 1998). That kind of
comparative analysis would tell us more about normativity practices in

Chapter 10. ''I'm still not sure she's a she.'' Textual talk and
typed bodies in online interaction by Jenny Sunden. Sunden analyzes
the performativity of gender in on-line- typed-in interactions over
the Internet. She draws her data from a particular virtual world or
social MUD (Multi User Dungeon) in which she, herself, was a
type-participant and also a character. A MUD is described as a
contingent and interactive written performance. It consists of the
writing on scenery, characters, movement, dialogue and action. In
this study, Sunden explores whether or not gender becomes relevant
while typists interact (play, seduce, and get seduced) through their
characters in the MUD. This is particularly interesting since typists
interact through the fictional and virtual world of their characters,
in which their biologic sex and body shape remain unknown or
ambiguous, and the only means of interaction is the written language,
more exactly, through typing 'textual talk.' The unknown or
ambiguity, with respect to the characters' biological sex creates a
great deal of curiosity and anxiety among typists. However, it is the
unknown that makes the typists/characters perform gender and play in
creative ways. The advantage of the study of gender in this fictional
scenario is that sexuality, body shape, and gender need to be created
and in that action, their interrelation becomes obvious for the
analyst in a way that is no longer naturalized. Sunden focuses on
the analysis of statements, such as, ''Gender doesn't seem to work
very well at all'' that defies traditional statements about gender.
She challenges other sociolinguistic studies about gender on-line that
claim that gender inequalities are reproduced and even reinforced in
on-line interactions (see Hall 1996, Herring 1993, 1996, Kramarae and
Taylor 1993). Without denying the fact that this possibility could
exist, it is in that virtual creation that the author finds that the
gender of the characters can be transformed and recreated beyond
logocentric stances and binary logic.


The book ''Talking Gender and Sexuality'' presents a thorough
reflection about theoretical and methodological issues regarding CA
and gender performativity. These reflections involve a critical
examination of the works of Garfinkel (1967), Sacks (1978, 1992,
1995), Schegloff (1991, 1997), Butler (1990), Derrida (1978, 1982),
and sociolinguistic studies such as those of West and Zimmerman (1975,
1987). In this manner, the readers can learn not only about CA's
theoretical inspirations, but also about the critical analysis of the
other authors' work. Because of the methodological problems carefully
analyzed by the authors, such as gender as a non-sociological variable
and the participant's orientation, this book would be very useful for
its study in seminars of methodology for research in the social
sciences. For future studies, I think that a comparative analysis
between a sociolinguistic research (following the traditional notion
of gender as a predetermined, sociolinguistic variable) and a
conversation analysis research (following the notion of gender as a
permanent accomplishment), would show the readers an even much clearer
understanding of the different epistemologies implied along with their
strengths and weaknesses.


Billig, Michael. 1999 ''Whose terms? Whose ordinariness? Rhetoric and
ideology in conversation analysis''. Discourse & Society 10

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Derrida, Jacques. 1976 Of Grammatology. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
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Derrida, Jacques. 1978 Writing and Difference [Trans.: Alan
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Derrida, Jacques. 1982a. ''White mythology: Metaphor in the text of
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Eckert, Penelpe 1989 Jocks and Burnouts: Social Categories and
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Eckert, Penelope 1990 ''Cooperative competition in adolescent girl
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Fishman, Pamela. 1978 ''Interaction: The work women do.'' Social
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Herring, Susan. 1996 ''Two variants of an electronic message schema''.
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Kramarae, Cheris and Taylor, H. Jeanie. 1993 ''Women and men on
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Roxana Delbene gained her Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics in May 2002,
at the University of Pittsburgh. Her dissertation is entitled,
"Doctor/patient interaction in the context of a socially stigmatized
disease: The interplay of gender and sexual orientation in medical
interviews involving HIV/AIDS infected patients.
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