LINGUIST List 14.80

Fri Jan 10 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis: Litosseliti and Sunderland

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  1. Niladri Sekhar Dash, Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis

Message 1: Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis

Date: Thu, 09 Jan 2003 17:48:21 +0000
From: Niladri Sekhar Dash <>
Subject: Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis

Litosseliti, Lia, and Jane Sunderland (2002) 
Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis. John Benjamins Publishing Company:
Amsterdam/Philadelphia. vii+326pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-213-6, US
$90.00, Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture 2.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Dr. Niladri Sekhar Dash, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India

Purpose of the book

The volume entitled ''Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis'' is a
collection of papers based on some empirical researches undertaken in
various social contexts to explore how gender identities are
represented, constructed and contested through language that
contributes in designing a complex web of discourse and
interaction. The focus of the volume is to explore the ''notion of
continuous construction of a range of masculine and feminine
identities within and across individuals of the same biological sex''
(p.2). It also intends to reflect on the current theoretical
tendencies with due emphasis to new methodological approaches,
analytical frameworks, and epistemological data employed for the
problem at hand. The motive behind the publication of the volume is
perhaps to reflect on 'media', 'sexuality', 'education' and
'parenthood' - the four major social institutions where language and
discourse are interwoven with hidden fabrics of gender discrimination
that plays crucial roles in determining identity of an individual in
the society.

Description of the book's contents

Besides, the introductory chapter by the editors, the volume contains
12 chapters divided in 5 sections. Section 1 [Theorising Gender and
Discourse] contains 3 chapters which are mostly concerned with
exploring the relationship among gender, language and discourse
looking specifically at different gendered texts obtained from various
social contexts. Section 2 [Discourse and Gendered Identities in the
Media] contains 3 chapters that mostly focus on the treatment of
gender in multimedia advertisements, broadcast newspaper columns and
recent men's magazines. Section 3 (Discourse, Sexuality and Gender
Identities) contains 2 chapters that discuss the constructions of both
homosexuality and heterosexuality in two socially bound situations -
one deals with the situation of a lesbian teacher in her professional
environment while the other one deals with a case study of a
depressive powerless woman who lives in the world of fantasy dominated
by her dormant desires of eroticism. Section 4 (Discourse and Gender
Identities in Education) contains 2 chapters that study the discursive
practices around the textbook texts used by the language teachers in
class, as well as the interactive discourses represented in the data
collected from boy's and girl's informal talks from a school. Finally,
section 5 (Gendered Discourses of Parenthood) contains 2 chapters
which analyze a literary text that satirizes the patriarchal
pro-natality discourse in communist Romania, and investigate the
dominance of maternal identity in the parentcraft texts that minimizes
the role of a father in upbringing of a child in 'western' societies
living under capitalism.

Critical evaluation 

In the introductory chapter entitled ''Gender Identity and discourse
analysis: Theoretical and empirical considerations'' (pp. 1-39) Jane
Sunderland and Lia Litosseliti present an overview of the field
employing both diachronic and synchronic dimensions often used in
almost all empirical studies. In their study all the major aspects
related with gender and discourse are touched upon for the readers to
cope up with the following chapters rich with novel studies,
observation and analysis. Our attention is drawn to the earlier days
of 'feminism' when both 'parole' and 'langue' were critically used as
'an abstract system' for representing our concept of gender
difference. While describing the concept of identity related with
masculinity and femininity, they focus on the 'multiplicity of
identity' in various registers where both masculinity and femininity
play active roles in defining our social identities. Their analysis of
discourse as a pure linguistic field as well as its interface with
text shows its both representational and constitutive validity often
registered in gender analysis. Moreover, importance of context, a
vital aspect of any empirical linguistic analysis is duly appreciated
here. In the course for identification of gender with relation to
discourse they rightly observe that ''context can include linguistic
co-text; genre; social situation, including specific (gender)
relations between participants, and specific physical considerations;
and cultural assumptions and understandings'' (p.15). Finally, they
turns our attention to the method of critical discourse analysis (CDA)
often used to explore the hidden interface among discourse, identity
and performativity. Reference to Fairclough's (1992) three-dimensional
conceptualization of discourse is useful for understanding the studies
presented in the following chapters.

