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According to Butler’s thesis of gender being a performative function of various societal discourses, it is nowadays theoretically linked to new identity policies – and to the plurality of gender identities, which transgress the traditional, hierarchical and oppressive gender dichotomy. On the subjective level, gender is supposed to be a process rather than a state, which refers to corporality, sexuality and power-relations.

Gender is to be regarded as a powerful dynamic social construction, which is based upon fundamental beliefs of everyday life and is reproduced in social interaction. In a social constructivist perspective, the sociologically relevant issues for further analysis therefore are the ways in which gender is done (West & Zimmerman 1987) – i.e. the process of differentiation, which produces (hierarchical) differences. This includes institutionalized ways of doing gender (education systems, professions and career structures, structures of participation defined by formal equity, but informal barriers), policies, but also micro-social processes of gendering agency in all kinds of social interactions (e.g. in youth cultures).

At the same time, neither gender nor other social categories such as social class or ethnicity can be regarded as “master categories”, but have to be analysed in their complex interplay. Approaches such as intersectionality or diversity stress that it is an empirical question, in how far gender (as well as other lines of making social differences) is actualized or qualified in concrete contexts and situations. Analysing power relations according to this tool for analysing multiple discrimination means that gender cannot represent coherent social grouping. Moreover, every gender group is segmented according to the differentiated power structures related – not also to social class and ethnicity, but also to “race”, nationality, bodily and psychological conditions, legal status, etc. And: these different orders do interplay differently in different social contexts and situations. However, the fact that among these orders gender can be actualized at any time, points to basic relevance of gender as well as to the hierarchies within the gender system: late modern conditions therefore may modernize gender hierarchies, but not abolish them.

In all topics of GOETE gender will serve as sensitizing concept for analysing educational systems by asking how they are doing gender and if gender could be done differently.


Beasley, Chris (2005) Gender and Sexuality: Critical Theories, Critical Thinkers. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Butler, Judith (2004) Undoing Gender. New York and London: Routledge.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé 1991: Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6., pp. 1241–1299.

Goffman, Erving (1977) The Arrangement between the Sexes, in: Theory & Society 4, 301-331.

Moon, Gay (2007) Multiple discriminations – problems compounded or solutions found?

Pilcher, Jane & Whelehan, Imelda (2004) Fifty Key Concepts in Gender Studies. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Ridgeway, Cecilia L./Correll, Shelley J. 2004: Unpacking the Gender System: A Theoretical Perspective on Gender Beliefs and Social Relations, in: Gender & Society, vol.18, 510-531.

West, Candace & Zimmerman, Don (1987) Doing gender, in: Gender and Society, 1: 125-151.

(Barbara Stauber & Mirjana Ule)