Conceptualizing Sexual Harassment as Discursive Practice

Conceptualizing Sexual Harassment as Discursive Practice

Conceptualizing Sexual Harassment as Discursive Practice

Conceptualizing Sexual Harassment as Discursive Practice


This is an interdisciplinary approach to sexual harassment that examines the meaning of concepts such as discourse, power, ideology, sexuality, and abuse. The essays explore discursive practice as a way of understanding sexual harassment, how it is normalized and sustained, how it may be contested and challenged, and how it may be studied. In giving voice to discursive frameworks and encouraging debate among authors with differing ideas, Bingham provides readers with a rich array of viewpoints and readings to consider in their own thinking about sexual harassment, both as a social practice and as a topic of research. Rather than attempting to provide resolution or draw conclusions, this volume challenges scholars to begin the process of re-forming conceptual perspectives for sexual harassment research and activism. Although questioning our understandings of sexual harassment and discursiveness is unsettling and difficult, it is necessary in order to instigate change in both ourselves as social actors and in,our research of human behavior.


Shereen G. Bingham

By clarifying that which we oppose, we set the groundwork for creating a vision of that for which we long.

--M. Westkott, 1983, p. 212

Over the past two decades researchers have been sketching a portrait of sexual harassment that is becoming more detailed. We have learned what behaviors seem to comprise sexual harassment, how victims typically respond, and what negative effects sexual harassment has on individuals and institutions. We have established that a number of variables influence perceptions and evaluations of sexual harassment, and that a victim's perceptions are considered by many to be more important than a harasser's intent. We also recognize gender and power as central in sexual harassment, and that harassers often, but do not necessarily, have more formal authority than their victims. Given all that we seem to know about sexual harassment, we may wonder why we have not had more success in dealing with it. Men continue to harass women sexually with alarming frequency, and the typical solutions (e.g., saying "no" or filing a complaint) have not proven very helpful.

Clearer understanding of sexual harassment, how it keeps happening, and the ways it might be stopped may require us to develop different ways of understanding the phenomenon and, with that, alternative ways of studying and responding to it. It may be prudent for those who study sexual harassment to step back at this juncture in our work so that we may assess where we have been and why we went there and so we may reflect on alternative directions we might pursue. Scholars might ask what we have learned from two decades . . .

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