Linguistik online 2, 1/99



Widening the Lens of Language and Gender Research: Integrating Critical Discourse Analysis and Cultural Practice Theory

Kathryn Remlinger
Grand Valley State University





1. Introduction

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.
 
 

2.1 Critical Discourse Analysis

Since the publication of Hodge and Kress’ (1979/1993) Language as Ideology, a flurry of activity has ensued at the crossroads of sociolinguistics and critical social theory. (See Discourse & Society, 4/2, 1993 and Texts and Practices (Caldas-Coulthard & Coulthard: 1996) for more recent collections of articles on the theory and method of critical discourse analysis.) According to Kress (1991: 84-85), critical discourse analysis

     "[…] aims to provide accounts of the production, internal structure, and overall organization
     of texts […] to provide a critical dimension in its theoretical and descriptive accounts of
     texts […] [with] the larger political aim of putting the forms of texts, the processes of
     production of texts, and the process of reading together with the structure of power which has
     given rise to them […]."

Critical discourse analysis offers sociolinguistics a critical approach to examine more fully the interaction between language and social structures, to explain how social structures are constituted by elites’ linguistic interaction. In addition to language, this interaction may also include analyses of cultural meanings represented by symbolic images such as photographs and drawings. In the Editorial of Discourse & Society’s special issue on critical discourse analysis, van Dijk (1993a: 131) explains that CDA provides researchers in "pragmatics, semiotics and discourse analysis [the means] to go beyond mere description and explanation, and pay more explicit attention to the sociopolitical and cultural presuppositions and implications of discourse".

According to van Dijk (1993b), CDA typically examines a combination of linguistic features to discern how language functions in the reproduction of social structures. He maintains that because one way of enacting power is to control the context of a speech situation, CDA focuses on both macro- and micro-level discourse patterns that signify power and the legitimization of ideas. Macro-level features include organizational and contextual features of discursive events that restrict
speakers and their ideas from being heard and limit speakers’ control of context. These macro-level features are discursive effects of institutional power structures such as social status, expertise, and race, and are discerned from contextualized descriptions of the speech event. Micro-level features include pragmatic, semantic, syntactic, and phonological properties. These features are examined for elements including, but not limited to turn-taking strategies, social meanings, politeness, use of hedges, affinity markers, intonation, and laughter. In addition, critical discourse researchers often include analyses of genre, rhetorical style, and argumentation to determine the production and reproduction of power and dominance.

As a result of CDA’s foundation in linguistics, data tends to be limited to written texts and scripted talk of elites (e.g. Hodge & Kress 1993; van Dijk 1988). This limitation may be problematic in that resistance to the status quo often comes from talk rather than published written texts (Bergvall & Remlinger 1996). Although the discourse is often contextualized in a socio-political sense, scant attention is paid to ethnographic data, providing what Geertz (1973) calls "thick descriptions" of
culture and the roles participants play in the constitution of meanings. While not totally dismissing other social elements, nor ideological processes such as resistance that effect social change, CDA foregrounds language, and the processes of production and reproduction to examine the formation of social ideologies. Fowler (1996: 10) addresses this lack: "The important consideration is for the critical linguist to take a professionally responsible attitude toward the analysis of context [...] what are needed are exactly, full descriptions of context and its implications for beliefs and relationships".

An example of a critical discourse analysis approach to the examination of class-based ideology is Fairclough’s (1989) Language and Power . Fairclough applies CDA to explain how linguistic elements function to structure the social category of class. He sees language as a social practice developing from, as well as maintaining, social conditions that give rise to power relations aligned with socioeconomic class. One text he examines illustrates this clearly:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

                         Figure 1: from Fairclough (1989:53)
 
 