In chapter 2 entitled ''Yes, but is it Gender?'' (pp. 43-67) Joan
Swann addresses the issues related with language and gender in
political and social consequences of popular beliefs about gendered
languages. Some recent observations in language and gender research
(e.g., diversity, context, ambiguity, etc.) are also referred to with
analysis. Next, some aspects of written and spoken language with
reference to gender are discussed with the problem of language and
gender. The warrants for gender in language and gender research are
duly emphasized with close reference to the spoken interaction of the
area the author is most familiar with. Finally, the author evaluates
the theoretical position of the analyst, his/her intuition as well as
the role of the participants in interaction. We can probably agree
with her argument that ''language and gender may, then, legitimately
be viewed from different perspectives: a pragmatic combination of
methods and approaches, along with an acknowledgment of their
possibilities and limitations, might allow us to focus on different
aspects of the relationship between language gender, or have a wider
range of things to say about this'' (p.62).

In chapter 3 entitled ''Rethinking politeness, impoliteness and gender
identity '' (pp. 69-89) Sara Mills tries to bring together new
theoretical work on gender from feminist linguistics with new
theorizing of linguistics politeness. To formulate her argument she
first presents a short show on feminist linguists and Communities of
Practice (CofP) developed by Wenger (1998) with reference to all its
crucial dimensions. Next, she delves into the age-old belief about
'interactional power' (IP) relations (p. 74) existing between male and
female members in the society. After a short analysis on the Brown
and Levinson's (1978) model of politeness she explores the idea of
impoliteness as the opposite of politeness in relation to gender
discrimination in social interactions. Finally, she narrates an
impolite incident where she personally was involved which eventually
inspires her to explore the interface of politeness and impoliteness
in relation to gender in CofP. She rightly concludes that greater
exposure in the analysis of gender politeness and impoliteness can be
achieved through turning from sentence level to the level of
discourse. ''The notion of CofP can provide a framework for analysing
the complexity of judging an utterance as polite or impolite, and it
can also enable us to see that within different Communities of
Practice, individuals may perform their gendered identities in
different ways'' (p.85).

In chapter 4 entitled ''Stunning, shimmering, iridescent: Toys as the
representation of gendered social actors'' (pp. 91-108) Carmen Rosa
Caldas-Coulthard and Theo van Leeuven present an interesting study how
the concept of gender is interlinked with the designing of toys for
the kids. They present here one of the results of their research on
'Toys as Communication' initiated in the University of Stockholm,
Sweden. First, they justify their research with toys by identifying
multi-purpose roles played by the toys in the society. Here, toys are
identified as semiotic signs located in discourse of gender, age and
social class. In the next section, they explore how the idea of gender
and male-female sexuality are interwoven with the visual
representation, design, movement and color of the toys designed for
specific target users (e.g., large muscles of The Rock or the big
breasts and almost naked body of Jaculine indicate their adventurous
nature, power and sexuality while the sober dress, polite pose and
soft looks of Ken and Barbie assert their modesty, sophistication and
social desirability. Finally they discuss how in advertising texts
inscribed on toy boxes, catalogues and web pages represent gender
distinction. With recurrent reference of the selection of specific
words, terms, epithets and idioms loaded in these advertisements they
show how ideational meanings make gender distinctions explicit in the
discourse of advertising.

In chapter 5 entitled ''Consuming personal relationships: The
achievement of feminine self-identity through other-centeredness''
(pp. 111-128) Michelle M. Lazar presents another interesting study on
the achievement of a distinctly feminine identity in the course of
heterosexual relationships that span courtship, marriage and
motherhood. It is a part of the research project on critical discourse
analysis of the co-constructions of heterosexuality and gender
relations in a Singaporian national advertising campaign. Observing a
steady decline in the national birth rate, the Government of Singapore
launched a multi-media advertising campaign for better-educated young
and procreative nationals for pursuing them getting married and
staring a family. The campaign was systematically designed to denounce
singlehood, and to praise couplehood, marriage and parenthood. The
campaign in all possible ways tries to impress the target audience to
enter into courtship, marriage and motherhood which are more valuable
in life than pursuing one's own career and living a single
life. However, Lazar notes that although both men and women are
subjected to this campaign, their respective positions in the
advertisement are markedly dissimilar. Within the genre of
advertisement, the subject position is offered to the women projecting
them as 'potential consumers' of love and personal relationship, while
within the type of discourse of gender relations love and personal
relationships are set up as the absolute, 'all-consuming' priority in
women's lives (p. 112). The author argues that the strategy for
concentrating on young procreative women would undoubtedly benefit the
state, society, men and children, but would curtail the range of life
choices and priorities of women themselves (p. 125).

