Since the 1970’s discursive practices have been employed when analysing issues within personal identity. This study aims to do just that by analysing the discursive constructions identified within gender differences and approaches to parenting. For this purpose a number of texts were employed and a Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis was carried out on selected articles. Several discursive constructions were identified such as the primary use of female expert opinions, the textual imagery of the father as inane and refreshingly the emergence of a non-gender specific magazine aimed at both parents.
Keywords: Foucauldian discourse analysis, parenting, father, gender.
Within the subject of social psychology exists two distinct yet very different approaches, that of experimental social psychology and critical psychology. It is important to note that while experimental social psychology is indeed theoretical, essentially critical psychologists refer to this area of psychology as an approach rather than a theory (Stainton Rogers et al. 1995). While experimental social psychology is concerned with the theory as a definite science (Stainton Rogers, 2003), critical psychology is concerned with various sub-disciplines and is considered to be unable to form one solid theory or practice (Hook, 2004). One of the main approaches within critical psychology is that of social constructionism as it underpins all of the approaches within critical psychology such as post-structuralism and discourse analysis, and is the main theoretical framework for the research carried out within critical psychology (Burr, 1998).
Discourse analysis is concerned with the construction of language within society (Burr, 1998). There are two types of discourse analysis; discursive resources and discursive practices. The latter is concerned with language as a system of symbols which can be used to construct social realties to make meaning of the world and the use of language to manipulate in order to achieve a particular goal (Stainton Rogers, 2003: 81). The former is most commonly referred to as Foucauldian discourse analysis and is concerned with the construction of language and its influences over a period of time such as the rise of feminism as a challenge to patriarchy (Stainton Rogers, 2003: 313).
Foucauldian discourse analysis emerged in the latter part of the 1970’s as a response to the ideas of Michael Foucault. Its main use was to analyse the use of language as a discursive resource or essentially to underpin the relationship between the interpretation of language as suited to the interpreter and the involvement it may find within critical psychological research (Willig, 2001). At the same time it makes the assumption the world is made up of many discourses that influence the way in which one sees it (Willig, 2001).
Foucauldian discourse analysis can be a very useful tool when deconstructing gender identities within text as it allows the analyst to approach the text with several different ideas in mind such as the placement of certain pieces of information in relation to others and the ways in which the reader may respond. This form of discourse analysis indeed proved to be a useful tool when analysing articles within parenting magazines as it allowed for exploration into the discourses that emerge when studying gender roles within parenting and the impact the broader discourses may have on the reader.
The area of gender chosen was that of gender representations in parenting magazines therefore several parenting and pregnancy magazines were selected such as Prima Baby, Junior, Parenting Magazine, Practical Parenting and Mother and Baby. From these, three magazines were chosen and within these magazines two articles and two advertisements were selected. As the analytic strategy to be used was that of the Foucauldian method of discourse analysis, particular attention was paid to the construction of the texts and the way in which they may be interpreted differently dependant on the gender of the person that read them. Many discursive constructions were identified and it seemed that just as they formed an identifiable construction of their own, further material would emerge that compared closely with identified material and caused a new, broader, discursive construction to arise. It was this general area of difficulty in pinpointing only one very simple area of text that gave need for the Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis. Through being able to identify not only the discursive constructions but also the subjectivity within these articles made for a much more in depth and reliable analysis.