LINGUIST List 13.2839

Mon Nov 4 2002

Review: Sociolinguistics: Baron & Kotthoff (2001)

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  • Lauren Hall-Lew, Baron and Kotthoff (2001) Gender in Interaction

    Message 1: Baron and Kotthoff (2001) Gender in Interaction

    Date: Mon, 04 Nov 2002 17:08:41 +0000
    From: Lauren Hall-Lew <>
    Subject: Baron and Kotthoff (2001) Gender in Interaction

    Baron, Bettina and Helga Kotthoff, eds. (2001) Gender in Interaction. John Benjamins Publishing Company, xxiv+352pp, hardback ISBN 90 272 5112 6, Pragmatics and Beyond New Series 93.

    Book Announcement on Linguist:

    Lauren Hall-Lew and Malcah Yaeger-Dror, University of Arizona


    This text is one of the many edited texts published in the last few years which focus on gender and interaction [see references]. In fact, 'Interaction' here is construed not in the narrow sense of conversational interaction, but in a broader sense which includes non- discursive forms of interaction and presentation of self. The book begins with a comprehensive preface by the editors (ix-xxiv), which informs us that 'with this title we want to allude not only to the interaction between the sexes, but also to gender as an interactional achievement...'.

    Part 1 consists of a review by a senior researcher in this field, Barrie Thorne (pp.3-18), intending to prepare the reader for ''widening the conceptual scope'' of current approaches to gender. Thorne reviews the difference/dominance discussion, discussing and attempting to broaden the theory (p.11). She also opens a discussion on formulation of sex as a display of physical 'aggressivity,' which can influence interactive presentation of self. Her paper serves as a general introduction.

    Part 2 ''Perspectives on gender in childhood and adolescence,'' includes four papers which focus on the acquisition of interactive gender displays. These articles follow the ground-breaking work of Goodwin (e.g., 1980) in the 1970's and 1980's, which showed the importance of societal input on the developing child's understanding of gender. Note that three of the four papers in this section focus on the acquisition of female-gendered interactive strategies.

    Cook-Gumperz (21-49), ''Girls' oppositional stances: the interactional accomplishment of gender in nursery school and family life,'' discusses the use of gendered self-presentation among a group of nursery school girls. It appears from her transcripts that it is the boys who actually initiate oppositional stance vis-a-vis other members of the group, but her data appear to demonstrate that nursery school girls can display verbal violence [boiling babies, killing baby kitties] without feeling constrained by its 'inappropriateness' for 'little girls.' She presents helpful background information, and draws some nice conclusions for how the child's social world mirrors the adult society.

    Kyratzis (51-74), ''Constituting the emotions: a longitudinal study of emotion talk in a preschool friendship group of boys'' analyzes interactions in nursery school, tracking the increase in - and apparent learning of - gender-appropriate presentation of self by a group of nursery school boys during one school year, finding that an increase in gender specific behavior may be correlated with an undocumented learning taking place outside the school. She does not appear to find evidence for gendered self-presentation imposed by the teachers themselves, nor does she appear to support a theory that the increase in aggression is merely a developmental pattern. She shows the boys arriving at the social consensus about what is 'girlish' and should be viewed as unacceptable. Kyratzis is the first author thus far to mention cross-cultural data, which is imperative to other articles in the book.

    Cahill (75-97), ''Notably gendered relations: relationship work in early adolescents' notes'' analyzes 164 notes collected in middle and junior high schools (grades 6-9) in unidentified communities in the US in the mid-1980's. A (primarily) written discourse medium, mostly used by girls, the notes are analyzed ethnographically for the importance given to romantic relations and how the writers' understanding of these relations is negotiated verbally within the group. Cahill concludes that girl to girl discourse about heterosexual relationships is more significant for intra-sex bonding than for cross-sex relationship building. The assumption is that middle class communities across the country have basically the same rules for such notes, with the same, or similar, underlying cultural expectations of appropriateness.

    Bloustien (99-136), ''Far from sugar and spice: teenage girls, embodiment and representation,'' closes this section. Bloustien analyzes video data collected by 10 working class adolescents in Adelaide, Australia, to demonstrate ways in which these girls develop, enact, and discuss their 'sense of self' in their everyday lives. She shows that the gendered presentation of self is mediated by the girls' developing shared understanding of gender-appropriate appearance and actions. This article has a wide scope and a strong conclusion.

    Part 3, ''Perspectives on masculinity,'' is comprised of three articles. Connell, ''Masculinities and men's health'' (138-152), demonstrates ways in which male role models in German society cause double binds and conflicts; the article provides a focus for research projects tying gender ideologies of 'risk' and gendered division of labor to men's high risk behavior. The article introduces the concept of the characterization of masculinity within a specific community.

    Behnke and Meuser's ''Gender and habitus: fundamental securities and crisis tendencies among men'' (153-174), presents a theoretical discussion of Bourdieu and the extension of his concept of 'habitus' to gender presentation. The authors' claim that all masculinities and femininities should be subsumed under one 'habitus' of gender (p. 174), reminds one of the theory that there is a panlectal grammar which all speakers of a language share. Their insistence on this point is particularly surprising given that the preceding paper discussed German men's 'habitus' as primarily bound up with earning power and risk, their own paper points out class differences in habitus, and the following paper's German Turkish 'habitus' is primarily concerned with the need to display control over the sexuality of women in the family.

    The last paper in this section, ''Male honor: towards an understanding of the construction of gender relations among youths of Turkish origin'' (175-207), by Bohnsack, Loos and Przyborski, follows a group of Turkish men in Germany. The men's behavior controlling the presentation of 'sexuality' used by the female members of their families is contrasted with the women's wishes to adapt themselves to self-identificatory rituals more appropriate to the new culture.

