Muted group theory

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Muted group theory developed out of the cultural anthropology field, but more recently developed in communication mostly as a feminist and cross-cultural theory. Muted group theory helps explain communication patterns and social representation of non-dominant cultural groups such as women and other minorities. It was first developed by anthropologists Shirley and Edwin Ardener, this was further elaborated by Kramarae to address the concerns of women and Orbe developed it the theory based on the experiences of African American men.[1]

According to Ardener the human society has a 'social hierarchy' with certain groups having more privileges than others, these dominant groups at the top of the hierarchy dictate the 'communication system' for all the groups in the society. [2]Due to this approach certain groups get silenced or 'muted' and they are not able to fully incorporate their experiences in such 'dominant structures' of society.[3]A 'muted group framework' can be defined as one that has 'asymmetrical power relationships' as a part of it, both Kramarae and Orbe utilize this framework to explore the experiences of subordinate or 'nondominant' groups. [4]While trying to blend in with the framework created by the dominant group, the 'nondominant' groups could potentially lose their unique characteristics. [5]

Herring, Johnson,and DiBenedetto believe that the 'muted group status' is not a constant stagnant one but one that is progressing, developing and evolving in everyday interaction by the subordinate groups.


Background[edit]

The idea of muted group theory stemmed from social anthropologist Edwin Ardener from Oxford University in the 1970s. In "Belief and the Problem of Women" he concluded many ethnographers claimed to understand a society but only based information from findings from the male population. The researchers would then use this data to represent the culture as a whole, leaving out the perspectives of women, children and other groups made voiceless by the cultural hierarchy. Ardener wrote: "Those trained in ethnography evidently have a bias towards the kinds of model that men are ready to provide (or to concur in) rather than towards any that women might provide."

Muted group theory and Communication[edit]

Cheris Kramarae is the main theorist behind muted group theory for communication studies. She was a former professor and director of Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has also had many visiting professor and lecturer appointments in China, The Netherlands, England, South Africa, and Germany. Kramarae has also served as the international dean at the International Women’s University. Her main idea of muted group theory is that communication was created by men and allows them to have an advantage over women. Women must constantly play within the rules of a man’s language, never having their own words to express their thoughts.[6] Kramarae states, “The language of a particular culture does not serve all its speakers equally, for not all speakers contribute in an equal fashion to its formulation. Women (and members of other subordinate groups) are not as free or as able as men are to say what they wish, because the words and the norms for their use have been formulated by the dominant group, men.[7] She also believes that men and women are very different and thus women will view the world differently from men. Not only do women see the world differently, but they also have a disadvantage in society. Kramerae believes that communication between men and women are not on an even level. This is because language was created by men. This makes it easier for men to communicate.

The Control Men Have Over Communication[edit]

Kramarae believes that men control communication because men created language. This leaves women at a disadvantage because they are always using a man’s words to describe female thoughts and feelings.

Assumptions of the theory[edit]

  • Using men’s words is a disadvantage to women because Kramarae believes that “Women perceive the world differently from men because of women’s and men’s different experience and activities rooted in the division of labor”.[8] She also believes that men and women are vastly different and thus will view the world differently from men. Kramerae believes that communication between men and women is not on an even level. This is because language is man made. This makes it easier for men to communicate over women. The Symbolic Interactionism Theory believes that 'the extent of knowing is the extent of naming (pg 462).' When applying this to muted group, this means women have an extreme disadvantage over men because men are the namers.
  • Kramarae also explains that men’s control over language has produced an abundance of derogatory words for women and their speech patterns. Some of these include names such as slut, whore, easy lay along with speech patterns such as gossiping, whining, and bitching.[9]However have much fewer names to describe themselves and most of them are seen in a positive/ sexual light. These include words such as stud, player, and pimp (p. 465). Kramarae suggests these harmful words shape our reality. She believes that “words constantly ignored may eventually come to be unspoken and perhaps even unthought.” This can lead women to doubt themselves and the intentions of their feelings (p. 465). Women are at a disadvantage once again. If a man has multiple sexual partners he can be seen as the words previously stated. However these words do not have a negative connotation. If women have multiple sexual partners, the words to describe her are very different from the words to describe a man. These carry negative connotations.
  • Kramarae also says that women need to choose their words carefully in public. This is because according to Kramarae “what women want to say and can say best cannot be said easily because the language template is not of their own making” (p. 459). “Another example of this male-dominated language Kramarae brings up is that in public speaking, women most often use sports and war analogies (things most women do not usually associate themselves to) in order to relate to their male audiences. Women do this to accomplish their objectives of getting ahead in life. This, they feel, is difficult if they do not gear their speech toward men, using words and analogies to which they can relate. This stems from the market being dominated by males for so long. Almost all prominent authors, theorists, and scientists have historically been male. This allows for them to give women the "facts" they should believe about society and life in general."[10]