In chapter 6 entitled '''Head to head': Gendered repertoires in
newspaper arguments'' (pp. 129-148) Lia Litosseliti explores the
discourse practices and strategies, as well as themes and ideologies,
which speakers draw upon in arguments that make moral claims and
express, sustain, or challenge particular moral positions. She looks
examples of arguments in a broadcast newspaper column focusing on the
ways in which moral arguments are articulated by both male and female
arguers. She also focuses on the symbolic significance of approaches
of argument, particularly how arguments are shaped by the
participants' understandings of gender and morality (129). She
explores the argument-morality-gender relationships through a
discourse lens, investigates a discursive framework of analysis of
texts, and analyses the field of public argumentation with reference
to the construction of morality and gender identity in newspaper
columns. She finds heavy moralizing and strong language in men's
arguments which are supported by varying and often conflicting
interpretations of the relationships between the individual and
society and of the moral state of society, while female writers offer
various personal narratives, and often exaggerated allusions. Finally,
she argues that ''discourse analysis, by viewing discourse as a social
practice in itself, and by seeking to demystify the workings of
identity, ideology and power in discourse, is particularly useful in
exploring the implicit and assumed aspects of gender and morality''
(p. 146).

In chapter 7 entitled ''Is there anything ''new'' about these lads?:
The textual and visual construction of masculinity in men's
magazines'' (pp. 149-174) Bethan Benwell defines and describes some
of the discursive strategies which are employed to characterize and
define a particular dimension of 'new lad' masculine identity. After a
short discussion on the evolution of masculinity in the men's
lifestyle magazine, he attempts to chart those evasive, ambiguous and
arguably 'strategic' moves that define, endorse and give voice to this
particular manifestation of masculinity. In-depth analysis of texts
shows how these men's magazines are concerned to establish their
identity as a mainstream heterosexual genre which are
characteristically different from the gay magazines or similar other
texts. Next, the dialectic between male gaze and masculine image is
explored along with its attendant anxieties about the processes of
'looking' and 'being looked at'. Both humor and irony are used as
shields against the explicit markings of masculinity as well as
against the sexual or gender ambiguity. His analysis of instances of
discourse available in men's magazine demonstrates ''how discourse
reproduce and reinforce a social order and how repeated and
recognisable discursive strategies may be employed in the pursuit of
gendered identities and relations'' (p.169). His observations suggest
that such manifestations of masculinity, as revealed in these
magazines, are intimately bound up with the survival and adaptability
of male power.

In chapter 8 entitled ''The case of the indefinite pronoun: Discourse
and the concealment of lesbian identity in class'' (pp. 177-192)
Elizabeth Morrish investigates the notions of discourse and
performativity and the extent to which a real performance of sexuality
by a lesbian teacher can emerge under the constraints of the dominant
discourses of compulsory heterosexuality. She also examines
''classroom strategies of identity revealation and concealment, and
those particular professional pitfalls that might ambush the lesbian
linguist in her attempts to challenge the erasure of her sexuality
demanded by convention and dominant discourse'' (p.179). She discusses
the deictic choices a lesbian teacher opts in the classroom context to
establish her identity in the world of heterosexuality. In her
examination of the discursive practice of a lesbian teacher it is her
contention that certain utterances will be interpreted differently
depending on how the lesbian teacher is judged both in terms of gender
and sexuality. Despite her effort for critical estimation on the
discourse and strategies used by a lesbian teacher, her study probably
lacks proper empirical analysis on large samples of corpus for making
any generalized observation.

