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Gender & Political Discourse

Course Proposal
Wendy M. Christensen
Course Description:
“Discourse refers to the relations coordinating the practices of definite individuals
talking, writing, reading, watching, and so forth, in particular local places at
particular times. People participate in discourse, and their participation reproduces
it.” – Dorothy. E. Smith (Institutional Ethnography 2005)
Discourse analysis is the analysis of ideologies, metaphors and symbols in order to understand
how textual discourses organize the social world and convey meanings of gender. Discourse
analysis is a powerful critical tool for understanding how sexism, racism and classism are
interwoven through the everyday. We will learn how discourse analysis can expose the workings
behind so-called consensus in politics (e.g. what “politically correct” means).
In this course we will examine how discourse shapes the interaction of gender relations and
politics. Political discourse affects women's and men's material situations, shapes gender
relationships, structures conflict, organizes participation in collective decision-making, and
contributes to the formation and mobilization of specific identities and interests. In this course
we look at how public political discourse reflects gender identities and interests, but also at how
state activities maintain and change gender relations through discursive struggles.

Course Readings:
Week 1: What is gender?
Scott, J. W. (1986). Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis. American
Historical Review, 1053-1075.
Glenn, E. N. (2000). The Social Construction and Institutionalization of Gender and
Race. In M. M. Ferree, J. Lorber & B. B. Hess (Eds.), Revisioning Gender. Thousand
Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.
Week 2: What is discourse?
Part 3 (“Feminist Materialism, Discourse Analysis, and Policy Studies”) in Naples, N. A.
(2003). Feminism and Method: Ethnography, discourse analysis, and activist research.
New York: Routledge.
Week 3: The gendered discourses of states and politics:
Chapters 1 (“Where the Power Is”) in Brush, L. D. (2003). Gender and Governance.
Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.
Chapters 1 & 4 (“The Question of Gender” and “Gender Relations”) in Connell, R. W.
(2002). Gender: Short Introductions. Malden: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.
Chapter 1 (“Theorizing Gender & Nation”) in Yuval-Davis, N. (1997). Gender & Nation.
London: Sage Publications.
Week 4: State policies and gender: Making state masculinities:

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Chapters 1 & 4 (“The Manly Idea of Politics and the Jingoist Desire for War” and
“McKinlley’s Backbone: The Coercive Power of Gender in Political Debate”):
Hoganson, K. L. (1998). Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics
Provoked the Spanish-American Wars. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Nagel, J. (1998). Masculinity and nationalism: Gender and sexuality in the making of
nations. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21(2).
Cohn, C. (1993). Wars, Wimps, and Women: Talking Gender and Thinking War. In M.
Cooke & A. Woollacott (Eds.), Gendering War Talk (pp. 227-246). Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press.
Week 5: Motherhood and civic engagement:
de Volo, L. B. (2004). Mobilizing Mothers for War: Cross-National Framing Strategies in
Nicaraqua's Contra War. Gender and Society, 18(6), 715-734.
Ruddick, S. (1997). Rethinking Maternal Politics. In A. Jetter, A. Orleck & D. Taylor
(Eds.), The Politics of Motherhood: Activist voices from left to right. Hanover: University
Press of New England [for] Dartmouth College.
Slattery, K., & Garner, A. C. (2007). Mothers of Soldiers in Wartime: A National News
Narrative. Critical Studies in Media Communications, 24(5), 429-445.
Film: Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2009)
Week 6: Public political discourse:
Chapter 9 (“‘Politically Correct’: An Organizer of Public Discourse”) in Smith, D. E.
(1999). Writing the Social: Critique, Theory, and Investigations. Toranto: University of
Toronto Press.
Diamond, M. (2002). No Laughing Matter: Post-September 11 Political Cartoons in
Arab/Muslim Newspapers. Political Communication, 19.
Christensen, W. M., & Ferree, M. M. (2008). Cowboy of the World? Gender Discourse
and the Iraq War Debate. Qualitative Sociology, 31 (Special Issue on Political Violence),
287-306.
Film: The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004)
Week 7: Liberal welfare state discourse:
Chapters 2 and 6 (“Liberalism, Gender, and Social Policy” and “Social Rights versus
Gender Stratification and Gender Power”) in O’Connor, Orloff and Shaver, States,
Markets and Families.
Fraser, N., & Gordon, L. (1994). A Geneology of Dependency: Tracing a Keyword of the
U.S. Welfare State. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 19(2).
Week 8: Defining political interests:
Chapter 5 (“Changing the Subject”) Brush, L. D. (2003). Gender and Governance.
Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.
Christiansen-Ruffman, L. (1995). Women's Conceptions of the Political. In M. M. Ferree
& P. Y. Martin (Eds.), Feminist Organizations: Harvest of the New Women's Movement.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