Kramarae believes that “males have more difficulty than females in understanding what members of the other gender mean.” Dale Spender of Woman’s Studies International Quarterly gave insight into Kramarae’s statement by adding the idea that many men realize by listening to women they would be revoking some of their power and privilege. “The crucial issue here is that if women cease to be muted, men cease to be so dominant and to some males this may seem unfair because it represents a loss of rights.” A man can easily avoid this issue by simply stating “I’ll never understand women” (p. 461).

Applications of Muted group theory[edit]

Gate Keepers[edit]

“Gatekeepers are editors and other arbiters of a culture who determine which books, essays, poetry, plays, film scripts, etc. will appear in the mass media.” [11]According to Kramarae, women were locked out of the publishing business until 1970. Women lacked influence on mass media and were not often found properly represented in history. Men being the gatekeepers were able to use the media to their advantage all while muting females [12] Kramerae gives an example of gatekeeping when she married her husband. In Ohio during the time of her marriage, a woman had to take the last name of her husband by law. Cheris was now Cheris Rae Kramer. When the law changed, she decided to change her name to Kramerae, a combination of the two. She wanted the option to decide whether or not she could change her name but was muted for quite some time.

Muted group theory and the Internet[edit]

Kramarae has performed research about the internet to examine if men gatekeep and control such a widely used device. Kramarae’s research leads to the belief that the traditional set up of the muted group theory exists on the internet as well. Almost all of the original creators of the internet in the 1970s and 1980s were male. Today there is about a 50/50 split on internet usage between men and women. However, all of the bones of the software and the setup of the internet is seen as masculine. Men also dominate technology fields causing women to continue being marginalized. Many of the metaphors used to describe the internet are masculine. These masculine terms such as information superhighway, new frontier, and global community affect the way that the muted group feels about the internet. Kramarae believes that the internet is on track to being more evenly balanced between males and females. She thinks with the advances of blogs, wikis, and online education that females will have a stronger voice (p. 457-458). They are able to voice their opinions in varied forms of technology and can relate to other women in their own way.

Barzilai-Nahon’s Network Gatekeeper Theory (NGT), whose theory helps bring the gatekeeping concept into the networked world. Barzilai-Nahon was driven to develop NGT because traditional gatekeeping literature ignored the role of the gated thus failing to recognise the dynamism of the gatekeeping environment. Most relevant herein is not only was NGT developed specifically with the Internet in mind, but it moves gatekeeping from a traditional focus on information ‘selection’, ‘processes’, ‘distribution’ and ‘intermediaries’ to ‘information control’:

  • Finally, a context of information and networks makes it necessary to re-examine the vocabulary of gatekeeping, moving from processes of selection (Communication), information distribution and protection (Information Science), and information intermediary (Management Science) to a more flexible construct of information control, allowing inclusion of more types of information handling that have occurred before and new types which occur due to networks.[13]

