Review of Talking Gender and Sexuality
Date: Sun, 5 Jan 2003 13:30:48 -0500
Subject: Pragmatics: Review of Mcllvenny (2002) Talking gender and Sexuality
Author: 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
Reviewer: 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 Sundén 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
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^Å", 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
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
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
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 changed.
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 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 society.
Chapter 10. "I'm still not sure she's a she." Textual talk and typed bodies
in online interaction by Jenny Sundén.
Sundén 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, Sundén 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. Sundén 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.
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| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.