Problems and Possibilities: the analysis of Doing Difference and Gendered Organizations

In this section, I would like to analyze the, previously described, theory of “Doing Difference” in relation to interferences of social dimensions with the empirical study described above, especially focusing on the problems.

A fundamental problem of the “Doing Difference” concept is that the relevance of the individual component dimensions varies according to the situation and context. In addition to the component dimensions, the process, as well as the consequences, of the “Doing Difference” can differ greatly. Relevant factors are the time, the location and the respective actors (Fenstermaker and West 2001, p. 246). In response to the theoretical question of the interferences of the three varying social differences, Fenstermaker and West refer to the “specific historical, regional and institutional context” of the situation in which the subdimiensions are generated by interaction (Fenstermaker and West 2001, p. 247). In addition to the three subdimensions that Fenstermaker and West describe, I want to add the organizational context to my analysis.

Gender and ethnicity appear to us as an ascriptive, “natural” trait that we are able to present at any time, and others can categorize us through it and thus can place expectations on us. Gender is presented, for example, by girls having long hair and boys having short hair (see Kessler / McKenna 1978, p.81). However, it is different when considering the ethnicity of a person, because the ethnicity of a person can’t always be determined clearly, based on mere observation. Moreover, it seemed as if the ethnicity as a subdimension was hardly made relevant, if at all, in our observations.

In theory, it is frequently mentioned that, precisely in this phase of life, in which the children I observed are, boundaries to “other kinds” are extreme (cf. Kessler / McKenna 1978). In the future, the problem of recognizing ethnic differences is likely to become even more prominent, due to globalization and, thus, to increasing multiculturalism.

It was noticeable in the observations that girls and boys interacted mostly with same-sex persons. Only in exceptional cases did segregation of the sexes not occur. It seems that sex is the significant subdimension at this age. One reason for this could be that children are first taught, deliberately or not, by the parents, the distinction between “boy” and “girl. This distinction is then emphasized by clothing, symbols, and behavior, and certain normative expectations are brought to the attention of the child. If these expectations are not met, penalties can result. This is also expressed by the principle of “accountability”.

The subdimension of the class, however, is more difficult to observe, if at all, than the sex, which is usually binary-organized. This is because the class is an acquired trait and is not an attributed feature such as gender and ethnicity. This means that an individual is basically not aware of what class he/she belongs to, unless it carries high-quality status symbols. In the study, one could therefore assume that those students who had table tennis clubs also belonged to a higher class. However, this could only be an indication, which leads to the fact that one cannot make an accurate statement on pure observation. Since this is, however, a goal of sociology, one should rather restrain himself from making vague assumptions. On the other hand, the observation showed that not only the previously mentioned three division dimensions are interrelated, but other differentiations should also be taken into account, such as the age that was a further distinction in elementary school in Lucerne Moosmattschule.

Another point is that the contradictory observations or empirical phenomena are not clear whether organizations are structurally gendered. Nor can it be said that gender differences are irrelevant in organizations.

Finally, it can be said that ethnicity and class can be poorly observed and that every human belongs to the various social categories at the same time. All the social categories are, thus, always present but are combined differently in different social situations. Therefore, this empirical study could not make a decisive contribution to how the interferences of social differentiation now interact with one another and among each other.


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