2.4 The Relation between the Individual and the Social

For many Third Wave feminist linguists, the notion of the community of practice has been important in terms of trying to describe the way that group values affect the individual and their notion of what is linguistically appropriate (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, 1999; 1998).  The community of practice is a group of people who are brought together in a joint engagement on a task and who therefore jointly construct a range of values and appropriate behaviours, for example, a community of practice might be a group of people who meet to plan an event, or a group of people who go out drinking together. Thus, rather than focusing on the role of an oppressive social system, ideology or patriarchy in relation to individual linguistic production and reception, Third Wave feminists focus on the interaction at the level of the community of practice.  Individuals hypothesise what is appropriate within the community of practice and, in speaking, affirm or contest the community's sense of appropriate behaviour.  In this sense, one's choice of words and one's speech style,  can be seen as defining one's position within a group or community of practice.  Bourdieu's notion of `habitus' has also been extensively drawn on by Third Wave feminist linguists:   'habitus'  is the set of dispositions which one draws upon and engages with in order to perform one's identity through discourse (Bourdieu, 1999). This set of attitudes or practices which are seen as constituting a norm by individuals are then discursively negotiated by individuals in terms of their own perception of what is acceptable for their own behaviour within a particular community of practice. Gino Eelen, drawing on Bourdieu's work, argues that we assume that there is a common world, that is, a set of beliefs which exist somewhere in the social world and which are accepted by everyone, which we as individuals need to agree with or contest:   'On the one hand, collective history creates a "common" world in which each individual is embedded. On the other hand, each individual also has a unique individual history and experiences the "common" world from this unique position. The common world is thus never identical for everyone. It is essentially fragmented, distributed over a constellation of unique positions and unique perspectives' (Eelen, 2000: 223).   Thus, this view of the relation between individuals and others moves us significantly away from notions of  society as a whole influencing the linguistic behaviour of individuals to an analysis of the way that at a local level, individuals decide on what type of language and speech style is appropriate.  This local focus of Third Wave feminism is one of its benefits, but it does make it extremely difficult to discuss the impact of the values and pressures of the  wider society; talking about society above the level of the community of practice is almost impossible, and it is clear that the wider society as a whole needs to be discussed in terms of the impact it has on practices within communities of practice. Third wave feminist linguistics tries to maintain a balance between a focus on the local and an awareness of the negotiations at the local level with structures which are largely imposed. Mary Bucholtz characterises the concerns of Third Wave feminism within the following themes: `that language users' identities are not essential to their natures but are produced through contingent social interactions; that those identities are inflected by ideologies of gender and other social constructs; that speakers, writers and signers respond to these ideologies through practices that sometimes challenge and sometimes reproduce dominant beliefs; and that as new social resources become available, language users enact and produce new identities, themselves temporary and historical, that assign new meanings to gender' (Bucholtz, 1999: 20).  However, perhaps this quotation draws our attention to the difficulties encountered by Third Wave feminist linguistics since it does not seem possible to maintain both a focus on contingent social interactions and wider societal notions such as ideologies of gender, without some fundamental rethinking of our models of language and gender.  I'd like now to move to a testing out of some of these ideas about Third and Second Wave feminism by analysing the way that they can be brought to bear on the analysis of sexism.

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