Here Fairclough examines both textual and graphic elements to explain how the article maintains class-based stereotypes and values of ‘wives’ as a gendered category, thus constraining the meanings constituting the notion of the ‘good wife.’ However, as Fairclough notes, this notion is not directly stated in the text; readers must infer meanings from embedded presuppositions. Therefore the meanings "depend entirely on an ‘ideal reader’s’ capacity to [infer these] from a list of attributes" (1989: 52). Fairclough contends that here not only meanings are constrained, but so are readers as subjects: "The process presupposed an ideal reader who will indeed make the ‘right’ inference from the list, i.e. have the ‘right’ ideas about  what a ‘good wife’ is" (1989: 52). The text of the article therefore not only maintains a sexist ideology based on gendered expectations, but also "reproduce[s] sexists, provided that readers generally fall into the subject position of the ideal reader, rather than opposing it" (1989: 52). His analysis also includes discussion of the function of the photograph and caption and their juxtaposition with the text in creating and maintaining class-based notions of what a ‘good leader’ is. These notions interact with those of gender and race to further constitute an ideology of power that is aligned with ‘male’ and ‘white.’

The kind of critical, political analysis typifying CDA is most often applied to forms of discourse and the structures of power which give rise to race and class ideologies rather than to those of gender. Exceptions to this are recent studies by Bing & Lombardo (1997), Caldas-Coulthard (1996), Gough & Talbot (1996), Edley & Wetherell (1997), Hoey (1996), and Morrison (1996), among others. The lack of attention to gender as an important social matter is further exacerbated by CDA
researchers’ focus on class: CDA researchers tend to approach class as an all-encompassing, homogenous structure independent of gender. Not only can the inclusion of gender analysis add to studies of race and class, but a critical examination of gender and discourse itself can provide us with a more developed understanding of the linguistic constitution of gender ideologies. However, in order to fully and adequately describe the processes that account for the linguistic constitution of ideologies, including those of gender, critical analyses of talk and texts must be situated within the context of everyday practice.
 
 

2.2 Cultural Practice Theory

Cultural practice theory (also known as practice theory) provides the tools for this kind of contextualized, critical analysis of language as it centers its attention not only on the constitution of cultural meanings, but also on the significance of individual experience as a force in this process. Emphasis tends not to be on the hegemonic controls of dominant members, but on cultural production, reproduction, and resistance of dominated or less powerful community members. As described by Connell (1987) and Holland and Eisenhart (1990) cultural practice theory typically examines members’ everyday lived experiences as a whole to demonstrate how they constitute ideologies. Ideology from this perspective is thus depicted as a dynamic and constantly constituted process of cultural meanings shaped by simultaneous struggles of ideological resistance,
reinforcement, and production, rather than as an instantiated and immutable force. Ideology is not imposed upon members who then enact within the limits of sanctioned notions and prescribed roles. Where production and reproduction theories allow for the possibility of social change, cultural practice theory maintains that change is constantly occurring, attributing to the malleable, impermanent nature of ideology.

Cultural practice theory has developed from critical education theories of cultural reproduction and production. Cultural reproduction theory presents a convincing argument to explain how ideologies are reproduced through the transference of knowledge and members’ participation in the community (cf. Althusser 1971; Bernstein 1970/1972; Bourdieu 1977; Bourdieu & Passeron 1977; Bowles & Gintis 1976; Jenks, 1993). The theory explains how class-based knowledge and practices are imposed on members through an ideology grounded in the culture’s political economy and reproduced through schooling.

For cultural reproduction theorists, "it is through instruction and social relationships in the school that students learn a way of being in the world and a view of reality" (Weiler, 1988: 7). The research demonstrates how school curricula, materials, and activities maintain the economic structures that determine the kinds of practices and knowledge reproduced in the schools, ultimately structuring, as much as they are structured by, hierarchies of power and privilege within the larger society. For example, Bourdieu and Passeron’s (1977) analysis of the French education system, Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, demonstrates how students are socialized through their interaction within and with the school system - through testing, student-teacher relationships, subject matter, tracking, and linguistic conventions - to maintain the very system that inscribes students to various social positions. As Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) suggest, schooling is thus the
instrument in the duplicitous inculcation of members in the reproduction and maintenance of social hierarchies.

"[E]very educational system is characterized by a functional duplicity which is actualized in full in the case of traditional systems, where the tendency towards conservation of the system and of the culture it conserves, encounters an external demand for social conservation" (1977: 199, original emphasis).

