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INDIVIDUAL PROJECT: THEORY APPLICATION:

The goals of this assignment are to (1) give you more familiarity with at least one theory
of communication; (2) give you experience with the application of theory; (3) to allow
you to exercise your critical thinking skills; and (4) help you to prepare for the exam.
Description of Assignment: You are to choose at least 3 examples that adequately depict
(apply) a theory that we have studied in class. During the first week of class, you will be
assigned a specific theory. The examples you provide can be either interpersonal, from
mass media (i.e.: a commercial, advertisement, TV or film, etc.) or something from the
print media. Please note that your examples do not have to depict the entire theory; if you
example is meant to portray only one part/ concept of a theory, that is fine--as long as you
say that. Once you have selected your examples, you will need to post them for the class.
For an interpersonal example, you will likely tell a story of how this theory relates to
your life (or how you saw it function in the life of someone you know, etc.) Thus, you
simply tell the story and then explain how/why it is an application of the theory.
For examples coming from mass media such as TV or film, you will need to describe the
film segment. You may need to provide background information about the file before
detailing the part of the film that is your example. You may describe the example in either
narrative or dialogue form, then explain how the theory you have chosen applies to the
video clip. A third way to post an example is if you can find your example on a web site
and post the link for the class to visit. Again, you must provide background information
and then explain the relevance of this example.
Think of yourself as the Teaching Assistant. It is your job to provide examples to the class
that go along with the theories on which we are currently lecturing. I'm sure many of you
can relate to the fact that it is much easier to (1) understand and (2) retain information
when you have to apply it.
In addition to posting your examples (there will be a designated area for posting these),
you need to be available throughout the week to respond to questions and comments
posted by your classmates about your examples.
Chapter 28: Muted Group Theory - Individual Project - Martin Fall

Muted Group Theory


What is Muted Group Theory?
Muted Group Theory (MGT) states that language systems primarily serve the people they
were created by. Therefore, the experiences of other social groups that were not included
in the creation process are not easily expressed within the frames of the language system.

The voices of those social groups are muted, as they are rendered powerless by the
constraints of their language. For instance, words created by men to describe exclusively
male experiences leave women poorly equipped to express the events and ideas that are
unique to them. West and Turner frame this definition of MGT by comparing women
using man-made words to describe their experiences to English speakers conversing in
Spanish. They engage in an internal translation process and struggle to find the right
words to describe their thoughts. (West & Turner, 2010, p. 484)
Examples of Muted Group Theory
Describing Sexual Promiscuity
Sexual promiscuity exists in both male and female terms, but is defined differently on
both sides of the aisle. The words used to describe male sexually promiscuous behavior
attach a positive connotation to the idea. Think of stud, playboy, gigolo, and player. Now
think of the words used to describe female sexual promiscuity. Slut, whore, hooker, easy,
and harlot all have negative undertones that vilify high sexual activity. This illustrates the
fact that men are the gatekeepers of language, and that words they create are designed to
define their experiences, but also to exert dominance over other groups. While male
sexual promiscuity is condoned, and even celebrated, female sexual promiscuity is
frowned upon and can have serious social consequences. Think of Hugh Hefner, how
unique his story is, and why there is no female counterpart to his persona. Female
virginity is also celebrated, while male virginity is ridiculed.
The Silencing of Women
The movie The Little Mermaid tells the story of Ariel, a mermaid that falls in love with
a man. To be able to join him on land, Arial relinquishes her voice to the powerful witch
Ursula, in exchange for the ability to walk on land. This example illustrates Muted Group
Theory, as Ariel looses her voice as she becomes a part of a culture much different from
her own. The song Poor Unfortunate Souls (n.d.) contains the following 2 verse at the
3:22 3:45 mark:
The men up there don't like a lot of blabber/ They think a girl who gossips is a bore/ Yes,
on land it's much preferred/ For ladies not to say a word/ And after all, dear, what is idle
prattle for?
Come on, they're not all that impressed with conversation/ True gentlemen avoid it when
they can/ But they dote and swoon and fawn/ On a lady who's withdrawn/ It's she who
holds her tongue who gets her man
The songs explain in great detail what is expected of women in society. This process of
silencing is a social understand that all groups of society engage in. The song uses
terms such as blabber, gossip, idle prattle when referring to women, but uses the term
conversation when referring to men. It reinforces the concept that a woman should hold
her tongue to be positively viewed in a culture.