NGT helps identify the processes and mechanisms used for gatekeeping, and most particularly highlights information control as the thread that ties the various online gatekeeperstogether. Under NGT, an act of gatekeeping involves a gatekeeper and gated, the movement of information through a gate, and the use of a gatekeeping process and mechanism. A gatekeeping process involves doing some of the following: selecting, channelling, shaping, manipulating and deleting information. For example, a gatekeeping process might involve selecting which information to publish, or channelling information through a channel, or deleting information by removing it, or shaping information into a particular form. Her taxonomy of mechanisms for gatekeeping is particularly useful. The mechanisms include, for example, channelling (i.e. search engines, hyperlinks), censorship (i.e. filtering, blocking, zoning), value-added (i.e. customisation tools), infrastructure (i.e. network access), user interaction (i.e. default homepages, hypertext links), and editorial mechanisms (i.e. technical controls, information content).[14]

Muted group and email communication[edit]

According to Kissack, traditionally communication has been constructed within the framework of a male dominated society. Women in corporate organizations are expected to use language associated with women that is 'female-preferential' language, this has been considered as lower than the 'male-preferential' language. The primary difference between the two is 'male-preferential' language consists of details such as opinions and facts whereas 'female-preferential' language consists mainly of personal details, emotions reflected in the conversations, also there is a great use of adjectives in it.[15]

  • In the western world women in the 1940’s pursued jobs such as teaching in schools, hairdresser, and waitresses while men were at war. However after the war period the society did not encourage the participation in women in the workplace, and this way tried to assert male dominance in the society. Organizations till date appear to have a male dominance; the female experiences are at times not taken into account at the workplace the way the male experiences are, that is the ‘structure’ is maintained by men who primarily use communication from the male perspective.[16] When emails in organizations are studied, they can be used to decipher whether the sender is a man or a woman. Researchers reveal that the way men communicate in emails differs from the way the women do.
  • One of the ways that women are differentiated can be observed when we take the ‘performance appraisals’ into consideration. What they mainly consist of is reviews that are based of the standards that are more like ‘masculine’ standards. Another interesting behavioral trait that can showcase mutation is women who try to emulate ‘male behaviors’ in order to attain promotions and get ahead in the workplace.[17]
  • There are some conventional stereotypes attached to men and women in society, when an individual’s behavior deviates from this norm they attain ‘negative feedback’ for this opposition to the norm by their actions. In the case of women, this gets quite complicated as women are told to act in a certain manner, but when they do try and emulate their male counterparts they are ‘discriminated’ and ‘discouraged’ for acting that way.[18]

‘Muteness’ is more glaringly present in the case of emails, the reason for that being that in the case of ‘email’ the only source of reference is the ‘text’ used for the same. In the beginning email was perceived as a ‘lean’ medium that can act as a means to level the field for both the ‘dominant group’ and its ‘subordinate’ counterpart.[19]

When can it be said that woman’s voice is ‘muted’ in an organizational frame? In the words of Kissack, “ If female-preferential language is marginalized within organizations due to its deviation from male-preferential language, and female preferential language is an indication of women attempting to speak within prescriptive norms as well as an attempt to express themselves through an unaccommodating male-prescribed language, then women’s voice is being muted.” [20]

According to Thompson men and women in their early days tend to spend time with ‘same-sex groups’ and thereby adapt their communication style to their groups. In spite of this fact, what it is important to note is that both these communication styles function in the realms of the ‘patriarchal society’[21] Most of the goals of organizations are met by the usage of ‘male-preferential’ language, as they tend to focus on aspects such as ‘economic gain’ and ‘performance improved.’ The main point of an organizational email is that it can help an employee male or female to fulfill their work duties and women are not able to achieve this using language more relevant to them, so in order to attain success in their workplace they have to go beyond their natural realm and utilize ‘male-preferential’ language.[22]

A Feminist Dictionary[edit]

Kramarae states that in order to change muted group status we also need to change dictionaries. Traditional dictionaries rely on the majority of their information to come from male literary sources. These male sources have the power to exclude words important to or created by women. Furthering this idea, Kramarae and Paula Treichler created A Feminist Dictionary with words they believed Merriam-Webster defined on male ideas. For example, the word 'Cuckold' is defined as 'the husband of an unfaithful wife' in Merriam Webster. However, there is no term for a wife who has an unfaithful husband. She is simply called a wife. Another example Kramarae defined was the word 'doll.' She defined 'doll' as 'a toy playmate given to, or made by children. Some adult males continue their childhood by labeling adult female companions "dolls." The feminist dictionary includes up to 2,500 words to emphasize women’s linguistic ability and to give women words of empowerment and change their muted status.[23]

