Widespread misunderstandings

Since its publication in 1995, this theoretical assumption of the “Doing Difference” concept, contribute to, provided for a wide discussion and caused great changes, especially among feminist sociologists. Widespread misunderstandings were mainly related to the thesis that social inequality is the result of interaction. Karin Gottschall, for example, rejected the analogy of the three social dimensions class, gender, and ethnicity, since a similar mode of production does not provide sufficient evidence of interference. Furthermore, the restriction to face-to-face interaction from this concept makes a kind of “performance theory” of social inequality (Gottschall 2000, p. 307). This opinion was also shared by Judith Butler, who in “Doing Difference” saw a social scientific version of the “Doing Gender” concept on her theory of gender performance. This also led to the analysis limitation of the face-to-face interaction (Buthler 1990/93).

According to Patricia Hill Collins, belonging to one of the partial dimensions is, from this one-sided perspective, merely a representation act within a relationship of equals. All dimensions of the model are present, but there are no signs of power and inequality (Collins 1995, p. 493).

„Social institutions, especially analyses of the institutional bases of Power shaping race, class, and gender, are dropped from the analyses, leaving a plethora of postmodernist representations in their wake. Recasting racism, patriarchy, and class exploitation solely in social constructionist terms reduces race, class and gender to performances, interactings between peaple embedded in a never ending string of equivalent relations, all containing race, class, and gender in some form, but a chain of equivalences devoid of power relations.“ (Collins 1995, S. 493)  

These allegations, however, were by no means the only ones. Although Fenstermaker and West actually represent exactly the opposite opinion, but Schwalbe is of the opinion that class, sex and ethnicity would be regarded by the authors rather as typical features or discreet variables, rather than constant spur of social actors (Schwalbe 2000).

The sociologist Rolf Eikelpasch lacked the concrete content of the social categories. In his view, the dependence of the partial dimensions can only be badly examined if one assumes that these three imbalanced dimensions are produced permanently and simultaneously. Thus, it seems impossible to determine the social relevance and internal weighting of these partial dimensions (Eikelpasch 2001, p. 60). Stefan Hirschauer went one step further. He criticized not only the assumption that the active production of difference implies a simultaneous hierarchization, but also modified it on a theoretical level. It refers to the “assumption of equality between difference and hierarchy” with regard to the interactive construction of gender (Hirschauer 1994, 1995 and 2001). His distinction between the simple registration of gender and the activation of gender within social interaction eventually led him to another form of interactive practice, called “undoing gender”.


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