In chapter 9 entitled ''Erotic discourse strategies in powerless
women: Analysing psychiatric interviews'' (pp. 193-219) Branca Telles
Ribeiro investigates discourse and involvement strategies used by
women to overcome a deep sense of isolation, deprivation and
abandonment. He presents here an enthralling estimation on the
discourse strategies used by a depressive woman with her interviewer,
a male psychiatrist. The patient's mental makeup as revealed by the
detail analysis of the excerpts directs our attention to the realm of
identity of the participants, their social relations, their knowledge
of the world as well as various other social and conversational
attributes that predetermine what kind of linguistic interactions will
develop in course of gender-related investigations. Particularly, in
this case study the dominance of gender, sex and their related nuances
have been pivotal in defining both individual and social identity of
the female patient who suffers from the lack of recognition,
reciprocity and understanding from her former husband as well as from
the society she belongs. In the interviews, the doctor/patient power
relations are also modified by the patient's potent
metamessages. ''Most of all, a type of connection (whether referred to
as sexual, erotic, or loving) signals a willful pursuit of
relationships on the part of the patient, with the likely therapeutic
effect of overcoming isolation'' (p. 211). This study also helps us to
understand that the mental health of a person is deeply associated
with his/her capacity to establish and maintain relationships with
others in the society.

In chapter 10 entitled ''From representation towards discursive
practices: Gender in the foreign language textbooks revisited''
(pp. 223-255) Jane Sunderland, Marie Cowley, Fauziah Abdul Rahim,
Christina Leontzakou and Julie Shattuck draws our attention to the
issue of the importance of particular textual gender representations
by moving our attention away from the text itself. For their study
they use texts in two different senses: (b) a stretch of written
language which shows unity of purpose, and (b) 'whole' written
documents which are physical entities in themselves, but rather much
shorter stretches of writing in the form of exercises, tasks or
activities, which are characteristically accompanied by visuals, such
as line drawings or photographs (p. 224). Following their discussion
on the teacher's talk around texts, they report on the findings and
limitations of three research projects executed in Portugal, Greece
and United Kingdom. Their studies show how teachers draw on a number
of gendered discourses including both feminist and traditional
discourses. It also ''represents a theoretical and methodological
contribution to the understanding of how traditional gender identities
can be discoursally sustained, or new ones made available, and how
stereotypical ways of thinking can be challenged (or not) in classroom
discourse'' (p. 251).

In chapter 11 entitled '''What's the hottest part of the sun? Page
3!': Children's exploration of adolescent gender identities through
informal talk'' (pp. 257-273) Jenet Maybin takes us for a nice journey
in the world of children's informal talks, which is rich with hidden
sexual implications related with gender and identity. The investigator
wants to find out how the children explore and take on various kinds
of gendered identities within their informal talks as well as how they
use their informal talks (and literacy) to explore and negotiate new
knowledge and identities, as they move from childhood into
adolescence. She observes that children's talk tend to return time and
again to a number of central themes - their changing relationships
with their parents and other authority figures, the imperatives and
boundaries of their friendship, their family relationships, and moral
issues of justice, care and cruelty. >From the analysis of her data
and excerpts she finds that ''the boys wanted to talk about things,
activities and accomplishments, while the girls talked about people,
relationships and feelings'' (p. 266). Here, her observation falls in
the same line of observation made by Holmes (1997). However, the most
striking point to note here is that children often gain sense of their
own identities by differentiating themselves from others. Young boys
and girls seem to establish their position and gendered identity in
relation to culturally available discourse of masculinity and
femininity. Their ''negotiation and exploration of gendered
relationships and behaviour involves the complex manipulation of
different interpretative frames and the invoking and reproduction of
voices from written texts, songs, adults and other children''
(p. 271). Quite often they fall back on the 'safer and more familiar
discourse of childhood' to try out new ways of inhabiting their
gender, 'drawing on the culturally available resources around them and
their own experience and imagination'.

In chapter 12 entitled ''Pregnant self and lost identity in Ana
Blandiana's 'Children's Crusade': An ironical echo of the patriarchal
pro-natality discourse in communist Romania'' (pp. 277-292) Daniela
Sorea presents us telling description of 'Children's Crusade' - an
elegy which is actually a mock eulogy that vehemently satirizes 'The
Decree' of the Ceausescu regime in Romania that created a terror among
the procreative mothers with the law of forbidding any birth control
procedures. Her regular reference to the traumatic plights of
procreative mothers as well as to the events and facts of the
communist Romania as recorded as in Kligman (1998), hang before us an
image of horror and disbelief when we try to visualize that
'individual women were denied the right to refuse public assessment of
their bodies in terms of their birth-giving potential' (p. 278). The
poem of Blandiana is a voice of protest against such totalitarian
pro-natality discourse of Ceausescu's regime to raise ''a cry for
re-humanisation, for re-investment of mothers with their long-lost
personhood, for reinstatement of maternal agency'' (p. 289). By
analysis of form, narration, content as well as the words and terms
used in the poem, Sorea is able to show how the use of ''negative
prefix in all adjectival modifiers of 'foetus' congeals the unborn
child into non-identity, while encoding and perpetuating the trauma it
undergoes as well as the trauma it simultaneously inflicts upon the
mother'' (p.285).

