Kitzinger, C. 2009. “Doing Gender: A Conversation Analytic Perspective.”

Kitzinger, Celia. 2009. “Doing Gender: A Conversation Analytic Perspective.” Gender and Society 23(1): 94-98.

Kitzinger, in this review of “Doing Gender” praises West and Zimmermans’  focus on how gender becomes a product of routine interactions, yet laments lack of  prescription on how this can be observed.  Kitzinger offers conversational analysis – a methodological technique – as the best method for analyzing observable, yet unnoticed features of gender-producing interactions, and operations of power. In this symposium contribution, Kitzinger samples the use of conversational analysis in a case study of emergency phone calls to doctors, and how documenting these interactions exposes assumptions about heterosexuality and gender.

Kitzinger lauds West and Zimmerman’s association to Garfinkel (1967) and  their focus on the “mundane production of gender in interaction,” but misses out on a methodological approach for doing this. (To translate: DG is good in theory, but nowhere in DG does it actually say how to effectively do it?)

Kitzinger is informed by scholars in the area of sociology of knowledge and ethnomethodology, and she notes lack of clear methods in DG as the authors prescribe a mix of observation, interviews, and diaries as a form of observing the theory in action.  This, then, implies that DG can be isolated in cases and described through researcher observation and self-report. West and Fenstermaker’s DD commits a similar methodological fallacy (and relegates sexual orientation to a footnote, which becomes a point of primary focus for Kitzinger for how gender and sexuality become co-constructed). This, in turn, treats differences as “transparently accessible both to the sociological observer and (often) to social participants themselves” (94) – this is not always the case!

The author notes that West and Zimmerman had used conversational analysis (CA) in previous explorations about DG and Doing Power, but does not mention it in their published 1987 article. While other authors, however quietly, did try to use CA to advance the concept of DG, Kitzinger wasn’t aware of this scholarship until almost a decade later.

CA, according to Kitzinger, “relies on actual recorded interactions and uses its key discoveries about interactional practices to uncover embedded presuppositions of social participants in the course of ongoing interactions” (95). She elaborates on this perspective, noting how many LBTQ+ don’t freely reveal sexual “difference” (from heteronormativity) to strangers, whereas heterosexuals often, almost immediately, report their heterosexuality, if inadvertantly.  These may not be likely described or even noticed in self-report interviews, as they become engrained within “everyday” interactions,” and are therefore unnoticed.

Methodologically, CA must be performed through the analysis of pre-recorded data, not field notes, based upon naturally occurring interactions.  These cannot be interviews that report or stimulate these interactions.

^kx: How, then, do we solicit this data to most appropriately address our research questions?  Are CA’s supposed to only be performed with pre-existing data? How can we commission or access this?

Kitizinger ends on the note of addressing a strength of West and Zimmerman’s article – that DG can demonstrate that invisible, and often unnoticed microaggressions do, indeed, have impacts on larger social structures.  However, methodological shortcomings present a difficulty in translating these into points of connection.  CA, she suggests, can make those connections explicit and visible.


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