"[T]he educational system, with the ideologies and effects which its relative autonomy engenders, is for bourgeois society in its present phase what other forms of legitimation of the social order and of hereditary transmission of privileges were for social formations differing both in the specific form of the relations and antagonisms between the classes and in the nature of the privilege transmitted: does it not contribute towards persuading each social subject to stay in the place which falls to him [sic] by nature to know his [sic] place and hold to it [. . .]?" (1977: 210, original emphasis)

Here we see that the social system itself is responsible for members’ acceptance of a hierarchy based on class rank and privilege. Ideology is therefore imposed upon members, who act accordingly, without question or resistance, much like the marionette who responds without challenge to the pulls of the puppeteer. Although reproduction theorists attempt to mitigate social change through their critiques, they tend to ignore aspects of individual agency and resistance involved in the production of ideology. The theory does not adequately explain how individuals or groups constitute social structures. In other words, reproduction theory tends to describe social structures as static, non-changing entities; the theory fails to recognize the influences of individual experience and resistance, especially those accounting for social change. Furthermore, studies grounded in reproduction theory typically have focused on the construction of class structure, failing to take into account race, age, gender, sexuality, or other social elements as forces affecting the construction of cultural meaning.

Production theorists have built on the limited tenets of reproduction theory to include issues of gender, individual experience, resistance, and social change. According to Weiler (1988: 11), production theorists recognize

     "[…] the ways in which both individuals and classes assert their own experiences and contest
     or resist the ideological and material forces imposed upon them in a variety of settings. Their
     analyses focus on the ways in which both teachers and students in schools produce meaning
     and culture through their own resistance and their own individual and collective consciousness"
     (emphasis added).

In contrast to reproduction theory, production theory takes into account the effect of individual experience on the structure of ideology through their interaction and practices. The emphasis is not on the policies and practices of the schools, as is with reproduction theory, but on the lived experiences and interactions of students, teachers, and administrators that produce the status quo (e.g., Apple 1979; Arnot 1982; Giroux 1983a, 1983b; Kelly & Nihlen 1982; Willis 1977). Through these practices members enact the power and privileges deemed to some groups and not to others by way of capitalism, patriarchy, age, race, and/or gender (Holland & Eisenhart 1990). Production theorists contend that "people forge their own meaning systems in response to the societal position they face and its material implications" (Holland and Eisenhart 1990: 32). Note, however, ideology is still considered an imposed structure. From this perspective, ideology lacks the dynamic, multidimensional features resulting from members’ interactions that simultaneously produce, reify, and challenge cultural meanings and practices. The marionette of reproduction theory has evolved into a puppet. The visible strings of institutional policy and practice have seemingly transformed into autonomous, self-determined actions. Yet these experiences and practices are controlled within the limits of the puppet’s role, ultimately determined by the hidden hand of the puppeteer, the guiding force of ideology.

The work of Willis (1977) clearly exemplifies both the differences between reproduction and production theory and the application of production theory in an examination of schooling practices. His work, in theory and method, demonstrates how lived culture, rather than policies of the status quo, contribute to the shaping of the structures of power and privilege, yet how these structures conclusively determine members’ roles and experiences. For Willis, within the school members enact class-based roles with privileges bestowed on them by the capitalist hierarchy of the larger society. Yet, despite the fact that these privileges are imposed, members have the potential to foster social change through resistant behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs, despite the fact that change does not seem to occur. In Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, Willis describes the ideological tensions between an oppressed group (working-class boys, "lads"—the self-named title of those in the counter-school culture) and the status quo (white-collar boys, "ear’oles") to demonstrate the dynamic interplay of the reproduction, production, and resistance of cultural meanings that forge a class-based ideology. Willis’ ethnographic study of the Hammertown school boys reveals how students’ reactions to normative class-based practices and beliefs produce alternative meanings and social practices. The lads’ attitudes, beliefs, and values reflect and reinforce an androcentric, working-class ideology that resists the middle-class ideology transmitted in the school. By enacting these beliefs, attitudes, and values in class talk and interviews, among other lived experiences, the boys make sense of their world and create apparently self-imposed identities. The cultural determinism that marks reproduction theory gives way to individual experience and thus to the possibility of social change. "Individuals are not simply acted upon by abstract ‘structures’ but negotiate, struggle, and create meaning of their own" (Weiler 1988: 21). Nevertheless, despite their resistance, the Hammertown boys’ rebellion against school rules and activities ultimately reinforces their oppressed position within a capitalist society that values, among other things, formal education and class-based control.

