Whereas Igor Kopytoff (this volume) develops his terms of existential role identity and role-based identity to explore differences between cultures, Alice Schlegel proposes a related but different set of analytical terms to deal with contradictions in the meaning of gender within a culture.
Using as her ethnographic example the Hopi of the Southwestern United States, she demonstrates the applicability of an analytic schema that posits two levels of meaning of gender. The first level she characterizes as general: "what women and men are in an abstract sense." The second level is that of the specific: "the definition of gender according to a particular location in the social structure or within a particular field of action." The usefulness of this distinction lies in its ability to clarify situations, not all that uncommon in anthropology, where general and specific meanings of gender are at odds.
By applying this distinction to the Hopi she reconciles a puzzling contradiction: how to account for "the public ritual mocking and teasing between groups classified as brothers and sisters" within a culture where the respect between cross-sex siblings is an overwhelming daily reality. Adopting a situational approach to gender meanings discloses points of structural tension in a society. For the Hopi it uncovers the area of concern (brothersister incest) that is symbolically rejected by these specific derogatory rituals.