Gender and Discourse in the Academies Bill 2010 Debates

Gender and Discourse in the Academies Bill 2010 Debates

While analysing the debates around the Academies Bill 2010 as part of a larger piece, I noticed a striking difference between male and female speakers (MPs). Below are my preliminary findings…

For context, around half-a-million words – all drawn from the House of Commons debates on the Academies Bill (2010) – were analysed using Alceste, a computer-assisted textual analysis (CATA) program. I was primarily looking at party-based differences in discourse, however I also coded each utterance according to the MPs’ gender.

The below correspondence analysis graphs provide an illustration of how stark the gendered differences appear prima facie. In the first graph, which represents the entire dataset, there are significant gender differences across both axes, with female members of the house clustering around A2: the class of discourse with the highest concentration of deliberation around substantive (as opposed to procedural) matters (corroborating the findings of Bicquelet et al. (2012: 95)), such as inequality and standards.

Correspondence graph for the entire corpus. Gender tags highlighted red.

The corpus composed of only Labour party utterances shows a similarly stark horizontal and vertical disparity between genders, while gender differences are distinguished in the Coalition-only corpus predominantly along the vertical axis*. Regardless, both C3 and L3, with which female members’ utterances correlate more strongly with than males, represent the aforementioned substantive debates, such as on Special Educational Needs (SEN), inequalities, and attainment.

Correspondence graph showing Labour’s utterances only.
Correspondence graph showing only Conservative MPs’ utterances.

Along with raising and deliberating different types of issues, there may be tentative evidence that female members use different discursive frames in which they debate such topics. For example, L2.2 represents the language of ‘parents and children’, which is a way of talking about actors, as opposed to a topic of debate in itself. This class is strongly related to female members of the Labour party, as opposed to male members who are closer to L3, which uses the language of ‘bodies’ and ‘assets’ more noticeably.

These tentative results could be explained by other differences within the Commons and within parties, such as the frontbench-backbench divide. Further, a disparity in the number of female MPs and utterances also means a more nuanced methodology would need to be applied with the specific task of uncovering gendered differences in speech in mind. Nonetheless, further research into this – especially within the realm of education policy, given its linkages to the feminised nature of child-rearing – would be interesting.


* Perhaps due to the circular nature of the depicted correspondence space.

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