The focus on oppressed groups, along with their resistance to the status quo, characterizes production theory as a theory of resistance. Giroux (1983a: 284-285) emphasizes how the methodological approach of production theory, which he labels "resistance theory," allows for an analytical perspective encompassing individual experience and resistance:

     "Through a semiotic reading of the style, rituals, language, and systems of meaning that inform
     the cultural terrains of subordinate groups, it becomes possible to analyze what
     counter-hegemonic element such cultural fields contain, and how they tend to become
     incorporated in the dominant culture and subsequently stripped of their political possibilities."

In conjunction with its ethnographic approach, the focus on resistance characterizes production theory, and marks the difference between it and reproduction theory. Whereas production theorists take a "semiotic reading" of the culture, reproduction theorists tend to rely on positivist notions to examine not everyday experience, but the laws and "facts" of the social system (Weiler 1988). This is in keeping with their theoretical frameworks, since the lived culture examined by production
theorists is best looked at as it is practiced in everyday experiences, as the term ‘production’ implies. ‘Reproduction,’ on the other hand, suggests the cyclical, immutable, permanent nature of ideology that the theory purports.

Yet production theory is not without its limitations. Production theory, including the early work of Willis, has been criticized for ignoring how patriarchy contributes to the social structure, and how gender plays a part in resistance and the construction of a class-based, patriarchal ideology (cf. Holland & Eisenhart 1990; Giroux 1983a; Weiler 1988). The majority of production studies, like Willis’ Learning to Labour, focus on males, and male resistance and experiences, thus limiting the world view that they describe to an androcentric perspective. Production theorists such as Arnot (1982), Kelly & Nihlen (1982), McRobbie (1978, 1980, 1981), and McRobbie & Garber (1975) have brought attention to both the lack of examination of patriarchal structures and the absence of gender in the descriptions of social hierarchies, cultural production, conflict, and resistance. These
researchers point out that girls’, as well as boys’, acts of resistance are an integral aspect in the construction of cultural meanings, especially in light of the school’s role in socialization. As McRobbie and Garber (1975: 221) explain, "[G]irls can be seen [to negotiate] a different space, offering a different type of resistance […]." Kelly and Nihlen contend that the school socializes students into gender roles as much as it does class-based categories, which are in fact gendered as well. In other words, the schools legitimate cultural knowledge and meanings that maintain not onl class structures, but also patriarchal structures and stereotypical gender roles. Similar to the transference of a class-based ideology, a gendered ideology transfers to students through school policies, texts, activities, class talk, curricula, tracking, and staffing patterns. And in the vein of production theory, students are active players in the construction of this ideology as they reinforce as well as resist imposed notions.

Practice theory builds on the theoretical and methodological framework of production theory to include examinations of race, gender, and sexuality as structures affecting the constitution of cultural meanings and practices (cf. Butler 1990, 1993; Connell 1987; Holland & Eisenhart 1990). Douglas Foley (1990: 194) makes the distinction between production and practice theories clear: "[E]nacting one’s class identity and position in these social dramas does not directly ‘cause’ one to end up in a particular class. Participants who play different roles in these moments of symbolic reproduction do, in fact, often end up in different social classes." I would amend this statement by saying that it is not only class, but also gender, that is constituted by participants playing different roles in a variety of contexts, thus shaping their own gender as well as sexual identities. Arguably, others may include race, age, or ethnicity in a revision of his statement as well.

