Lesson 1: 25 May 2005
No particular theory, approach, or school of thought adequately unravels and then reweaves the patterns shaped by the interlacing of gender and language. For example, although critical discourse analysis as discussed by Fairclough (1989, 1993), Fowler (1996), Hodge & Kress (1993), Kress (1991), and van Dijk (1993a, b) teases out many critical dimensions of language and culture, thus explaining how language and other symbolic systems such as power work in the construction of ideologies, it has yet to fully incorporate gender and sexuality with these major political categories. Sociolinguists such as Boden & Zimmerman (1991), Dorr-Bremme (1990), Shultz, Florio, & Erikson (1982), and Stubbs (1983) who have examined talk within the context of institutional settings like that of the classroom, have shown how talk functions to maintain social order. Others such as Cazden (1986), Eckert & McConnell-Ginet (1992), Kramarae & Treichler (1990), Sadker & Sadker (1990), Spender (1980), and Swann (1988, 1992) have shown that language acts to both reinforce as well as to challenge the status quo’s perceptions and expectations of gender. While these sociolinguistic inquiries, among others, consider the socio-cultural implications arising from the interaction of language and social constructions such as class, ethnicity, or gender, they typically do not develop a strong social theory to explain how members create cultural ideologies that would account for how notions of gender and sexuality are produced, and thus practiced through talk.
Deborah Cameron (1985/1992) explains that this lack is due, in part, to sociolinguists’ focus on language rather than society. Peter Trudgill’s (1978) definition of sociolinguistics exemplifies this narrow perspective of the field. He contends that sociolinguistics must have linguistics, and not social matters, as its main objective. Sociolinguistics is "aimed ultimately at improving linguistic theory and at developing our understanding of the nature of language" (1987:11).
Theories of cultural practice, or performance, as discussed by Bauman (1986), Bourdieu (1977), Connell (1987), Goffman (1959, 1961, 1967), Holland & Eisenhart (1990), and Weiler (1988), tend to focus on social constructions such as class and gender, yet without taking into account the role of language as much as a sociolinguistic approach necessitates. With the exception of recent work in gender and sexuality from a number of different disciplines — for example, that of Bem (1990) in psychology, Bergvall, Bing, and Freed (1997) in sociolinguistics, Butler (1990, 1993) in philosophy, and Epstein (1990) in gender studies — theories of gender typically focus on the binary categories of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ within a heterosexual framework, thus missing the fluidity of gender roles, how they are practiced, and the role of sexuality in the constitution of gender. In order to develop a holistic approach to analyses of the interaction of gender and language, and to develop a sociolinguistic theory that accounts for social as well as linguistic dimensions of this interaction, we must interweave as well as add to these perspectives.
Two related approaches to the constitution of ideology, critical discourse analysis (CDA) and cultural practice theory (also known as performance theory), could bring to language and gender research a wider lens from which to view not only the descriptions of this interface, but also from which to explain how and why these ideologies are constituted. Both approaches investigate the construction of ideology as lived practice within specific contexts, and both address this investigation from a critical perspective, yet the emphasis of CDA tends to be on the reproduction and production of class structures through language of elites, and that of practice theory typically investigates the production, reproduction of and resistance to cultural meanings through the everyday experiences, including language, of non-elites. Below I discuss the framework of each approach in relation to developing analyses of gender and language.