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'Walking the walk and talking the talk': bodies, conversation, gender and power in higher education in England

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Combinations of speaking, listening and bodily behaviour have been neglected in accounts of the operation of power. Although often described as fluid and interactionally produced, power has been the subject of few empirically based analyses at micro-interactional scales. Drawing on interviews with undergraduates and extracts from teaching interactions at higher education institutions in England, this article focuses on talk as a situated practice. It describes how verbal and bodily behaviours together are fundamentally involved in the enactment of instructor and student roles and power relations, and the collective interactional (re)production of teaching spaces. It discusses two broad types of teaching interaction in terms of gendered differences in the structure of talk, drawing attention to how these are shaped by differences in how instructors enact power. I suggest that men may routinely engage in conversations with 'feminine' structures in teaching spaces without this compromising heterosexual masculinity, and present reasons why it may be more likely that women be problematized for using 'masculine' verbal styles. I also argue that rather than simply being inscribed on to instructors' bodies in ways that accord with the hegemonic discourses of gender, authority and respect have to continually be earned from students, and verbal behaviour is deeply involved in this process. It is not enough to 'walk the walk', instructors must also 'talk the talk', in ways that students deem legitimate.


Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of Wales Lampeter, Lampeter, Ceredigion SA487ED, UK

Publication date: September 1, 2000

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