Critique, (Unconscious) Bias, and Saving Face: Gendered Talk and Performance in Higher Education

Friday, 20 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Arlene OAK, University of Alberta, Canada
In the sociology of design, a field that investigates the objects and processes of design (from buildings and consumer products to fashion and visual communications), it has become widely accepted to analyze the conversations that occur within professional and pedagogic contexts. Such scholarship often uses methods associated with the micro-sociological approach of Conversation Analysis (CA), to produce studies that investigate the social interaction that occurs in meetings between designers and clients or between professors and students in design education. This paper draws upon such methodological perspectives to investigate University-level product-design education and in particular the social situation of ‘the critique’, wherein students publicaly present their work for discussion by their instructors and fellow students. Through an examination of transcripts we show how a critique that involves a professor and a group of students indicates a gender bias wherein the male instructor only invites male students to verbally assess the design work of other students. However, when the transcripts are also accompanied by frame-by-frame images of the setting, it is apparent that, while the male students are overtly being asked to talk, the female students somewhat covertly resist speaking through non-verbal behaviours such as gesture, posture, and gaze direction. Through an analysis that considers the verbal and non-verbal aspects of this interaction, alongside the instructor’s face-saving requirement to impose upon students to speak (in order to perform the class), we demonstrate how unconsciously gendered talk in pedagogic settings may emerge within the complexities of relatively straightforward moments of social interaction. This paper has implications for considering how gendered practices in higher education (particular in programs that include assessment through the performance of relatively informal conversation) can occur and continue through following tacit norms of social behaviour.