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8617-They Are All Doing Gender

8617-They Are All Doing Gender

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They are all ‘doing gender’ but are theyare all passing? A case study of theappropriation of a sociological concept
1
 Rebecca Wickes and Michael Emmison
Abstract
The concept of ‘doing gender’ was placed on the sociological agenda by West andZimmerman. In their seminal paper published in 1987, they provided a systematictheory of gender as a routine and ongoing process and outlined a distinctly eth-nomethodological approach to investigating how gender is enacted,understood andrendered accountable.West and Zimmerman’s notion of ‘doing gender’ has subse-quently become a central concept in many fields of sociological research, however,upon closer examination although many authors claim to be using the concept – ineffect to be
doing
‘doing gender’ – the concept’s intellectual roots in ethnomethod-ologyarenotalwaysrecognisedorreflected:inshortnotallarepassing.Thepurposeof our study is to explore the career trajectory of this concept and to systematicallyassess the manner in which‘doing’ has been employed.From a review of 226 journalarticles, books, dissertations and association papers, we provide an overview of theuses of this construct and examine the ways in which ‘doing gender’ has beenassimilated into current theoretical and methodological practice.
Introduction
The concept of ‘doing gender’, first formulated nearly three decades ago byCandace West and Don Zimmerman, has become one of the most influentialand widely appropriated ideas in many fields of social research.Their seminalpaper,
Doing Gender 
(West and Zimmerman, 1987) has had a considerableinfluence on the development of feminist scholarship and gender studies butits uptake has not been restricted to these arenas. As evidenced by the ISIWeb of Science citation search, their article has been cited over 650 timesacross disciplines such as education, criminology, communication and culturalstudies, political science, management and organizational studies, as well associology.The status of ‘doing gender’ as one of the most celebrated conceptsto enter the sociological lexicon seems assured.In this paper we want to raise some critical questions about the manner inwhich the appropriation of this concept has taken place. Our central concern
The Sociological Review
, 55:2 (2007)© 2007TheAuthors.Journal compilation © 2007The Editorial Board of 
The Sociological Review
.Published byBlackwell Publishing Inc., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, 02148,USA.
 
will be to demonstrate that although there are numerous studies citing theconcept,the vast majority are doing so in ways that do not reflect the concept’sintellectual roots in ethnomethodology and the study of social practice.Takingour inspiration, in part, from an earlier study of the reception of Max Weber’swork (Adatto and Cole,1981) we want to suggest that many of the citations of the concept have a purely ceremonial quality.Adatto and Cole (1981) observed that the social sciences in general andsociology in particular, exhibit a curious ambivalence towards the work of their classical forebears. Whereas in the physical and natural sciences theaccumulation of antecedent knowledge can be undertaken in the form of standardised textbook reconstructions, graduate students in sociology areexpected to become knowledgeable with the original works of their founders
and
to include references to this theoretical work in their own publications.Focusing specifically on the case of Max Weber, Adatto and Cole noted howcontemporary scholars (in their case the 1960s and 1970s) appear compelled toincorporate Weber’s ideas into their own studies but that they did so in a waywhich often fails to demonstrate their theoretical relevance.In a study of some 156 published articles in the four leading US Sociology journals which had cited Weber, Adatto and Cole (1981) discovered that only36 percent of the articles had used Weber’s work in ways which they consid-ered to be ‘central’ or ‘substantive’. In contrast 64 percent had used Weber’sconcepts in ways which were ‘peripheral’ to the author’s own research ques-tions. One of the ways in which this was evident was through citations whichthey characterised as ‘ceremonial’,‘. . . in which Weber’s status or authority isinvoked rather than the substantive content of his ideas’ (Adatto and Cole,1981: 146). Adatto and Cole, however, were at pains to point out the term‘ceremonial’ did not carry any pejorative connotations and a good deal of theirpaper is taken up with outlining the ‘functions’ which ceremonial citationsperform. For example such citations are a convenient way of demonstratingone’s membership of a particular research community and of signalling thegeneral thrust and orientation of the research reported.
2
In this paper we argue that the concept of ‘doing gender’ has endured asimilar fate in the hands of a different group of scholars and that it, too, hasbecome for many researchers simply a way of signalling membership in thegender studies community.We develop our argument firstly by undertaking areview of the various journal articles, book chapters, dissertations and asso-ciation papers appearing between 1987 and 2005 through which the concept’srise to prominence can be charted.We demonstrate that the vast majority of the ways in which‘doing gender’ has been assimilated into the research litera-ture can be considered ceremonial and we distinguish this category from twosmaller groupings which we identify as‘intermediate’ and‘core’.We show howthese latter categories develop from,and are grounded within,current debatesin qualitative inquiry,particularly ethnomethodology’s insistence on the use of naturally occurring data rather than the more widely adopted method of interviewing to generate research information. We offer some reflections on
Rebecca Wickes and Michael Emmison
312
© 2007 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2007 The Editorial Board of 
The Sociological Review
 
the specificity of our case study and the extent to which ceremonial citationsare an inevitable ingredient in the practice of social science research. Finallywe briefly consider the relevance of our findings for the wider debates aboutthe study of gender and how this can be best advanced both theoretically andmethodologically.
Doing gender: an ethnomethodological approach
Although the article in which the concept first officially appeared was pub-lished in 1987, its genesis can be traced to 1977 when West and Zimmermanattempted a theoretical shift away from an understanding of sex as a set of ascribed characteristics and gender as an achieved status towards a conceptionof gender as emergent feature of social interactions (Fenstermaker and West,2002). However, it took ten years for their innovative approach to studyinggender to reach a wider audience as the original manuscript faced repeatedrejection in journal reviews.Their article finally found acceptance in 1987 withthe then newly founded journal,
Gender & Society
.By the time
DoingGender 
was eventually published,West and Zimmermanhad already established reputations, both individually and collectively, as pro-ponents of ethnomethodological and conversation analytic informed researchon gender issues. Their co-authored papers on conversational interruptions(West and Zimmerman,1976;Zimmerman andWest,1975) had demonstratedthe potential of Sacks
et al 
.’s (1974) conversation turn-taking model forunpacking the issue of dominance in face-to face interaction (although seeSchegloff (1991) for a more critical assessment). West’s subsequent work onthe role of gender in physician-patient encounters (West, 1984a, 1984b) hadalso drawn significantly on the analysis of naturally occurring interaction inmedical settings. Zimmerman’s track record as an exponent of ethnomethod-ologically informed sociology had an even longer pedigree (eg Zimmerman,1971, 1978).Somewhat ironically, however,
Doing Gender 
does not stand as an exem-plar of ethnomethodological inquiry. Although West and Zimmerman statethat the purpose of their article ‘. . . is to propose an ethnomethodologicallyinformed . . . understanding of gender as a routine, methodical, and recurringaccomplishment’ (1987: 126), the bulk of the paper is, contrary to the eth-nomethodological focus on empirical inquiry, given over to theoretical con-siderations. The final section of the article provides a brief discussion of ‘. . . fruitful directions for empirical research(1987: 127), but West andZimmerman refrain from explicit methodological directives as to how suchresearch should proceed opting instead to canvass a number of substantiveareas – the division of labour, the recruitment to gender identities, and so on– where the concept of doing gendercould prove instructive.One consequenceof this is that readers of their article from non-ethnomethodological back-grounds, and therefore unlikely to be familiar with their previous work, may
They are all ‘doing gender’
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© 2007 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2007 The Editorial Board of 
The Sociological Review

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