Re-casting Language and Masculinities

Tommaso M. Milani, Sally Johnson

Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden University of Leeds, Leeds, UK


Jamie Oliver, celebrity and male authority: Disciplining the dinner ladies Mary Margaret Talbot
Analysing Masculinity in the 'Circuit of Culture' Bethan Benwell
Gender Identity/Identification in the Context of a Batterers' Treatment Program Susan Ehrlich, Susan Levesque
Prohibited Language: Language and Masculinities in a Swedish Educational Context Rickard Jonsson
Recasting Masculinities in the Age of Desire Scott F. Kiesling

It is now some ten years since the publication of the volume on language and masculinity edited by Sally Johnson and Ulrike H. Meinhof (1997). Here Johnson (1997:25) encouraged researchers to “abandon the search for trivial structural reflections of whatever we believe to be typically ‘male’ or ‘female’ language”, and proposed instead to look at the semiotic processes via which gender differences are invoked in discourse in order to produce or uphold dominance. As Johnson added, this is an enterprise that cannot be pursued “without looking at men” (ibid., original emphasis). Against this backdrop, the aim of our workshop is to bring together six scholars (five contributors and one discussant) who are similarly concerned to understand how language (or better discourse) is employed so as to construct what counts as a ‘boy/man’ in a variety of contexts (e.g. education, TV programmes, newspaper articles, group sessions in batterers’ treatment programmes, etc.). Specifically, the questions we will ask are: How do a range of interconnected differences or oppositions become salient in the discursive construction of masculinity? In what ways are these semiotic processes of differentiation central to the (re)production or contestation of power imbalances?

In order to answer these questions we want to take a non-foundationalist approach, according to which gender is not treated as a mere discursive or social correlate of a pre-existing biological sex. Nor is masculinity viewed purely as a matter of gender. Rather, the contributors will show how masculinity consists of a complex nexus of positions in which gender intersects with sexuality, ethnicity, race, age and so forth such that it is also more appropriate to speak of masculinities in the plural. Furthermore, the papers will address the broader theme of the Sociolinguistics Symposium by investigating the links between the semiotic resources employed in the construction of masculinities in a chosen ‘micro’ context, say, classroom interaction, on the one hand, and ‘macro’ national or trans-national discourses that are available at specific historical moments, on the other.

Needless to say, the contributors will not adhere to a single theoretical framework. On the contrary, one of the aims of the workshop is to welcome, and bring into dialogue, different theories and approaches (e.g. CDA, ethnography, language ideology, etc.). Notwithstanding this endorsement of heterogeneity, a few theoretical ‘common lines’ will be in place in order to achieve some form of coherence. For example, one theoretical common denominator will be a critical engagement with Cameron and Kulick’s (2003) recent reflections on language and sexuality, in which they challenge us to go beyond the notion of identity, which in their view “still tends to suggest a kind of conscious claim-staking by a subject who knows exactly who s/he is, or wants to be” (2003:138). Instead, they propose the psychoanalytic concept of identification as sociolinguistically more productive. Here identification refers to the processes through which a subject (the speaking/writing ‘I’ or ‘we’) comes into being in discourse by “assimilate[ing] an aspect or property of an other” (ibid.:138-139). These processes are not necessarily conscious, nor are they exclusively based on affirmations but may also work through negations or disavowals. Furthermore, Cameron and Kulick emphasise the importance of investigating the conditions and constraints of discourse, namely the legal or, more subtly, cultural barriers that determine what is not or cannot be said in a given context at a specific moment (see also Kulick 2003).

In sum, irrespective of the theoretical/methodological approach adopted by each contributor in order to shed light on his/her particular sample of data, we believe that Cameron and Kulick’s reflections merit serious consideration for the ‘re-casting’ of language and masculinities within our thematic panel. This is insofar as the notion of identification and the attention to the constraints of discourse highlight the ways in which textual and discursive absences are, precisely because they are not or cannot be uttered, constitutive of what we find in discourse. This, in turn, leads us to be more sensitive to a multiplicity of categories (present or not) that may be relevant for the emergence of masculinities in different contexts - sexuality being the most obvious probable candidate.


Gender, identification, masculinities, performativity, post-structuralism, sexuality


Cameron, Deborah & Kulick, Don (2003). Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, Sally (1997). Theorizing language and masculinity: a feminist perspective. In Sally Johnson & Ulrike H. Meinhof (eds.), Language and Masculinity. London: Blackwell, pp. 8-26.

Johnson, Sally & Meinhof, Ulrike H. (eds.). Language and Masculinity. London: Blackwell.

Kulick, Don (2003). No. Language & Communication 23 (2):139-151.