Field of Education[edit]

  • Female students encounter a number of problems with respect to 'reporting' their troubles such as 'sexual harassment','poor advising' and not much encouragement towards the filed of learning. [24] Kramarae has raised several thought provoking ideas such as the thought of education including ways to incorporate elements such as 'women's humor,' 'speechlessness,' and ways to address the issue of 'abusive language.'[25]

Houston believes in order to create a positive reform in education it might be useful to revise the curriculum and lay special stress on 'woman-centered communication' education. 'Women's studies' (WS) have been evolving and growing through the ages, today there is greater demand for faculty to be on initiatives such as WS programs, and the 'African American programs.' [26]

  • In the realm of a classroom men and women utilize language quite differently, the way they bond within their own sex is quite different when we compare the styles of both men and women. Women tend to bond with each other through the process of discussing their problems on the other hand men bond with each other with 'playful insults' and 'put downs.'[27]In the event of classroom discussions men tend too believe that they are supposed to dominate the class discussion while women avoid to dominate the discussions.[28]

Sexual Harassment[edit]

Sexual harassment is an 'unwanted imposition of sexual requirements in the context of a relationship of unequal power'. Sexual harassment is the only legal term defined by women according to Kramarae. It was first used in a court case in the late 1970s (p. 463). In the past, some women received unwanted attention from men. When women confronted or asked the men to stop, they were often ignored. With the development of the term 'sexual harassment' women can speak out. Kramerae still believes there is a struggle when women created a term and there is a struggle to make it work in a man made language.

Muted group theory across Cultures[edit]

Mark Orbe is a communication theorist who has extended Kramarae’s work in muted group theory to African-American males and other groups made up of various cultures. Orbe, in his articles “African-American communication research: Toward a deeper understanding of interethnic communication” (1995) and “Constructing co-cultural theory: An explication of culture, power, and communication” (1998), fleshed out two important extensions of muted group theory:

  • Muting as described in muted group theory can be applied to many cultural groups. Orbe (1995) stated that research performed by the dominant white European culture has created a view of African-American communication “which promotes the illusion that all African-Americans, regardless of gender, age, class, or sexual orientation, communicate in a similar manner” [29]
  • There is not just one way that members of a muted group can deal with their position within the dominant culture. Orbe identified 26 different acts that members of muted groups choose from in dealing with the structures and messages of the dominant society. Orbe says that which act is chosen depends on previous experiences, context, the individual’s abilities and perceived costs and rewards. Some examples of these acts that members of muted groups can choose from are: emphasizing commonalities and downplaying cultural differences, educating others about norms of the muted group, and avoiding members of the dominant group.

In developing a "Co-Cultural Communication Theory," Orbe focuses on how different underpresented group members negotiate their muted group status. According to his work, this constant negotiation includes remaining muted, but also identifies the diverse ways in which individuals gain voice in different contexts.

Kramarae opens the door to the application of muted group theory to issues beyond gender differences including "a range of other marginalizing differences as well including race,sexuality, age and class." Gendrin in her study of homeless women[30] and Orbe in his study of African American men emphasized that not only women, but any group outside the mainstream is more likely to be muted.[31][32] Orbe goes a step further to advance interest in assessing "how individual [sic] and small collectives work together to negotiate their muted group status".[33] As Wood advanced, muted group theory focuses on the power to name experience, a task typically left to dominant groups.[34] West and Turner concluded that muted group theory points out problems with the status quo and suggests ways to address them.[35][36]

Critiques of muted group theory[edit]

Deborah Tannen the theorist that created Genderlect Theory criticizes feminist scholars like Kramarae for assuming that men are trying to control women. Tannen acknowledges that differences in male and female communication styles sometimes lead to imbalances of power, but unlike Kramarae, she is willing to assume that the problems are caused primarily by men’s and women’s different styles. Tannen warns readers that “bad feelings and imputation of bad motives or bad character can come about when there was no intentions to dominate, to wield power [37] Kramerae thinks Tannen's opinion is false. She believes men belittle and ignore women whenever they speak out against being muted. Both theorists believe muting is involved, but they see it from different standpoints.

