Consumption and gender: a late-Wittgensteinian view Jo Helle-Valle SIFO

Consumption and gender:
a late-Wittgensteinian view
Jo Helle-Valle
Jo Helle-Valle
Work done and in the making
Helle-Valle, Jo & Dag Slettemeås. 2008. ICTs, domestication and
language-games: a Wittgensteinian approach to media uses. New
Media & Society, 10(1): 45-66.
Helle-Valle, Jo & Ardis Storm-Mathisen. 2008. “Playing computer
games in the family context.” Human IT – journal for information,
technology studies as a human science. 9(3): 62–82.
Storm-Mathisen, Ardis og Jo Helle-Valle. 2008. “Media, identity and
methodology: reflections on practice and discourse”, pp. 55-73. In
I. Rydin and U. Sjöberg (eds.) Mediated crossroads: identity,
youth culture and ethnicity - Theoretical and methodological
challenges, Halmstad: Nordicom.
Helle-Valle, Jo. 2009 or 2010. “Language-games, in/dividuals and
media uses: what a practice perspective should imply for media
studies”, in B. Bräuchler & J. Postill (eds.) Theorising Media and
Practice. Oxford: Berghahn.
Helle-Valle, Jo and Ardis Storm-Mathisen. Gender as language-game
– a practice perspective on gender. To be published in 2010?
Jo Helle-Valle
My key words
Our research theme – interesting because (i) it is both technology
and media content, and (ii) it is in one sense a virtual reality,
nevertheless it must always be seen as a situated practice (cf.
e.g. Miller and Slater)
Practice theory and Late-Wittgenstein philosophy
Wittgenstein provides a key insight for practice theory, namely his
fundamental and absolute dismissal of the idea of a any kind of
structure that forms and underlies practice (cf. Helle-Valle 2009)
(I will return to it below, in relation to my discussion of gender)
is a troublesome term. It is closely tied to discourses and hence
lack a proper foundation to practice. It is important to point out that
research dealing with patterns of consumption among men and
women is not necessarily gender research.
Jo Helle-Valle
Case: 21 year old female gamer
Was interviewed twice:
As part of an all-female focus group in June 2008
Alone, in her home, in May 2009
in 2008 she was an ardent gamer – heavy into online role play games
like World of Warcraft. But she portrays her gaming as a ‘girl thing’
in 2009 she told us that she had quit playing online role games on her
computer. Now she only played some, and much of her activity online
was looking for food recipes and knitting patterns.
She had changed – not the least in the ways that she discursively
presented herself as a young woman – yet at the same time it was easy
to detect many similarities in her two narratives. Her story was that she
was an independent, intelligent person who had her personal problems
but could deal with them. She had cut down radically on her gaming but
it was still an activity that she clearly associated with her femininity.
Jo Helle-Valle
Research on men and women moved from sex to gender
 from men/women to masculinity/femininity
Implies detaching gendered forces from bodies,
e.g. men can have feminine aspects
Analytical implication:
Gender is no longer tied to biology but is a structural and
socio-cultural force.
‘Masculine’ and ‘feminine’ thus become detached from
bodies and are typically reduced to semiotics
Jo Helle-Valle
Gender and Digital consumption
‘ICT is masculine’
Does it mean:
(i) that there are only/mostly men who use it?
(ii) that it is considered by most people to be ‘manly’?
(iii) that not only the technology but also the media content is
But the fact is that approximately half of ICT-use is by women.
Should we distinguish between the technology and its use?
different uses?
gaming vs. work?
types of gaming?
Jo Helle-Valle
World of Warcraft vs. SIMS?
Jo Helle-Valle
World of Warcraft
These images seemingly stereotypes gender and gaming
– it suggests that gaming as such is masculine but that
we find some games that are designed for women;
games that are about relationships, families and other
typically feminine values.
However, as the sketched case I earlier presented
indicate –there are females that actually link their
femininity to gaming – and not games like SIMS but
games that are generally considered to be masculine.
Jo Helle-Valle
Gender play and variations in masculine
Jo Helle-Valle
Does this mean that she is a deviant or that is a kind of a
counter-hegemonic resistance?
What does such an explanation imply?
It is problematic because we turn gender into axiomatic
entities: that whatever the majority of men do is what is
‘masculine’ and whatever the majority of women do is
‘feminine’. But what does that mean? I have yet to find
a good, critical discussion on this. Because if this is the
‘definition’ of masculine and feminine it implies that the
split between gender and sex is just an apparent split –
it is simply the typical male vs the typical female.
Jo Helle-Valle
If we instead of seeing gender as given entities with a general
relevance take seriously the point that most theorists on practice
theory emphasise: Namely that meaning-in-practice is always
contextual, that meaning – and hence viewpoints, identities and
dispositions – are linked to specific practical settings we can
approach the question of gaming (hence consumption) and
gender in a different and more fruitful way: then we would have to
say that there is no given, generally applicable set of gendered
values but that it varies according to the practical settings in which
the gendering takes place.
Here we need the aide of Wittgenstein. With his term language-game
he frees the issue of meaning (and identity) from grand discourses
and firmly anchors it in practical contexts. It is a radical form of
This also reintroduces the body into the analysis – context-specific
meanings and gender variations must be related to the fact that in
everyday life we operate with a two-sex model
Jo Helle-Valle
Taking seriously the centrality of context/language-game
implies that we must let go of the dominant, yet
unreflected, idea of the individual – that person who is
‘un-divided’, that think and acts according to an
essentially given identity/personality
It should be replaced by a view of subjects as being in
basic ways different depending on the
contexts/language-games they are parts of. Thus, what
counts as gendered gaming (or in a more general vein;
consumption) differ from one context to another and
the patterns of gendering is not guaranteed by
individuality but by institutionalised contexts.
Jo Helle-Valle
1. Gender plays an important role in gaming. But how?
2. Instead of using gender in the grand – but poorly explained –
way we must acknowledge that practice has precedence and see
gender as shifting with shifting contexts.
3. Thus, instead of taking as our starting point given hegemonic
masculinity and femininity we must take an inductive, descriptive
approach and see what masculinity and femininity means in any
given context/language-game.
4. This implies seeing persons as emerging from the tension
between dividual and individual aspects/relations” (LiPuma: 1998
s. 57)
5. Thus every subject is a shifting constellation of feminine and
masculine aspects that shift with, and is patterned by,
communicative contexts, not by individual identities. Analyses of
these shifts and variations must be anchored in the sexed body.
Jo Helle-Valle
Female avatar
Jo Helle-Valle