The Markedness of Identity

This little exchange on Twitter brought to mind a story of when I worked in a Computer Science department.  Out of a staff of about 30 academics, there were two women, and women were in a minority in the student group too.  I guess that sensitised me to gender issues, that and the fact that they seemed to be invisible to many other colleagues.

We had a rather snazzy Lotus Notes Student Record System, written by one of the lecturers.  Of course it was later replaced by a far inferior and more expensive package that the university mandated.  Whilst I loved the way student personal data was integrated with achievement data, helping me when counselling students, there was one aspect that troubled me.

Student class lists were like this:

Brown, Tom

Chaudry, Rabia (Miss)

Downes, Frank

Rashid, Haroon

Smith, Reuben

Yes, you spotted it – gender was signified by title.  If you were a normal male person you just got your name but if you were of the female persuasion you were listed with your title.  This troubled me but when I raised it, I was regarded with incomprehension – what is that woman on about?

Sometime afterwards, I was fascinated to read in a Deborah Tannen book about markedness in the context of linguistics.  She said in a 1993 article

THE TERM “MARKED” IS a staple of linguistic theory. It refers to the way language alters the base meaning of a word by adding a linguistic particle that has no meaning on its own. The unmarked form of a word carries the meaning that goes without saying — what you think of when you’re not thinking anything special.

She went on to point out that the unmarked form of most English words is male , and that when markers are used to denote women, they are not quite serious and often sexual, for example ‘lady’ used to be equivalent to ‘lord’ but seems different when referring to ‘cleaning lady ‘ or ‘little lady’.

Thinking about this in the context of identity, I wondered if markedness was relevant to how we view identity.

How is professional identity conceptualised in education?

[A critical] approach to professional identity formation is based on the assumption that professional identities are shaped by a range of forces and interests, rather than being neutral ad value free.

Trede, F., & McEwen, C. (2012). Developing a Critical Professional Identity. In Practice-based Education. Retrieved from

So, I am wondering about gendered aspects of identity.   Are women more likely to think about identity because it is marked for them? Maybe they aren’t ‘just blogging’.

Please enlighten me you clever people and identity scholars.

Blogs- identity balance and meta homes

Since I retired from full-time employment two years ago, I have been planning to revamp my blog to become my personal web site.  I have had a quiet time for personal reasons but I am finding the new me and I’m ready to reach out a bit more.

One of the things you lose when leaving academia is the web presence you had from your institution.  Another is your institutional email. I couldn’t wait to leave that behind – all those boring emails but I have since found that a email is a key that gains entry to different services and resources. For example, I can have a Google Scholar id but it won’t appear in searches because my email is gmail and ‘Not verified’.


So my plan is as follows

  1. Revamp web site to give open access to what I have done – this means links or pre-print copies of as many papers as I can find.  Fortunately, the Salford repository still has some of my stuff. I am making progress with this.
  2. Broaden my view of ‘what I do’ to include the wider range of activities that I do now that I have more time – there will be knitting! My current thinking is to present these different things via the same blog, but organised so that people can choose where to go.
  3. Once the blog is in shape, move it over to my currently dormant domain

In pursuance of the second part of my plan, I decided to enrol my Twitter network to help me with the concepts and practicalities of having multiple mes on my web site/blog.

This morning I tweeted

Anyone have useful views/comments/examples of hosting multiple facets of identity on one blog? – will summarise responses in blog post

My lovely Twitter network came up trumps.  First, there was an interesting discussion about whether blogs and identity were relevant to each other.


For me, this raised the issue of the markedness of identity, and I have written a post about that .   Then, there was the question of how to balance one’s identity on blog(s) – and do we need a meta-home?

Then there were some very practical suggestions on how to deal with the question of one site – many identities arrangement.  Should that that one site, many blogs, or one blog, many mes.