Edwin Ardener saw that muted group theory had pragmatic as well as analytical potentials.[38] Edwin Ardener always maintained that muted group theory was not only, or even primarily, about women - although women comprised a conspicuous case in point. In fact he also drew on his personal experience as a sensitive (intellectual) boy among hearty (sportive) boys in an all boys London secondary school. As a result of his early encounters with boys, thereafter he identified with other groups in society for whom self-expression was constrained.[39]

Is muted group out dated? In the 1970s and 1980s the muted group theory challenged the status quo, of academe at least. While many women reading and discussing the theory thought it made sense of their own lives, many other academics thought it wasn't proper—theoretically and politically. It certainly wasn't like any of the theories in introductory communication texts then. It was pretty radical. If the muted group theory now isn't as exciting as it once seemed, this is due in part to its success and the success of theories and actions related to it. Shirley and Edwin Ardener suggested that there are "dominant modes of expression in any society which have been generated by the dominant structure within it".[40] They wrote that women, due to their structural places in society, have different models of reality. Their perspectives are "muted" because they do not form part of the dominant communication system of the society.[41]

Other related theories[edit]

Female standpoint theory[edit]

Female standpoint theory is based on 'Marxist analysis,' it is quite similar to the Muted group theory.[42]One of the major claims of this theory is that women's lives are framed quite differently from that of their male counterpart and this shapes the differences in the 'knowledge' produced by both.[43]This theory was mainly created in the 1980's by 'female social scientists' with a professional background in 'sociology' and 'political theory.'[44]

Similarities between Muted group theory and female standpoint theory[edit]

  • Both the theories believe that the society has dominant groups and 'subordinate' groups, and both value the importance of the 'power relations' existing in society.[45]
  • Both the theories acknowledge the importance of the 'knowledge' of the 'subordinate' groups, they both agree that these groups are not represented well in society and it is important to value their lives and their accomplishments. [46]
  • Both theories have a political element associated to them, but in different aspects. Muted group theory asserts that the people who get to 'name' the world are able to do that using their ideas and perspectives while the perspectives of the other groups get overlooked. On the other hand according to the female standpoint theory the exisiting power dynamics dictates what is the right approach.

References[edit]

