Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Kira Hall

Second Advisor

Barbara Fox

Third Advisor

Chase Wesley Raymond

Abstract

This paper analyzes a group of college-aged women’s conversation about feminist identity. Starting from a sociocultural linguistic theoretical framework and employing insights from conversation analysis, I argue that the interlocutors’ feminist identity is an interactional achievement produced through relevantly setting aside topics and displaying agreement to that action. The paper illustrates how this practice (re)problematizes feminism and maintains hegemonic standards of ‘feminist’ as an identity that needs to be accounted for in conversation. Research on feminist identification in the United States shows that many young women tend to agree with feminist ideals but not with a personal feminist identity (Breen and Karpinski 2007; Jacobson and Koch 1978; Houvouras and Carter 2008; Redfren and Aune 2010; Williams and Witting 1997). Accordingly, Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (2013) point out that the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but” is common among college women. However, the research I conducted among women at a public university in 2016 suggests that feminist identification may be shifting, at least in terms of its enactment in discourse. The responses of women in my study fall more in line with “I am a feminist, but…,” producing a type of identification that I call ‘sort of’ feminist.

The data I present in this paper examine the “micromoments” of identity construction (Kitzinger and Mandelbaum 2013; Bucholtz and Hall 2005). In the data, we see an emergent semantics of feminism by examining what the participants feel is relevant to set aside. Yet I argue, following other work in CA, that the practice of relevantly setting aside topics serves to (re)create normatively acceptable identities (Maynard 2016; Raymond and Stivers 2016). This process invariably produces patriarchal hegemonic identities, with interlocutors removing themselves from their assumed understanding of feminism and thereby solidifying feminists as a problem. However, if social products and actions are the basis for hegemonic social organization, then they are also agents of change (West and Zimmerman 2009:114). My data reveal that when topics are not set aside, they can be negotiated with as very real and relevant aspects of feminist identity, both in talk-in-interaction and in other conceptualizations of feminism.

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