Robert Connell (1987) asserts that another fundamental difference between theories of production and practice is that production theory tends to be categorical in assuming gender differences. Taking a look at early feminist production research in particular, we see how gender is an assumed category of binary differences (e.g., Arnot, 1982; McRobbie, 1982). Holland & Eisenhart (1990) discuss Connell’s contention that early feminist production studies presuppose gender as a social category to be investigated. They explain that the questions asked by production theorists assume the existence of gender, positing gender as neatly divided, dichotomous categories of male and female, masculine and feminine. Thus the theory itself imposes a notion of gender by questioning not how gender is formed, but how it is reproduced. This categorical perspective of gender is exemplified by the work of Gail Kelly and Ann Nihlen (1982) who investigate the link between schooling and the "sex role division" of public and private labor in the United States. The assumption of gender as a binary category is also evident in Madeleine Arnot’s (1982) study, "Male Hegemony, Social Class and Women’s Education." Arnot’s explanation of how women and men become gendered reveal several characteristics of production theory: 1) a categorical approach; 2) the perspective that social categories like gender are imposed, permanent, static structures; and most importantly, 3) the presumption of gender as a clear-cut dichotomous grouping:

     "Men and women become the embodiment of a particular gender classification by internalising
     and "realising" the principle which underlies it. They externalize their gendered identities
     through their behaviour, language, their use of objects, their presence, etc.…In the process of
     producing classed and gendered subjects who unconsciously recognise and realise the
     principles of social organization, the reproduction of such power relations are ensured. Thus
     individuals internalise the objective and external structures and externalise them, albeit
     transformed but not radically changed" (Arnot 1982: 84).

As Connell states, the "categories of ‘women’ and ‘men’ in these studies are taken as absolutes, in no need of further examination or finer differentiation" (1987: 57). The categorical assumptions of production theory are therefore problematic in that they do not lead to further questioning; the categories themselves are not questioned and neither are the ways in which they may be constructed. Furthermore, this perspective leads to a universalization of women and men, not to mention a universalization and uniformity of other categories such as "lads" and "ear’oles." This universalization of categories discounts differences within the categories as well as similarities among categories, while at the same time it evokes the impression of uniformity within the categories — that "all women" and "all men," "all lads" and "all ear’oles," experience the world in the same way (cf. Connell 1987, 1995; Bing & Bergvall 1997; Holland & Eisenhart 1990).

"Categorical theories concentrate on describing the relationship between the genders […] not on how the categories are formed" (Holland & Eisenhart 1990: 38). Practice theory on the other hand, deconstructs the categories by examining what people do to shape these cultural categories and how they make sense of the world through associated meanings — how they constitute cultural meanings and practices through lived (gendered) experience. Thus, practice theory maintains that groups, as well as individual identification with groups, emerge through everyday, lived experiences, activities, practices (Connell 1987, 1995; Holland & Eisenhart 1990). Practice theory questions what gender (class, race, age, sexuality) is; how it is constituted; what cultural meanings define it; what behaviors, values, attitude, and beliefs contribute to members’ notions and practices of gender; and how these notions are situated culturally and historically (cf. Butler 1990, 1993; Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 1992a; Foley 1990; Gal 1992; Ochs 1992; Thorne 1993). Thus, practice theory perceives social constructions as processes developing from members’ activities. These processes are in a constant state of flux as members define and redefine associated meanings. Furthermore, practice theory allows for differences within categories, as well as similarities among seemingly divergent groups. Connell (1987: 63) describes studies in practice theory as asking how social relations (gender, class) are structured:

     "They imply that structure is not pre-given but historically composed. That implies the
     possibility of different ways of structuring gender [class, race], reflecting the dominance of
     different social interest. It also implies different degrees to which the structuring is coherent or
     consistent, reflecting changing levels of contestation and resistance."

The permanent, universal, imposed structures outlined by reproduction and production theories give way to ever-changing, constantly constituted ways of perceiving and experiencing the world. Holland and Eisenhart explain that in addition to the deep theoretical analysis of culture that practice theory allows, it also lends itself to a rich methodology, drawing on methods from sociolinguistics and anthropology that give researchers the tools for exploring "language and knowledge as means of signaling social affiliation and opposition" (1990: 40).

