I am not entirely convinced of the validity of describing ÒAmerican WomanÓ by a small sampling of southern college women. Furthermore, deriving a 'taken-for-granted' world on the basis of a collection of interviews seems a situation ripe for bias. What makes my suspicions even higher is the complete lack of any mention of 'deviant' interviews--interviews which do not lie in the world sketched out in the paper. One would be hard pressed to find a collection of students on any campus which assumed the same workings in society; part of the suffering and games in peoples interactions come directly from their mismatched assumptions.
But backing away from this, and looking at the picture as a extremely general sketch of heterosexual southern college students as interpreted by some collection of observers which had a great deal of lee-way in their interpretations, we see an interesting ideaÑthe use of keywords (jock, geek, babe, etc.) to encapsulate large ideas and valuations. But this idea itself seems a bit obvious; words themselves are place holders for ideas. One could argue then that we are looking for the meaning, the common understanding, of these keywords, and in this level I do agree the paper has done a good job in categorizing a collection of words used to describe people. The idea of these words tapping into a collective experience only definable by anecdotes and stories is feasible and likely, given an extremely narrow focus--e.g. a single college campus. However, it is undetermined how extensible these findings are.
Another thrust of the paper is an attempt to find out what 'American Woman' (e.g. southern college students from a single campus) value in men through an analysis of language. Clustering all words used for men and then looking at the axis of the space they are clustered could possibly determine the essential pulse on what woman value. The language covers what is important; just as in the Inuites having twenty words for snow, woman will have many words for men, and those words will only capture what woman find is important in men. This could be possible, but a few problems need to be addressed first. The first is the language bleed between the woman's camp and the men's camp(1). Men's general definition of 'jock' could differ from woman's definition and thus there will be some merging as these two genders do communicate upon occasion. Thus these womanÕs perspective axes of valuation could be skewed. A second problem is the speed of language driftÑthis was briefly discussed with the subject of how the word 'feminist' fits into the picture. Another problem is the dataÕs variance; individuals might have different personal definitions for their words which could shift the categorical axes for them, but these differences might have been averaged out in the result of the study. This effect was not addressed, and is therefore unknown. I find this a lack; when analyzing interactions of a subset of a community, it seems risky to analyze using the average options or definitions of the entire set.
In whole, however, the paper did raise the interesting possibility of deriving what is significant to people through an analysis of the span of their language. Whether this is more effective than asking directly is up in the air, but certainly the argument of the sinister subconscious, and the reluctance of people to face their fundamental drives of selfishness, etc., is a powerful one, and thus such studies as this should not be abandoned entirely. They should simply be a bit more meek and critical of their findings.
(1) Since we are playing in the land of heterosexuality, we might as well go whole-hog here.