In chapter 13 entitled ''Baby entertainer, bumbling assistant and line
manager: Discourses of paternal identity in parentcraft texts'' (pp.
293-324) Jane Sunderland illustrates several discourses of parental
identity which can be observed in parentcraft texts (i.e., texts on
childcare written by professionals, such as doctors or midwives, for
parents - mothers, fathers or both). For her investigation she uses
data collected from 11 texts written with specific aim for advising
new parents regarding taking care of the new-born babies as well as
new mothers. After thorough investigation of the literature she
identifies four types of discourse: (a) 'Part-time father/Mother as
main parent' discourse where mother is given privileges over father in
regard to primary care-giver to the baby, (b) 'Father as baby
entertainer' discourse where the father is expected to spend time with
his child showing him new things, helping him in his hobbies, taking
him with himself when he enjoys his own, participating in reading
stories, playing games and singing songs before bedtime (p. 309), (c)
'Father as mother's bumbling assistant' discourse where the father is
asked to act as a helping hand to the new mother, try to adjust with
the new routine, and experience a new dimension of life by taking some
of the strains while the mother recovers, and (d) 'Father as a line
manager' discourse where the father is asked to limit the number of
visitors into the house, stop others disturbing the baby when he is
asleep, ensure protection of family routine, plan for the future, get
a stairgate for himself, put locks on all the low cupboards, protect
electric wires and sockets, go out together with his wife for a treat,
let her know that he still loves her, etc. (p. 311). The investigator
argues that like wider masculinity and femininity, the paternal and
maternal identities in these texts are not only relational but also
'mutually'-constructing - even when one is not mentioned. She
concludes that ''in parentcraft texts we can see a dialectical
'bundle' of heterosexual and relational femininities and
masculinities, most discourses here being 'companion', mutually
supporting ones, others potentially conflictual and destabilising''
(p. 314).

Despite many insightful reflections on various aspects of gendered
discourse in various linguistic interactions and negotiations, the
volume lacks a general introduction to discourse and gender which
could have been useful for the readers of this book. However, volumes
by Spender (1980), Wodak (1997), Talbot (1998), Goddard and Patterson
(2000) can be explored by the interested people as necessary ground
works for delving into this new valley of linguistics and discourse.


Brown, Penelope and Levinson, Stephen (1978) ''Universals in language
usage: politeness phenomena''. In Goody, E. (ed.) (1978) Questions and
Politeness: Strategies in Social Interactions. Pp. 56-111. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Fairclough, Norman (1992) ''Discourse and Social Change''. London:
Polity Press.

Goddard, Angela and Patterson, Lyndsay Mean (2000) ''Language and
Gender''. London: Routledge.

Holmes, Jenet (1997) ''Storytelling in New Zealand women's and men's
talk''. In Wodak, Ruth (ed.) (1997) ''Gender and
Discourse''. Pp. 263-293. London: Sage Publications.

Kligman, Gail (1998) ''The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling
Reproduction and Everyday Life in Ceausescu's Romania''. University of
California Press.

Spender, Dale (1980) ''Man Made Language''. London: Routledge.

Talbot, Mary (1998) ''Language and Gender''. London: Polity Press. 

Wenger, Etienne (1998) ''Communties of Practice''. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Wodak, Ruth (ed.) (1997) ''Gender and Discourse''. London: Sage


Niladri Sekhar Dash works as a Linguist for the Technology Development
in Indian Languages at Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Unit of
the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, India. His research
interest includes corpus design and development, corpus linguistics,
discourse and pragmatics, lexical semantics, lexicography,
etc. Presently he is working on speech corpus generation, corpus based
lexicography and lexical polysemy in Bangla.
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