1. NIKO BESNIER, Yale University
Language and Gender in Cultural Perspective
Yale University, Spring Semester 1993
seminar meetings: Th 2:30-4:20, 175 Whitney, room 24
instructor: Niko Besnier
office: 51 Hillhouse, room 13
office hours: W 1:30-3:30 or by appointment
paper deadline: Monday, May 3, 12 noon
Aims of the course
In the last two decades, anthropology has undergone a major paradigm
shift, as gender, a hitherto peripheral category in the discipline, has
emerged as a pivotal area of anthropological inquiry. This seminar
explores the role that gender plays in the "fourth subfield" of the
discipline, namely linguistic anthropology. Because the fourth
subfield is a continuum between anthropology and linguistics, the
seminar will also touch on the ways in which linguists (particularly
sociolinguists) have approached the relationship between language and
gender. However, the seminar will emphasize ethnographic
approaches to language and gender over approaches that are primarily
concerned with language structure. We will read ethnographic
accounts from a broad variety of ethnographic settings, ranging from
postindustrial complex societies to small-scale communities.
The seminar will first concentrate on the various theoretical
frameworks through which the relationship between language and
gender has been studied. This survey will suggest that the nature of
this relationship is far from being understood. However, most
headway in the direction of understanding has been made by
theoretical approaches which centralize the way in which both
language and gender are embedded in structures of power,
authority, and social inequality, and are closely associated with
conflicts over these structures. Indeed, linguistic practices often
emerge as the very battleground of the struggle over power and
inequality. Thus, in order to understand how language and gender are
interwoven, we must cast our nets wide and investigate the social and
cultural contexts that give meaning to both linguistic practices and
How this contextualization should be accomplished is best understood
empirically. In the last part of the seminar, we will focus on a number
of ethnographies that have been particularly successful in locating
language and gender in social and cultural perspectives. We will focus
on several aspects of linguistic and social practices in which gender
has been shown to be pivotal, including language socialization,
emotionality, and literacy. The questions and problems which arise in
each of these areas of concern will enable us to formulate the general
theoretical concerns of relevance to the study of language and gender
from an ethnographic perspective.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1986. Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a
Bedouin Society. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Goodwin, Marjorie. 1990. He-Said-She-Said: Talk as Social
Organization in a Black Peer Group. Bloomington, IN: Indiana
Radway, Janice A. 1991. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy,
and Popular Literature. 2nd edition. Chapel Hill, NC: The University
of North Carolina Press.
All three books are required and available at Book Haven, 290 York
Street, 787-2848. A supplementary packet of required readings will be
available for purchase after the beginning of week 2 at Audubon Copy,
48 Whitney Avenue, 865-3115.
(a) Research paper (70%)
The term paper for this seminar may be a report of original research, a
critical review of the literature on a specific topic of relevance to the
seminar, or a grant proposal for future research. Participants in the
seminar are strongly urged to consult with me well ahead of time about
the topic of the paper. A proposal for the paper is due on February 11,
and will be returned to you with comments the following week. The
proposal should be as elaborate or lengthy as you think is necessary to
provide me with enough information to comment on. Ideally, a
working bibliography will be attached to it. The paper is expected to
be of professional quality and form.
(b) Seminar presentation (20%)
Every participant in the seminar will make a seminar presentation
based on a paper-length ethnography chosen from the list provided in
the semester outline. (It is also possible for a seminar participant to
present an ethnography not on this list, in which case my prior
approval is needed.)
This exercise has two purposes: it is an efficient way for us all to learn
about the range of ethnographic work that has been conducted on
topics relating to the seminar; and it is a forum in which seminar
participants will be able to practice the presentation skills they will
later be expected to have in pedagogical settings as professionals. In
evaluating the presentations, I shall pay equal attention to content and
form: thus, presentations should be well prepared, clear, and not read,
and the judicious use of handouts or other pedagogical aids are
(c) General seminar participation (10%)
Please note that the semester is very short; thus a missed seminar
meeting subtracts a significant percentage of seminar time.
Readings and breakdown of topics:
Gender and its socio-cultural context. Sex vs. gender, gender role vs.
gender identity, female vs. male, women vs. men, nature vs. culture,
domestic vs. public, and the trouble with dichotomies. The place of
gender in society and culture.
* Rubin, Gayle. 1975. The Traffic in Women: Notes on the "Political
Economy" of Sex. In Toward an Anthropology of Women. Rayna R.
Reiter, ed. Pp. 157-210. New York: Monthly Review Press.
* Rosaldo, Michelle Z. 1974. Women, Culture, and Society: A
Theoretical Overview. In Women, Culture, and Society. Michelle Z.
Rosaldo and Louise Lamphere, eds. Pp. 14-42. Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press.
* Collier, Jane and Michelle Z. Rosaldo. 1981. Politics and Gender in
Simple Societies. In Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of
Gender and Sexuality. Sherry Ortner and Harriet Whitehead, eds. Pp.
275-329. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Ortner, Sherry. 1991. Reading America: Preliminary Notes on
Class and Culture. In Recapturing Anthropology: Writing in the
Present. Richard G. Fox, ed. Pp. 163-189. Santa Fe, NM: School of
American Research Press.
* di Leonardo, Micaela. 1991. Introduction: Gender, Culture, and
Political Economy: Feminist Anthropology in Historical Perspective.
In Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in
the Postmodern Era. Micaela di Leonardo, ed. Pp. 1-48. Berkeley,
CA: University of California Press.
Language and its socio-cultural context: Language as a commodity.
* Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. The Economic of Linguistic Exchanges.
Social Science Information 16:645-668.
* Gal, Susan. 1989. Language and Political Economy. Annual
Review of Anthropology 18:345-367.
* Irvine, Judith. 1989. When Talk Isn't Cheap: Language and
Political Economy. American Ethnologist 16:248-267.
Language and gender: Traditional sociolinguistic approaches.
Variationism, structure-based "inventory" description, and the "two-
culture" model. Critiques of structure-oriented approaches from within
* Holmes, Janet. 1986. Functions of "you know" in women's and men's
speech. Language in Society 5:1-22.
* O'Barr, William and Bowman K. Atkins. 1980. "Women's
Language" or "Powerless Language"? In Women and Language in
Literature and Society. Sally McConnell-Ginet, Ruth Borker, and
Nelly Furman, eds. Pp. 93-110. New York: Praeger.
* Maltz, Daniel and Ruth Borker. 1982. A Cultural Approach to
Male-Female Miscommunication. In Language and Social Identity.
John J. Gumperz, ed. Pp. 196-216. Cambridge: Cambridge
* McConnell-Ginet, Sally. 1988. Language and Gender. In
Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey. Frederick J. Newmeyer, ed. Vol.
4, pp. 75-99. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Language and gender: Approaches from ethnography.
* Keenan, Elinor. 1974. Norm-Makers, Norm-Breakers: Use of
Speech by Men and Women in a Malagasy Community. In
Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking. Richard Bauman and
Joel Sherzer, eds. Pp. 125-143. Cambridge: Cambridge University
* Harding, Susan. 1975. Women and Words in a Spanish Village. In
Toward an Anthropology of Women. Rayna R. Reiter, ed. Pp. 283-
308. New York: Monthly Review Press.
* Hill, Jane H. 1987. Women's speech in Modern Mexicano. In
Language, Gender, and Sex in Comparative Perspective. Susan U.
Philips, Susan Steele, and Christine Tanz, eds. Pp. 121-160.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
* Brown, Penelope. 1980. How and Why are Women More Polite:
Some Evidence From a Mayan Community. In Women and Language
in Literature and Society. Sally McConnell-Ginet, Ruth Borker, and
Nelly Furman, eds. Pp. 111-136. New York: Praeger.
* Kuipers, Joel C. 1990. Talking About Troubles: Gender
Differences in Weyewa Ritual Speech Use. In Power and Difference:
Gender in Island Southeast Asia. Jane M. Atkinson and Shelly
Errington, eds. Pp. 153-175. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
* Sherzer, Joel. 1987. A Diversity of Voices: Men's and Women's
Speech in Ethnographic Perspective. In Language, Gender, and Sex in
Comparative Perspective. Susan U. Philips, Susan Steele, and
Christine Tanz, eds. Pp. 95-120. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Language and gender: Approaches from political economy.
* Gal, Susan. 1991. Between Speech and Silence: The Problematics
of Research on Language and Gender. In Gender at the Crossroad of
Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodern Era. Micaela
di Leonardo, ed. Pp. 175-203. Berkeley, CA: University of
* Eckert, Penelope and Sally McConnell-Ginet. 1992. Think
Practically and Look Locally: Language and Gender as Community-
Based Practice. Annual Review of Anthropology 21:461-490.
Gender socialization and language socialization.
* Goodwin 1990. [entire monograph]
* Ochs, Elinor. 1992. Indexing Gender. In Rethinking Context:
Language as an Interactive Phenomenon. Alessandro Duranti and
Charles Goodwin, eds. Pp. 335-358. Cambridge: Cambridge
Gender and emotionality in interactional practices I: Affect as a
* Lutz, Catherine A. 1990. Engendered Emotion: Gender, Power,
and the Rhetoric of Emotional Control in American Discourse. In
Language and the Politics of Emotion. Catherine A. Lutz and Lila
Abu-Lughod, eds. Pp. 69-91. Cambridge: Cambridge University
* McElhinny, Bonnie S. 1992. "I Don't Smile Much Anymore":
Affect, Gender, and the Discourse of Pittsburgh Police Officers. In
Locating Power: Proceedings of the 1992 Berkeley Conference on
Women and Language. Berkeley, CA: Department of Linguistics,
University of California at Berkeley.
* Briggs, Charles L. 1992. "Since I Am a Woman, I Will Chastize
My Relatives:" Gender, Reported Speech, and the (Re)production of
Social Relations in Warao Ritual Wailing. American Ethnologist
Gender and emotionality in interactional practices II: Emotionality
and the politics of aesthetics.
* Abu-Lughod 1986. [entire monograph]
Gender and literacy practices: Giving meaning to texts and taking
meaning from texts.
* Rockhill, Kathleen. 1987. Gender, Language, and the Politics of
Literacy. British Journal of Sociology of Education 8:153-167.
* Ko, Dorothy Yin-yee. 1989. Teachers of the Inner Chambers.
Chapter 2 of Towards a Social History of Women in Seventeenth-
Century China. Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of History, Stanford
* Radway 1991. [entire monograph]
Sexism in language: Authority and semiotics.
* Graddol, David and Joan Swann. 1989. Language, Communication,
and Consciousness. Chapter 6 (pp. 135-173) of Gender Voices.
Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
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