The project concept - by Joanna Chojnicka


Here, I would like to explain the project concept in more detail through deconstructing the project summary.
This project investigates constructions The project draws from the theory of social constructivism and subscribes especially to the belief that social reality is being constantly construed and reconstrued through social structures, processes and events, including material (physical) and discursive structures (such as language), processes (chains of discourse - interconnected chains of discourses, genres and styles) and events (separate uses of language).
of femininity, masculinity and sexuality By focusing on femininity, masculinity and sexuality, I avoid overused and blurry concepts such as 'gender' and 'identity'. I am interested in what being feminine and being masculine means to different people who identify as female and male (or bi-/a-gender), regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth. Additionally, by using the concept of 'sexuality', I avoid the trap of collapsing sexuality into sexual orientation or identity (which enables me to focus e.g. on sexual desire as well). I also avoid using such labels as LGBTQetc., because I want to make as few assumptions as possible to let the speakers define themselves. Also, focusing on sexuality as LGBTQ sexuality seems to presuppose that sexuality does not include heterosexuality, and as a result that heterosexuality is a default option that does not need study or explanation. My understanding of sexuality is as broad as possible, and it assumes that heterosexuality is included in it and it needs as much critical explanation and interpretation as any other sexuality.
in German, Latvian and Polish Modern discourses of sexuality started forming at the end of the 19th century. Feminist/gender, gay and lesbian/queer movements and discourses in some sort of form emerged after the First World War and then developed after the Second World War, when the region of Central and Eastern Europe (incl. East Germany, Latvia and Poland) was already separated from the Western discursive space. I am interested in how this separation and the subsequent "eruption" of Western-like discourses in the 1990s have influenced contemporary constructions of femininity, masculinity and sexuality. Of particular interest is the situation in unified Germany, which used to be divided by the Iron Curtain; East Germany was "elevated" to the prestigious membership of the West and its socialist past was swiftly erased.
social media Social media offer researchers easy access to a huge diversity of discourses on many different topics from many different speakers. Blogs are particularly interesting to me as I expect them to construct a story, a narrative of femininity/masculinity and sexuality over stretches of posts and comments about seemingly unrelated topics that are nevertheless important in bloggers' lives. The fact that bloggers can interact with their readers through comments makes it possible to study not only the text, but also its reception and the whole interaction as a discursive event and practice. What is more, social media are not just "transparent" sources of texts, but a particular subculture with its own conventions that have effects on the way reality is represented in them.
discourses. I use the term 'discourse' not to emphasize that I study texts in isolation from other meaning-making practices. To the contrary, I am interested more generally in 'semiosis', i.e. how people "make" meaning with textual and non-textual (e.g. visual) resources. Especially relevant for social media is the study of the relations between textual and non-textual elements of a website. This term is rather used to signal that I am not too interested in "content" analysis (i.e., WHAT is represented/constructed in discourse) but in analysing strategies of representing or constructing elements of reality (i.e., HOW it is represented, with what resources and why these and not others).
Located within sociology of gender and sexuality, Although the methods employed in this project are linguistic (discourse analysis anchored in linguistics), the research question represents a "real-life" problem relevant in the contemporary society and the project aims at contributing to solving this problem. The project draws from feminist action research ethnics.
it turns to discourse as a facet of social life. It is important to this project that discourse be seen as a kind of social practice. It does not merely portray reality but constitutes it, it does not merely portray action but it IS action. NB the double nature of discourse: it is an element of social life like other, possibly more "material" elements, but it is also a medium of representing social life and its elements, including the discourse itself.
The study shows how discourse shapes popular constructions of social reality and contributes to their variations in different languages/countries, Discourse constitutes (shapes) reality, but there is no single discourse and no single representation of reality. There are various, competing ways of representing the same phenomenon or concept, and while some may be very strong and widespread and appear common-sensical ("hegemonic"), no discourse is ever fixed in its position, and the struggle over meaning never ends.
The claim that discourse constitutes social reality seems to suggest that this is a one-directional process, but in fact social reality, structures and processes shape discourses as well. At the same time, it is important not to isolate discourses and "material" social conditions or actions and understand them as opposites: rather, discourses and other forms of action consitute a network of mutually constitutive relations.
within the context and under the influence of diverging histories of political and economic systems, social change and movements, and power relations. This and the following sentence refer to this constitutive power of social conditions and relations, highlighting the importance of embedding the study in the context of the CEE region and its recent history once again.