Douglas Foley’s (1990) ethnography of a small Mexican American town in south Texas provides an exemplary analysis of practice theory to demonstrate how members use language and cultural knowledge to constitute ideologies of class, race, and gender. In Learning Capitalist Culture Deep in the Heart of Tejas, Foley shows how the school in North Town serves to construct a cultural ideology grounded in traditional American values, yet how members resist and change, as well as enact and maintain, expected roles. By playing different roles in various community contexts, members constitute cultural meanings and practices that in turn shape their ways of being and behaving. Foley’s explanation of how social structures are formed reflects principles of practice theory while at the same time it contests those of reproduction and production theories:

     "Cultural traditions are constantly being homogenized and invented in modern capitalist
     cultures. This culture concept makes problematic the anthropological notion of an "authentic",
     stable cultural tradition that produces stable social identities. The idea of shifting "lifestyles"
     tends to replace the idea of distinct, unchanging social identities" (1990: 193).

Foley explains that members are not merely socialized through an "imposed cultural hegemony of ideas", but that through linguistic practices in particular, people enact as well as practice class, race, and gender identities (1990: 194). Thus cultural meanings, or ideologies, are not imposed, hegemonic structures in which members perform pre-scripted parts, but are constantly shaped and reshaped by the dynamic, complex interactions of members’ everyday lived experiences. Thus, ideologies may be imposed at times, but these meanings constantly take on new and different values and therefore members are able to identify with a variety of social categories.

The emphasis on class and class structure align Foley’s work with the traditional investigations of reproduction and production theory. However, his study breaks from these categorical approaches in two important ways: 1) in his examination of how the cultural category of class is formed through lived experience, and 2) in his examination of how a patriarchal social order plays a part in the construction of cultural ideology.

Yet this second characteristic of his work must be reckoned with. Foley shows how gender is practiced, in keeping with practice theory, yet he does not attempt to explain how it is formed. Rather, he seems to assume the existence of binary gender categories, without questioning their formation. Research in practice theory in various disciplines specifically on gender and the production of gender ideologies, takes this questioning to task (see Butler 1990, 1993; Connell 1987; Gal 1992; Ochs 1992). Holland and Eisenhart (1990) place gender and gender construction in the center ring of practice theory in their ethnography, Educated in Romance: Women, Achievement, and College Culture.

Holland & Eisenhart bring practice theory to their analyses of how students’ lived experiences produce, maintain, as well as resist gender hierarchies. Their approach includes a linguistic element as they consider with their "ethnosemantic" analysis of how language works to both create and challenge hegemonic ideologies of gender and gender relationships. Situated within the context of two university campuses in the American South, their close-focus ethnography explores, in part, how women undergraduates use language to make sense of their college experiences, what influences students’ choice of majors, how friends and relationships figure into their lives, why many college women land jobs in marginalized professions despite their major courses of study, and how these various practices shape a "cultural model of romance".

Within the two campus communities Holland and Eisenhart found a "cultural model of romance" to be at work, where women typically are valued and described according to their physical attributes, and men tend to be judged and talked about in terms of behaviors and intellectual attitudes. Holland & Eisenhart argue how the gender ideologies practiced on these campuses is linked specifically with meanings of pejorative terms for women and men and generally with how Americans talk about gender.

Their study further highlights the role of practice in the formation of gender ideologies by demonstrating through linguistic data, interviews, and participant observations, that although a hegemonic ideology is maintained through institutional practices as well as individual practices, individual experience and resistance are the key elements in shaping the cultural model through which members make sense of their community.

This performative approach suggests that gender is not a static entity. The binary gender categories typical of production and reproduction theories expand to polyhedral dimensions manifesting from the practices of individuals. Holland and Eisenhart’s study also demonstrates how the foundation of gender hierarchy constituted within the two particular communities rests on notions of sex and sexuality. The day-to-day constitution of a gender hierarchy co-exists with an actively constructed heterosexual ideology, one that serves to maintain the cultural model of romance.
 
 

3. The Interdependence of Gender and Sexuality

Practice theorists’ analyses lead them to develop a gender theory that tends to describe the motivations for and the hierarchies of heterosexual gender relationships without taking into account the dynamic and multidimensional constructions of sexuality. In other words, these studies do not address how the constitution of straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered identities and relationships are interdependent with gendered notions of  ‘women’ and ‘men’. In Bodies That Matter Judith Butler (1993) problematizes the absence of sexuality in practice theory research:

     "If gender consists of the social meanings that sex assumes, then sex does not accrue social
     meanings as additive properties, but, rather, is replaced by the social meanings it takes on; sex
     is relinquished in the course of that assumption, and gender emerges, not as a term in a
     continued relationship of opposition to sex, but as the term which absorbs and displaces "sex,"
     the mark of its full substantiation into gender or what, from a materialist point of view, might
     constitute a full desubstantiation […]. If gender is the social construction of sex, and if there is
     no access to this "sex" except by means of its construction, then it appears not only that sex is
     absorbed by gender, but that "sex" becomes something like a fiction […]"(1993: 5, original
     emphasis).

