Never the Twain Shall Meet: A Critical Appraisal of the Combination of Discourse and Psychoanalytic Theory in Studies of Men and Masculinity

Abstract

In recent years there have been a number of attempts by different researchers to study men and masculinity using a combination of discourse theory and psychoanalysis. The main reason for this development is the sense that, on its own, discourse theory provides an incomplete account of masculine subjectivity. Psychoanalysis is thought to be able to fill those gaps. In this paper I reviewed these arguments, provided an outline of the alleged deficiencies in discursive approaches to men and masculinity, and examined some of the work that has attempted the above synthesis. I argued that, for a number of reasons, such attempts are bound to fail. Instead, I argued that better progress can be made in studies of masculinity by remaining within the theoretical boundaries of Discursive Psychology.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Discursive Psychology involves a radical reconsideration of the relationship between words and the world. Instead of seeing the world as reflected in language, discourse theorists see it as constituted or constructed in and through discourse. The major sense in which this is meant is epistemic—how we come to know or understand the world is inevitably shaped by discourse. However, discourse is also seen as onto-formative (Kosík, 1976); that is, it is seen as capable of bringing objects and events into being. For further information about the central assumptions behind and major developments of Discursive Psychology see Edwards and Potter (1992), Potter (1996) and Edwards (1997).

  2. 2.

    Although there is an obvious paradox here—for whilst DP has been criticised for exaggerating the extent of human agency, other post-structuralist theorists have been “hauled over the coals” for implying exactly the opposite. For example, Laclau and Mouffe (1985) have been criticised for suggesting that discourse is the principal or primary agent and that “we” (i.e., human subjects) simply follow in its wake.

  3. 3.

    Whilst Tyson was both world famous and a multi-millionaire, his aggressive behaviour outside of the ring led to the failure of his marriage and then, later on, a prison sentence having been charged and found guilty of rape.

  4. 4.

    Interestingly, in a 2002 edition of the New Statesman, the British gay activist, Peter Tatchell, speculates as to whether or not Tyson himself was a repressed homosexual (Tatchell, 2002).

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Acknowledgements

I would first like to thank Margaret Wetherell for her support and, more specifically, for reading through an earlier draft of this paper. Secondly I’d like to thank Zoe Moorhouse for her help in converting this manuscript into something more compatible with APA format.

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Correspondence to Nigel Edley.

Appendix: Transcription Notation

Appendix: Transcription Notation

The following transcription notation represents a simplified version of that developed by Gail Jefferson (see Atkinson & Heritage, 1984 for a more comprehensive account).

(.):

Short untimed pause.

(...):

Material deliberately omitted.

No=:

Indicates the absence of a discernable gap between.

=gap:

The end of one speaker’s utterance and the beginning of the next.

[text]:

Clarificatory information.

text :

Word(s) emphasized.

(guess):

Inaudible or some doubt about accuracy.

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Edley, N. Never the Twain Shall Meet: A Critical Appraisal of the Combination of Discourse and Psychoanalytic Theory in Studies of Men and Masculinity. Sex Roles 55, 601–608 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9116-x

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Keywords

  • Discursive psychology
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Masculinity
  • Homophobia
  • Ego-defence
  • Subject positions
  • Rhetoric