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Phillips, Anne “Dealing with difference: A politics of ideas or a politics of presence?” Pp
475-496 in Landes, J. B. (1998). Feminism, the Public and the Private. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Week 9: Social movement framing:
Oliver, P., & Johnston, H. (2000). What a Good Idea: Frames and Ideology in Social
Movement Research. Mobilization, 5.
Einwohner, R. L., Hollander, J. A., & Olson, T. (2000). Engendering Social Movements:
Cultural Images and Movement Dynamics. Gender and Society, 14(5).
Film: Un Poquito de Tanta Verdad (A Little Bit of So Much Truth) (2006)
Week 10: Focus on an issue: Abortion rights:
Ferree, M. M. (2003). Resonance and Radicalism: Feminist Framing in the Abortion
Debates of the United States and Germany. American Journal of Sociology, 109(2), 304-
344.
Susan Bordo, “Are mothers persons? Reproductive rights and the politics of subject-
ivity” Pp. 71-97 in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body. Univ.
of Calif. Press, 1995.
Week 11: Focus on an issue: Domestic violence
Berns, N. (2001). Degendering the Problem and Gendering the Blame: Political
Discourse on Women and Violence. Gender & Society, 15(2), 262-281.
“Producing the Battered Woman” in Naples, N. A. (1998). Community Activism and
Feminist Politics: Organizing Across Race, Class, and Gender. New York: Routledge.
Chapter 9 (“Survivor Discourse”) in Naples, N. A. (2003). Feminism and Method:
Ethnography, discourse analysis, and activist research. New York: Routledge.
Film: Defending Our Rights (1994)
Week 12: Grassroots political discourse:
Part 3 (“Motivations and Inspirations for Community Work”) in Naples, N. A. (1998).
Grassroots Warriors: Activist Mothering, Community Work, and the War on Poverty.
New York: Routledge.
Miethe, I. “From ‘Mother of the Revolution’ to ‘Fathers of Unification’: Concepts of
politics among women activists following German unification” Social Politics, 1999,
6(1): 1-22.
Seidman, G. “Gendered citizenship: South Africa’s Democratic transition and the
construction of a gendered state.” Gender & Society, 1999, 13(3): 287-307.
Film: The Garden (2008)
Week 13: Transnational political discourse:
Chapters 1, 2, 4, 6 (“Globalizing Women,” “Globalization and Its Discontents,” “The
Women’s Movement: Discourses, Structures and Resources,” and “Feminists Versus
Fundementalists”) in Moghadam, V. M. (2005). Globalizing Women: Transnational
Feminist Actors Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Example Assignments:
Weekly Reading Google Group: Each week, you will need to write 2 paragraphs
summarizing and comparing that weeks’ readings. You may include questions that the
readings raised for you, and links to related articles and information online. These
reactions need to be posted to our course Google Group by the beginning of class on
Tuesday. You are also required to read over and respond to your classmate’s
contributions by class on Thursday.
Wordle Discourse Analysis (week 1): Find a news article about women and healthcare
reform. The article can come from any online news source (a newspaper, blog etc.). Put
the text of the article into ww.wordle.net, and set wordle so that only the top 100 words
are displayed in the word cloud. Bring the word cloud to class, along with a short
description of where you found the article (what kind of newsource etc.). We will
compare word clouds in groups during class.
Political Discourse (week 6): Bring in an example of contemporary political discourse in
newspapers, magazines or social science texts about war, peace, welfare, rights, privacy,
politicians or political institutions that is gendered. In class, you will need to explain how
this language shows the “governing” of gender (whether by some actor inside the state or
some opposition/resistance to it).

Final Research Paper:


You need to pick a case (a current political issue or organization) that is relevant for
studying gender and political discourse, and then focus on analyzing how the concepts of
the course apply to this case. The case you pick may be American, non-American or
comparative. Your case could be a social movement (like the Tea Party, AIDS activism,
or civil rights), a policy (like healthcare reform or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), or an
organization (like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a rape crisis center, or Planned
Parenthood). You may either analyze gender in the public discourse surrounding your
case, or analyze your case’s use of gendered discourse to make public political claims.
You will need 10 documents either from public coverage of the issue, or generated by the
organization/campaign itself to analyze.
The research paper will be completed in 5 stages, each of which carries points toward the
final grade and it has to make use of at least 3 of the books or articles of the assigned
reading list as well as whatever outside reading you need (a minimum of three additional
books or articles).
Stage 1: Pick a topic and find one academic book or article that deals directly with your
case. Write a short (300 word) review that summarizes what you now know about the
topic and ends with a question about gender and discourse that you want to do some
more research/reading to answer.
Stage 2: Do a search at the library and on the Internet for additional information on your
topic and put together a one-page bibliography that includes at least 5 possible academic
sources (in addition to class readings).
Stage 3: Find 10 documents about the case you have chosen to analyze. These should be
documents either generated by the campaign/organization (press releases, info on their
website etc.) or public media coverage of the campaign or issue (newspapers, blogs etc.).

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Using the analysis techniques you learned in class, find the common themes in the
documents. Is there anything unexpected or surprising? What do these themes tell you
about how gender is used in the discourse?
Stage 4: Write a 250 word thematic statement of what your current take on your topic
is, what has changed in your thinking about it as you have been reading more about it,
and what you think you want the thesis/argument of your paper to be.
Stage 5: The final research paper, approximately 10-15 double-spaced pages. The final
paper will be judged on appropriate use of concepts from the course (showing that you
understand and can apply them) as well as on the quality of research done on the
particular case you have chosen to look at in more detail. You are expected to quote from
both the assigned readings and the additional research you did.

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