Construction of gender, ethnicity and generation in interaction

Linda Kahlin

Institution for nordic languages, Stockholm University, Sweden

TP154: Youth, language practices and sociocultural change

Construction of gender, ethnicity and generation in interaction

My presentation focuses on how gender is constructed locally in talk in interaction. The definition of gender is influenced by post structural theories and is analyzed with conversation analysis methods (for example see Kitzinger 2002). I am influenced by gender studies that analyze how gender is constructed intersectionally (see Collins 1998) in combination with other possible identities; for instance ethnicity, class and age.

In my study categories made relevant by the participants themselves are analyzed rather then identities being recognized by the researcher. The material consists of video-recorded multiparty conversations between adolescents in a multi cultural school environment. The categories made relevant by the participants in these conversations most commonly are gender, ethnicity and generation.

Membership categorization analysis (Hester & Eglin 1997, Stokoe & Smithson 2001) is used to analyze how categories like, swedish, syrian or immigrant girl are used as resources in the construction of identity. The results concern how social categorisations are used to create differences between social groups relevant by creating contrasts between we and them. According to membership categorization analysis, the categories are associated with category bound activities.

A person that has been ascribed membership in a social group can get his or her way of acting explained as a consequence of their membership in the social group (Widdicombe & Wooffitt 1995). A result from the empirical analysis consists of rhetorical strategies to resist being ascribed membership of a certain social group or ways of renegotiating the attributes and activities associated with the social group. Female adolescents especially use rhetoric strategies to avoid being positioned as helpless victims within their culture. These adolescents use discursive strategies to present themselves as independent and unique rather than following social norms for the group. One way of accomplishing this is to talk about their personal motives and their independence in relation to their parents and older relatives. Another kind of resistance is when the adolescents renegotiate the category bound activities associated with their social group. The analysis is focused on how this is accomplished on the micro level in conversations. A third way of making resistance is to point out the logical and normal aspects in their own way of acting.


Collins, Patricia Hill. (1998) ”I´ts all in the family: intersections of gender, race and nation”. Hypatia. Pp. 62-82.

Hester, Stephen & Eglin, Peter. (1997) Culture in action. Studies in membership categorization analysis. Lanham: International institute for ethnomethodology and conversation analysis. & University Press of America.

Kitzinger, Celia. (2002) Doing feminist conversation analysis. In Talking gender and sexuality. Amsterdam: John Benjamin Press. Pp. 163-193.

Stokoe, Elizabeth & Smithson, Janet. (2001) Making gender relevant: conversation analysis and gender categories in interaction. Discourse and society 12(2). Pp. 217-244.

Widdicombe, Sue & Wooffitt, Robin. (1992) The language of youth subcultures. Social identities in action. Harvester: Wheatsheaf.

Session: Themed Panel (part 2)
Youth, language practices and sociocultural change
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 03