The interactional construction of desire as gender


  • Scott Kiesling University of Pittsburgh



sexuality, desire, alignment, masculinities, discourse


Recently there have been spirited debates about the role of desire in the study of language, gender and sexuality – debates largely centred around the publication of Cameron and Kulick’s (2003) volume, Language and Sexuality. In the present paper, I address two important questions arising from this debate: defining evidence of desire in interaction, and the relationship of this ‘interactional desire’ to gender and masculinities more specifically. First, I argue for a definition of desire that goes beyond sexual desire, in a direction indicated by Cameron and Kulick; following Whitehead (2002:205-221), I suggest that another kind of desire that we should think about (in addition to interpersonal desire) is ontological desire -- essentially the desire to have or emulate qualities of a particular identity. Second, I use the notion of alignment to discover interactants ‘doing’ desire of different types in interaction. Finally, I argue that these alignments and how they are accomplished are not a separate part of masculine (and other gender) constructions of performances, but are at the centre of such identities. I use three excerpts, selected for their likelihood to have desire as an issue in the speech event, to illustrate these points.

Author Biography

Scott Kiesling, University of Pittsburgh

Scott F. Kiesling is Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh. His work in language and gender has focused primarily on language and masculinities, drawing on data from fraternity men, including a 2004 article on the address term dude. He has also worked on language and ethnic identity in Sydney, Australia, and language and place identity in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He has more recently been focusing on developing the notion of stance as a way of connecting discourse and variation approaches to sociolinguistics. He is the author of Linguistic Variation and Change (University of Edinburgh Press 2011), is also the co-editor of Intercultural Discourse and Communication: The Essential Readings (Blackwell-Wiley, 2004), and the forthcoming Handbook of Intercultural Discourse and Commmuncation.


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How to Cite

Kiesling, S. (2011). The interactional construction of desire as gender. Gender and Language, 5(2), 213–239.