LINGUIST List 14.80

Fri Jan 10 2003

Review: Discourse Analysis: Litosseliti and Sunderland

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  • 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 Publications.


    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.