Type of Document Thesis Author O'Malley, Jennifer Lynn URN etd-11122010-150526 Title An Examination of the Patterns of Gendered Communication Styles in the First-Year Composition Class Blog Degree Master of Arts Department English, Department of Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title Kathleen Yancey Committee Chair Kristie Fleckenstein Committee Member Michael Neal Committee Member Keywords
Date of Defense 2010-11-01 Availability unrestricted AbstractIn 1992, Susan Herring investigated the claim that computer-mediated discussion groups affect participation in electronic discourse spaces. She analyzed the participation patterns of messages from the LINGUIST listserv and found that the conversation was dominated by men. Her aim was “to determine whether gender-based differences were present in the language employed by the participants” (3). “Feeling intimidated” ranked as the highest reason for non-participation for both males (51.6%) and females (61.9%). The members responded that they were intimidated by the adversarial rhetoric present on the listserv.
In her discourse analysis, Herring identifies three different styles of communication: adversarial, attenuated, and unmarked or neutral. Herring’s analysis shows that all but one of the women regularly employed the attenuated personal style and that the adversarial style was employed predominantly by men, “especially those male participants who dominated the discussion in terms of frequency and length of contribution” (8). As a result of the men’s adversarial writing style, the tone of the discussion was overwhelmingly adversarial, which affected how women participated in the discussion.
Herring’s analysis is evidence that the assumed, idealistic logic associated with the egalitarianism narrative of computer-mediated discussion spaces requires more critical attention to the consequences.
Since some composition teachers are inclined to use a class blog, I want to determine if the gender issues that presented a concern almost twenty years ago in Herring’s study are still relevant, and if so, what this might mean for the teaching of composition. The purpose of my research, therefore, is to determine if the gendered discourse patterns that Herring identified are replicated today in the class blog as explored through a classroom case study.
I use Herring’s study as a framework for my own research. During the Fall 2009 semester, I set up a fifteen week study. I conducted the study with an ENC1102 first-year composition course, approved through FSU’s IRB process. At the beginning of the semester, I created a class blog where all students had equal access to post their responses and comment on their peers’ posts. Each student was asked to complete a survey at the end of the semester. In addition to analyzing the answers to the survey, I also conducted a discourse analysis of three of the blog posts. In my analysis of the blog posts and responses, I employ the same coding scheme established by Herring in her study. In each of the students’ posts and comments, I identify key features of the “adversarial style” including strong assertions; imperative forms of verbs; impersonal, presupposed truths; exclusive first person plural pronouns; rhetorical questions; sarcasm; self-promotion; and representation of opponent’s view as ridiculous (7). In addition, I also look for the key characteristics of the “attenuated/personal style”: attenuated assertions; hedges and qualifiers; exhortations phrased as suggestions; speaker’s feelings/experiences; inclusive first person plural pronouns; questions as a means to elicit a response; and apologies (7). Similar to Herring, I use both quantitative data from the discourse analysis and the students’ survey responses to report my findings and investigate the results.
The results of my research paint a portrait of the gendered communication styles in a first-year composition classroom. This study’s implications affect the assumptions and expectations of composition teachers, the field of study on gender and discourse, and those who advocate using a blog in the composition classroom.
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