Nicholson (1994) explains that gender and sexuality are theoretically interconnected. Ideas about being women and men transfer in theory to assumptions about the body and the physical practice of sex; distinctions that set women and men apart in dichotomous gender categories are based on physical, bodily distinctions. In practice, ways of being women and men, ways of being physically sexed, and ways of being sexual are determined by individual everyday activities and cultural meanings used to make sense of these activities (Bem 1990; Butler 1990, 1993; Nicholson 1994). In particular, ideas about being women and men are created, reinforced, and challenged through linguistic interaction (see Bergvall 1997; Bing & Bergvall 1997; Caldas-Coulthard & Coulthard1996; Hall & Buckholtz 1995; Remlinger 1995, 1997).

Because we tend to conceptualize sexuality as either heterosexual or homosexual (with bisexuality as an in-between or transitory category), we generally view sexuality as limited to these dualistic categories. Similarly to dichotomous definitions of gender, binary sexual categories ignore the multidimensional characteristics of gender and sexual identities that are actually practiced in society. Thus the polarization works to maintain traditional notions of gender and sexuality. In other words,
our definitions of gender and sexuality typically ignore their practice - their changes, inconsistencies, fluidity - as we interact in a variety of contexts. Furthermore, we tend to use the groupings of ‘woman’ and ‘man’, ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ to categorize individuals, rather than their relationships and activities - their practices. Thus our notions of gender and sexuality and how they are practiced is constructed and constrained within essentialist, binary categories (Connell, 1987; Stein, 1992). And in practice, these essentialist, binary categories are reflected in the limited linguistic categories for gender and sexuality: "woman"/ "man", "girl"/ "boy", "heterosexual"/ "homosexual". Although the limitations seem to be loosening with the use of "transgendered", "bisexual", etc.

Yet as our interactions and activities reveal, our genders and sexualities are not neatly defined and constructed. They are representations of the variable social realities that we create through our relationships and daily activities, and therefore are fluid, changeable expressions of our gender relationships. We base our notions and definitions of gender and sexuality on the boundaries that we set through these activities and relationships. For example, the use of seemingly exclusive categories gives the appearance that sexuality is neatly defined, with clear and consistent boundaries. However, this uniform sense of definitions and practices is itself a representation of the dominant sexual ideology that upholds the dualistic notion of either/or — either "heterosexual" or "homosexual", either "woman" or "man". And in fact, a struggle with this rigid categorization is reflected in discourse.
 
 

4. An Integrated Approach

Bringing CDA’s focus on language and language use together with cultural practice theory’s analyses of everyday practices provides the tools for a more comprehensive and thus informed examination and understanding of gender ideologies. An integration of CDA and cultural practice theory also allows for a comprehensive sociolinguistic approach to the study of language and gender by providing a more developed theoretical and methodological framework for examining the ways in which discourse represents, signifies, and constitutes social practices. Within this widened perspective of language and gender is a focus on sexuality, since it is in part a manifestation of gendered practices. Notions of  "woman" and "man" are interdependent with ideologies of sexuality; roles and expectations for "woman" and "man" are grounded in a heterosexual ideology that relies on dichotomous categories and practices. In addition, the perspective of practice includes a focus on resistance, since practice not only includes the production and reproduction of ideologies, but also opposition to and change of belief systems. This integrated approach is necessary in order to understand how and why members constitute ideologies of gender and sexuality through language - how they practice these constructs through lived, everyday behaviors, why particular notions are practiced, how these ideologies function to shape particular discourse communities, and how these ideologies may either empower or limit members’ participation in the community. An integrated approach thus changes CDA to include critical socio-cultural theory alongside critical linguistic theory.
 
 

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