Analysing Masculinity in the 'Circuit of Culture'

Bethan Benwell

University of Stirling, UK

WS130: Re-casting Language and Masculinities

In this paper I outline a possible framework for a discourse analytical approach to articulations of masculinity in and around sites of popular culture. The research presented in this paper arises from work on written popular texts and specifically the relationship between men’s magazines, discourses of masculinity and lived cultures of masculinity. My particular interest in this paper is to critically interrogate the process by which we intuitively assign gendered identities to familiar cultural discourses (Sunderland 2004), and to subject such assumptions to a rigorous research methodology which attempts to secure a clear ‘warrant’ for such labelling.

Kulick and Cameron (2003) have argued that identity needs to be theorised beyond a simple ‘claim-staking’ by individuals. In this paper I will attempt to bring into dialogue some of the methodological preoccupations and principles of both CA and CDA in order to engage with Kulick and Cameron’s thesis. CA for instance, might be criticised for its narrow reliance upon a speaker’s verbalisation of an identity category within talk in order to provide a warrant for the relevance of said identity to the speaker (Stokoe and Smithson 2001). On the other hand, CA furnishes the analyst with the kind of fine-grained, systematic tools of analysis by which to chart, through talk, the ambiguities, inconsistencies, disavowals and affiliations ‘that may both structure and disrupt a person’s claim to a particular identity’ (Cameron and Kulick 2005: 114). CDA, with its roots in Foucauldian theories of discourse, is concerned to identify culturally available discourses through which a subject position emerges. In this way a broadly CDA approach complements Cameron and Kulick’s desire to study ‘how key aspects of the social, cultural and political order (its heteronormativity, for instance) come to be internalized and reproduced (or not) in individuals…’ (Cameron and Kulick 2005: 122). CDA’s reliance on an intuitive process for identifying such discourses has, however, been subject to criticism, and a more accountable means of ascribing identity labels to particular cultural scripts, attitudes and behaviours sought.

My particular focus in this paper is on the provenance, cultural meanings and cultural currency of the discourse of ‘gross out’ (a discourse commonly assigned the identifying label ‘masculine’) which can be found in contemporary men’s lifestyle magazines, but also in sites of everyday talk and other popular discourses that both feed into and reflect the magazine culture. This attention to the various, intersecting and intertextually linked sites of culture within which identities are articulated attempts to provide a properly accountable discursive explication of the contexts which give rise to the discourse in question and mirrors recent developments in Critical Discourse Analysis (e.g. Reisigl and Wodak 2001).


Cameron, D. & Kulick, D. (2003) Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: CUP

Cameron, D. & Kulick, D. (2005) ‘Identity Crisis?’. Language and Communication 25: 107-125

Reisigl, M. & Wodak, R. (2001) Discourse and Discrimination. London and New York: Routledge.

Stokoe, E.H. & Smithson, J. (2001) ‘Making gender relevant: Conversation analysis and gender categories in interaction’. Discourse and Society 12(2): 243-69.

Sunderland, J. (2004) Gendered Discourses. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Session: Workshop (part 2)
Re-casting language and masculinities
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 05