    Unfortunately, the authors' not having read each others' papers prevents us from understanding how the Turkish men visualize the local men's identity, or how the authors relate to the theories of the preceding paper which would assume that the habitus of both groups of men can be subsumed under one 'male' identity, while the naïve reader of these ethnographies sees much greater similarity between the 'habitus' of the American preschool males (Karatzis' paper), Adelaide teenaged girls (Bloustien's) and the German men, than between the German-Turkish men and the German men.

    ''Perspectives on femininity'' is the title of Part 4; the papers anecdotally document a contrast between a male self-presentation which is assumed to be unmarked and a female pattern which is assumed to be marked. The first two papers further limit themselves to a discussion of gendered discourse strategies in specific academic discourse situations.

    Baron (247-281), ''Arguing among scholars: Female scientists and their shaping of expertise,'' is based on the assumption that any discussion in an academic setting should be unmarkedly considered an 'argument.' Baron examines ways in which women academics do not conform to the confrontational 'rules' that she postulates, and how this might be damaging to the advancement of female academics' careers.

    Gunnarsson, ''Academic women in the male university field'' (247-280), compares men's and women's discourse strategies during classroom seminars. In both of these papers, age and gender appear to be confounded in a way which would preclude an accurate analysis (i.e., younger women vs. older men). Both papers document the fact that even in the late 90's, women still limit their critical interventions to less direct strategies and are more likely to use self-deprecation. It appears that gender is a key determinant of prestige and of dominant behavior in an academic setting, and that women's advancement in the professional 'marketplace' is limited by the double bind of balancing a supportive gendered 'habitus' against academic-behavior that requires power-based strategies. Gunnarsson also documents that the field with more women in it (Social Sciences) permits greater use of a solidarity responses than the field dominated by men (Humanities).

    In ''Gender, emotion and poeticity in Georgian mourning rituals,'' Kotthoff (283-327) documents a Georgian women's poetic genre, the mourning lamentation, or motiralebi. She found that the women are those permitted and even expected to express these lamentations, which include not only sad memories of the departed, but happy memories in which the departed took part. The article has a more literary approach then the others, discussing details of poetic strategy and narrative imagery.

    Giora, (329-347) ''Theorizing Gender: Feminist awareness and language change,'' presents a more extensive review of the literature than most of the papers, but the primary focus of the paper is a review of previous work on women's writers' use of politeness strategies. The author's thesis is that, in the late twentieth century, feminist politicized playwrights should favor in-group members [women] over the dominant out-group members. She found that while 100% of the men made their male characters dominant, 'only' 50% of the feminist authors did so. She relays that a majority of international late 20th century women script writers scripted dominant female characters. She shows that not only is there a change in ideology of interaction, with female characters showing less 'politeness' in more recent plays, but that the change can be traced to the rise in feminism in the late 20th century.


    The editors of the present volume should be credited with bringing a diverse group of papers to the public. The papers present both cross- disciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives, and are organized according to age differences as well as gender differences. However, given the plethora of articles on the theme of ''Gender in Interaction,'' and the many edited volumes which have been devoted to it [see the References below, as well as the Berkeley Women and Language Proceedings, IGALA proceedings, and the Lavender Languages and Linguistics Proceedings], one would expect a tightly constrained group of coherent papers to be found in one edited volume. Unfortunately, this expectation is disappointed. Not only do these authors appear not to have read each others' papers, but it is also frustrating to find that some of these authors are still bound by cultural expectations that much of the literature on women and language has been at great pains to dispel. Furthermore, while some of the articles claim to be backed by quantitative as well as qualitative evidence, readily accessible quantitative results are neither referred to nor included in these studies.

    Most editors who turn to Benjamins realize that copy editing must be done before the articles get to the publication house; unfortunately, the present editors have vetted neither authors' English nor egregious typos. Nevertheless, individual articles in this collection will be of interest to scholars whose work intersects theirs.

    REFERENCES (a partial bibliography on gender in interaction)

    Bergvall, Victoria, Janet Bing & Alice Freed, eds. (1996) Rethinking Language and Gender Research. London: Longman.

    Campbell-Kibbler, Kathryn, et al. (eds.) (2002) Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice (selected papers from IGALA- 1). University of Chicago: CSLI.

    Coates, J., ed. (1998) Language and Gender. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Coates, J. and D. Cameron, eds. (1988) Women in their Speech Communities. New York: Longman.

    Eckert, Penny & McConnell-Ginet, Sally (2002) Language and Gender.. Cambridge: CUP.

    Goodwin, M. (1980). ''Directive-Response Speech Sequences in Girls' and Boys' Task Activities.'' In McConnell-Ginet, Borker, and Furman (1980), pp. 157-173.

    Kotthoff, Helga and Ruth Wodak, eds. (1997) Communicating Gender in Context. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    McConnell-Ginet, Sally, Ruth Borker and Nelly Furman, eds. (1980) Women and Language in Literature and Society. New York: Praeger.

    Phillips, Susan, Sue Steele and Chris Tanz, eds. (1980) Language Gender and Sex in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge: CUP.

    Sheldon, Amy (1996), ed. Constituting Gender through Talk in Early Childhood. RoLSI 29(1), Special Issue.

    Tannen, Deborah, ed. (1993) Gender and Conversational Interaction. Oxford: OUP.

    Thorne, Barrie and Nancy Henley, eds. (1975) Language and Sex. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

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


    Lauren Hall-Lew received her B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Arizona in August, 2002. Her interests include gender studies, sociolinguistics, phonetics and phonology. She currently works with Malcah Yaeger-Dror, Research Scientist in the Cognitive Science Program, University of Arizona.