Grandmother, gran, gangsta granny
semiotic representations of grandmotherhood
Keywords:ageism, corpus, evaluation, grandmothers, images, representation
Age as an important identity dimension has been comparatively neglected within gender studies. Our paper concerns the semiotic representation of a role performed in the main by older women: that of ‘grandmother’, a social category particularly associated with ageing. To explore this, we draw on image banks, corpus data and other texts in order to discuss images, lexical/textual labelling and their intermodal relations. We find in our visual data that grandmothers are contextualised in two ways: sharing semiotic resources of childhood or domestic contexts, or presented as transgressive actors, located in incongruous situations or performing behaviours inappropriate for their ‘age’. Our discussion of corpus data complements the multimodal analyses, providing further examples of stereotyping: while references to individual grandmothers often evaluate positively, there is also strong evidence of generic, figurative and other usages that trivialise and derogate. Our conclusions point to processes of social devaluation: ageism and sexism are the pervasive and underlining ideologies recurrent in these representations. The broader implications are particularly relevant for the present time, as new forms of grandmothering appear.
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