This sentence focuses on intra-national situations (situations within particular nation-states): the history of democracy vs. authoritarianism, culture of individualism vs. collectivism or traditionalism vs. modernity, the role of religion, gender norms and roles, attitudes to change, strength of emancipation movements, etc.
An equally important role is attributed to the three countries' varying socialist legacies and current positions within the EU. This sentence, in turn, focuses on inter-national situations, both historically and at the present time. Different manners and degrees of dependence from the Soviet Union and different paths chosen after its collapse, as well as different ways into the EU, are assumed to exert continuing influence on contemporary societies of the region under investigation. Also important are social attitudes towards the given country's membership in the EU (in terms of perceived advantages and disadvantages) and the country's position in the Community.
This focus on historical intra- and inter-national power relations makes it possible to use critical and postcolonial approaches to language A critical approach to language means to me above all recognizing the social dimension of language use and the impossibility of researching language in isolation from this social dimension. Especially with reference to discourse analysis, critical also means taking into consideration the power dimensions inherent in every interaction. These power relations do not need to be realized in the inequality of actual participants of this interaction, but they will always be present in the way the interaction is conventionally expected to unfold: what can be said and how it can be said vs. what cannot be said.
Additionally, the postcolonial approach can help to explain the role of communism/real socialism, nationalism, and globalization in shaping contemporary constructions of femininity, masculinity and sexuality.
in order to trace continuity and change in discourses on gender and sexuality This sentence emphasizes the historicity of discourses, i.e. the historical accummulation of ways of talking and writing about particular things. Shifts in these discourses can tell us a lot about attitude changes over time.
competing within and between German, Latvian and Polish societies. This sentence highlights, again, the fact that there may be many alternative discourses competing for hegemony: a study which aims at painting as full a picture as possible of femininity, masculinity and sexuality constructions should represent a variety of discourses rather than focusing only on the most prevalent ones, even if there is the feeling that the prevalent discourses are in need of a critical intervention.
The use of social media (mainly blogs) guarantees access to various discourses, including those marginalized or absent in traditional mass media. It has already been mentioned that social media are a rich source of divergent discourses. In comparison to traditional, mainstream mass media, there is a greater variety of voices on the Internet, which includes also extreme and radical ones. Due to their controversial, scandalous nature, these extreme/radical voices are more likely to be picked up and become "news" on mainstream media, which, together with the silencing of more balanced views, reinforces the perception of society as polarized.
It is important not to follow this mistake and include all the range of voices, not only the most extreme ones.
Representing different femininities, masculinities and sexualities as forming a continuum additionally speak against seeing the world in "black and white", i.e. as comprising binary systems of mutually exclusive categories.
The project constitutes a challenge to the Anglo-American focus in discourse analysis and gender studies in theoretical terms (by drawing from various approaches to gender and sexuality represented by researchers from the three countries) and empirical terms (by examining non- English language material).
This stance is also in line with the postcolonial perspective which challenges the superiority of Western knowledge.
Additionally, this point explains my reluctance to use such terms as 'gender' or 'LGBTQ', which may not accurately represent the way communities in Central and Eastern Europe (and of course in other places) wish to identify.
An important aim of the project is to design an innovative interdisciplinary framework informed by discourse analysis, history and sociology in order to guide the critical analysis of textual data and interpretation of study results.
The contributions that the three above-mentioned disciplines can make to this project have already been hinted at: linguistic resources and tools, historical context of social conditions and relations and discursive shifts, the social problem that the project addresses. The next step would be to bring the disciplines closer together by blurring their boundaries, as the belief that various fields in the humanities are separate and discrete is a social construct that is being increasingly perceived as arbitrary and unmotivated.
Such a framework could be applied by other researchers in future projects, fostering communication between different disciplines in humanities and social sciences.
Transparency and open access play an important role here. The project is intended as interdisciplinary (not in the sense of contributing to separate disciplines, but in the sense of contributing to blurring the arbitrary boundaries between disciplines) and transdisciplinary (in the sense of research serving to solve specific social problems and reaching out of academia to other domains, e.g. through accessible publications or events open to the wider public).