One of the Guys


Women have to adjust to a men dominated workplace by adopting behaviors and
terminology that relate to the male experience. The glass ceiling, a term that describes an
experience that is unique to nondominant groups in the workplace, explains the limited
advancement opportunities experienced by women and minorities. Men dominate the
workplace, and as such, they determine how exchanges and opportunities are conducted
in it. Women often have to engage into an internal translation process to convert their
ideas and experience into male language in order to be heard. Women that succeed in this
task are often described as one of the guys. Successful women that have learned to
navigate the waters of male controlled language systems include Hillary Clinton and
Condoleezza Rice. When women outperform men in the workplace, they are often
referred to as one of the guys. This diminishes their accomplishments, and leads to the
phenomenon of silencing that we describe below.
The Origins of Muted Group Theory
MGT is deeply rooted in anthropology. Edwin and Shirley Ardener were social
anthropologists that studied social hierarchy and structure. They believed that the
communication system of a culture was defined by its social elite classes, and that those
that didnt participate in the creation of the language system metaphorically lost their
voices in that system. For example, in the seventies, cultural anthropologists studied
womens experiences such as childbirth and mothering by speaking exclusively to men.
Therefore, women were limited by the constraints of a man-made language, but also by
having their stories told from a mans perspective. Over time, this resulted in women not
expressing, or even thinking those words. Imagine how frustrating it must be to know
how something feels, but not having adequate words to express it to members of society.
(West & Turner, 2010, p. 485-487)
Structure of Muted Groups
Although MGT focuses heavily on women, the theory can be applied to any social group
with lesser power. The dominant group in a culture holds the communication power, and
other groups have to learn to work within its constraints. Nondominant groups have low
access to power, and their voice in the culture become muted. Just like women, racial and
religious minorities, members of the LGBT community, the elderly, and disable people
can be members of muted groups. (West & Turner, 2010, p. 487-488)
Assumptions of Muted Group Theory
1. Men and women perform different tasks in a culture, and they perceive the world
differently because of it.
Women and men see the world differently because of their dissimilar experiences.
The eighteenth century brought the Industrial revolution, and irremediably
shattered the traditional family division of labor. Prior to this, families worked

together and no one was responsible for their financial well being. Families
earned money by selling their cash crops and livestock on the marketplace. The
Industrial revolution gave birth to the concepts of public and private life, and
assigned role to men and women. The men worked in factories, while the women
cared for the children and the home. This division of labor can still be seen in
todays post-modern era, in societies much like our own. (West & Turner, 2010, p.
489-490)
2. Mens political dominance enhances mens system of perception of the world, and
limits womens alternative system of perception from gaining acceptance.
Men dominate society, and their experiences dominate those of women. In other
words, women will have a very hard time describing their experiences in words
and labels created specifically to illustrate the experience of men. Therefore, if
women seem inarticulate, it is because their language systems do not have words
to describe their intimate thoughts and experiences. (West & Turner, 2010, p. 492493)
3. Women have to translate their experiences into male language in order to
participate in society.
Women engage in a translation process so as to actively participate in society. In a
language that is formulated by men and for men, women might seem at a
disadvantage. This burdensome translation process renders them less fluent than
men. The lack of words to describe events and ideas is very harmful, as it prevents
nondominant groups from properly framing their experiences, recognizing the
positive or negative values of those occurrences, and forcing their acceptance into
society. For example, the terms driving while black, date rape and sexual
harassment all refer to very real experiences and their being recognizes their
importance. Prior to their existence, nondominant groups were often reduced to
silence, or frustrated in their failed attempts to explain these concepts to dominant
groups. (West & Turner, 2010, p. 491-492)
The Process of Silencing
MGT asserts that members of nondominant groups are forced into silence, and that this
process is a socially shared event. Such a phenomenon can only occur when both
dominant and nondominant groups agree on who has power and who doesnt in a culture.
This social understanding is in no way coercive. It is a mutually agreed upon division of
power, that is systematically maintained through the use of methods that ridicule,
ritualize, or harass nondominant groups. By ridiculing the expressions of women, men
trivialize and belittle their concerns. Think of terms like nagging, gossiping, chatty
Cathy, whining, etc. Ritualizing behaviors that silence or subjugate nondominant groups
is another method of instituting silence. Think of a traditional marriage ceremony and the
giving away of the bride. In this part of the ritual, a man gives away a woman to another
man. The last method of silencing discussed by West and Turner (2010) is harassment. By
engaging in harassing behavior in public spaces and in the workplace, men verbally

encourage women to remain in the domestic sphere, further subjugating them. (West &
Turner, 2010, p. 493-496)
Strategies of Resistance
MGT is a critical theory, and as such, aims to alter the status quo and bring about change.
Houston and Kramarae (1991) offer several viable solutions to this problem. First,
naming the strategies of silence makes them more available for discussion. Second,
embracing trivial discourse recognizes the forums of expression afforded to women.
Third and last, the creation of a new and more representative language to capture
womens experiences will largely enhance their power in society. Language is about
power, and a more inclusive language will more evenly distribute that power across all
the groups of the culture that it serves. (West & Turner, 2010, p. 496-497)
Integration, Critique, and Closing
MGT is a controversial theory, and as such has many disbelievers. The theory has been
criticized for not being useful, and not being sufficiently incorporated into empirical
study.
References
Poor Unfortunate Souls (English) [Video file]. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyFVG4VfPmg
West, R. L., & Turner, L. H. (2010). Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and
Application. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.