Footnotes
  1. ^ Orbe, Mark P. (2005). "From The Standpoint(s) of Traditionally Muted Groups: Explicating A Co-cuItural Communication Theoretical Model". Communication theory 8 (1). 
  2. ^ Orbe, Mark P. (2005). "From The Standpoint(s) of Traditionally Muted Groups: Explicating A Co-cuItural Communication Theoretical Model". Communication theory 8 (1). 
  3. ^ Orbe, Mark P. (2005). "From The Standpoint(s) of Traditionally Muted Groups: Explicating A Co-cuItural Communication Theoretical Model". Communication theory 8 (1). 
  4. ^ Orbe, Mark P. (2005). "From The Standpoint(s) of Traditionally Muted Groups: Explicating A Co-cuItural Communication Theoretical Model". Communication theory 8 (1). 
  5. ^ Orbe, Mark P. (2005). "From The Standpoint(s) of Traditionally Muted Groups: Explicating A Co-cuItural Communication Theoretical Model". Communication theory 8 (1). 
  6. ^ Kramarae, Cheris. "Cheris Kramarae". 
  7. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1981). Women and men speaking: Framework for analysis.. 
  8. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1981). Women and men speaking: Framework for analysis.. 
  9. ^ Houston, Marsha (1991). "Speaking from silence:methods of silencing and of resistance". Discourse and society. 
  10. ^ VanGorp, Ericka. "Muted Group Theory". 
  11. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1988). Technology and women's voices : keeping in touch. 
  12. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1988). Technology and women's voices : keeping in touch. 
  13. ^ Barzilai-Nahon, K. (2008). "Toward a Theory of Network Gatekeeping: A Framework for Exploring Information Control". Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 59 (9). 
  14. ^ Laidlaw, Emily (November 2010). International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 24 (3): 263–276. 
  15. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  16. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  17. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  18. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  19. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  20. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  21. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  22. ^ Kissack, H. (2010). "Muted voices: a critical look at e-male in organizations". Journal of European Industrial Training 34 (6). 
  23. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1985). A Feminist Dictionary. 
  24. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1996). "Centers of Change: An Introduction to Women's Own Communication Programs". Communication Education. 
  25. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1996). "Centers of Change: An Introduction to Women's Own Communication Programs". Communication Education. 
  26. ^ kramarae, Cheris (1996). "Centers of Change: An Introduction to Women's Own Communication Programs". Communication Education. 
  27. ^ Tannen, Deborah (1992). "How Men and Women Use Language Differently in Their Lives and in the Classroom". The Education Digest 57 (6). 
  28. ^ Tannen, Deborah (1992). "How Men and Women Use Language Differently in Their Lives and in the Classroom". The Education Digest 57 (6). 
  29. ^ Orbe, MP (1995). "African American Communication Research: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Interethnic Communication.". Western Journal of Communication 59: 61–78. doi:10.1080/10570319509374507. 
  30. ^ Gendrin, D (2000). "Homeless women's inner voices: Friends or foes?". Hearing many voices. 
  31. ^ Orbe, MP (1998). "Constructions of reality on MTV's "The Real World": An analysis of the restrictive coding of black masculinity.". Southern Communication Journal 18: 23–43. 
  32. ^ Orbe, M.P. (1998). "Explicating a co-cultural communication theoretical model.". African American communication and identities: Essential reading. readings. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage. 
  33. ^ Orbe, M.P. (2005). "Continuing the legacy of theorizing from the margins: Conceptualizations of co-cultural theory.". Women and Language 28 (2): 65–66. 
  34. ^ Wood, J.T. (2005). "Feminist standpoint theory and muted group theory: Commonalities and divergences.". Women and Language 28 (2): 61–65. 
  35. ^ West, R.L. (2010). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill. 
  36. ^ Ballard-Reisch, Deborah (2010). "Muted groups in health communication policy and practice: The case of older adults in rural and frontier areas.". Women and Language 33 (2): 87–93. 
  37. ^ Tannen, Deborah (2005). Conversational style: Analyzing Talk Among Friends. 
  38. ^ Ardener, Shirley; Edwin Ardener (2005). ""Muted Groups": The genesis of an idea and its praxis.". Women and Language 28 (2): 51. 
  39. ^ Ardener, Shirley; Edwin Ardener (2005). ""Muted Groups": The genesis of an idea and its praxis.". Women and Language 28 (2): 51. 
  40. ^ Ardener, E (1975). "Belief and the problem of women". Perceiving women: 17. 
  41. ^ kramarae, Cheris (2005). "Muted Group Theory and Communication: Asking Dangerous Questions". Women and Language 28 (2): 56. 
  42. ^ Wood, Julia T (2005). "Feminist Standpoint Theory and Muted Group Theory: Commonalities and Divergences". Women and Language 28 (2). 
  43. ^ Wood, Julia T (2005). "Feminist Standpoint Theory and Muted Group Theory: Commonalities and Divergences". Women and Language 28 (2). 
  44. ^ Wood, Julia T (2005). "Feminist Standpoint Theory and Muted Group Theory: Commonalities and Divergences". Women and Language 28 (2). 
  45. ^ Wood, Julia T (2005). "Feminist Standpoint Theory and Muted Group Theory: Commonalities and Divergences". Women and Language 28 (2). 
  46. ^ Wood, Julia T (2005). "Feminist Standpoint Theory and Muted Group Theory: Commonalities and Divergences". Women and Language 28 (2). 
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