Don’t I feel smart for having so happily lapped up the Kulick. Apparently didn’t make a lot of linguistic-friends with that article. Just finished Bucholtz and Hall–who offer a pretty damning evaluation of Kulick in their article, “Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research.” But here’s the thing: I was set up. I’ve never read any of the research that Kulick is critiquing (so who was I to say or know that his critique was flawed). By that same token, I don’t know any of the research that Hall and Bucholtz use as counter-evidence. But I can say they seem more right. That’s something, isn’t it? I am not sure how to ask a question about this article. Reading these two articles (now that I realize how they are in conversation with each other) makes me feel like Alice at the tea party: Everyone around you is irritated about something that you don’t understand and when the squabbling subsides, momentarily, you are called on to weigh in. But I just want to enjoy the tea party–and why is this tea party happening, anyway?! Unbirthdays. Desire. Identity. Phooey.
But I still have to post a question. OK, here’s something that got me–they write: “Thus, just as descriptions of the linguistics practices of African American women do not inherently imply that these differ from the practices of European American women, African American men, or any other social group, neither do studies that examine the language use of lesbians mean to suggest that their speech is necessarily different from gay men’s or straight women’s. Such questions are simply not an issue in the vast majority of this research. The problem lies with readers who misconstrue such work as making comparative claims because they assume the priority of an ‘unmarked’ group as the linguistic and social norm, from which all other groups must deviate. . . ” (476). I feel like there are several ways to read this claim. First, I see there point that there is an ‘invocation of difference’ (476) when minority or marginalized groups are discussed, even when comparisons aren’t made explicitly. Then H&B go on to say that readers are to blame for ‘miscontru[ing]’ research–that readers read comparisons into research. Yes, this is also possible. Even if Lakoff had only written about woman’s speech, it would take an incredibly self-disciplined reader not to compare her characterizations to the reader’s own experience with the communication of each gender. I don’t know who their ‘reader’ is, I guess. Other scholars (OK, maybe they should know better or at least be self-aware when it happens), but do they blame lay people for what seems to me to be a pretty ingrained response to a detailed depiction of one group? Isn’t it the case that when you isolate a group for study (say African American men, since that is a category they point to), that a focus on this group–rather than a random sampling of people–suggests that there are patterns of behavior, speech, etc. that are indexed for that group (even if the indexing cannot reveal the complete complexity or diversity that exists in any group)? Mostly I just want to know why they feel that the onus for correct interpretation of data is totally on the reader–meaning is socially constructed, after all.
They make distinctions, too, between Queer Theory, queer linguistics, feminist theory that I am not sure I totally understand. The page where they try to map it out is 490.
Just for giggles here is how they end the article. But before you read it, you should know that the rest of the article is pretty dense, theoretical stuff. Not a lot of humor, not a lot of frills. Though they do use “fuck” somewhere about halfway through the article (reading-check?).
The erection of the new field of language and desire may be impressive to some observers, but we feat that–as happens all too often–it may have come a bit prematurely. We hope to have aroused the readers’ interest in the study of the complete range of sexuality with identity as one prominent component, as a far more satisfying alternative. (507-508).
OK. Ha ha. Except, I am not sure what the ultimate goal is. It is just for shits and giggles? Are they taking a larger, political stance against Kulick (a male) and his use of language? I don’t really think it is akin to gay men using female pronouns, but this rhetoric surely calls-to-mind stereotypical masculine inadequacy. And I feel like it sets up Kulick’s scholarship as a failure of masculine sexuality in some ways. Which, from the looks of it, isn’t that much different than what’s been done to feminist scholars whose work has been characterized as “unsexy” and”old-fashioned.” Mostly I just found it a really striking rhetorical move right at the end of the essay. With its placement, it feels more flip than critical–more like an in-joke amongst feminist scholars. Why change the tenor of your argument / concede the high-ground at the last second?
To be continued. . .