Date of Award

9-2011

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Communication

First Advisor

Donal Carbaugh

Second Advisor

Benjamin Bailey

Third Advisor

Ann Ferguson

Subject Categories

Communication | Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Communication

Abstract

This dissertation is an ethnography of communication, situated in the context of a feminist utopian community, that examines members' use of communication and communicative embodiment to counter what they consider to be oppressive United States gender practices. By integrating speech codes theory and cultural discourse analysis with theories of the body and gender, I develop analyses of spoken and written language, normative language- and body-based communicative practices, and sensual experiences of the body. I argue that there are three key ways communication and communicative practices are used to counter gender oppression: the use of gender-neutral words, the "desensationalization" of the body, and egalitarian nudity practices. Additionally, I argue that "calm" communication, as a normative style of communicating on the farm, underprivileges both male and female members of color and of the working class. From the perspective of members, gender was understood to be a category distinct from sex and analyses demonstrated that sex as an identity was a factor in interpretations of gender performances. Sex identities were also necessary for community feminist practice. Communication practices in the community articulated with feminist, health, environmental, and egalitarian discourses to normalize forms of embodiment such as female shirtlessness and public urination to counter dominant U.S. forms. It was found that making sense of normative communication practices required a cultural understanding of how both spaces and bodies were constituted as public and private. Community spaces were understood by members to be either relatively public or private with the public spaces being the more regulated spaces. Members contested the meanings of bodies as public (and therefore able to be regulated) or private (and therefore not able to be regulated). Normative communication practices in the community indicated that members work to preserve boundaries between private bodies in public spaces by developing rules for privacy, confidentiality, and non-communication. Community feminist communicative practices were understood to be liberatory because (1) the small size of the community allowed members to co-create feminist discourses that resignified body parts and gendered identites and (2) the community provided a space in which women could embody feminist discourses as everyday, sensual performances. This study has implications for the theorizing of embodied verbal and nonverbal gender-based cultural communication practices and for understanding community-based counter discourses as well as sex and gender as cultural identities.

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