LINGUIST List 13.1078

Thu Apr 18 2002

Diss: Discourse Analysis: Locher "Interface..."

Editor for this issue: Karolina Owczarzak <karolinalinguistlist.org>


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  1. ml55, Discourse Analysis: Locher "Interface of Power and Politeness..."

Message 1: Discourse Analysis: Locher "Interface of Power and Politeness..."

Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2002 08:18:12 +0000
From: ml55 <ml55georgetown.edu>
Subject: Discourse Analysis: Locher "Interface of Power and Politeness..."


New Dissertation Abstract

Institution: University of Bern
Program: English Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2001

Author: Miriam Anne Locher 

Dissertation Title: 
The Interface of Power and Politeness in Disagreements: An Analysis of
Three Speech Situations

Linguistic Field: Discourse Analysis

Dissertation Director 1: Richard J. Watts
Dissertation Director 2: Gunnel Tottie


Dissertation Abstract: 

This study investigates the interface of power and politeness in
disagreements in three different contexts: (1) a sociable argument in
an informal, supportive and interactive family setting, (2) a business
meeting among colleagues within a research institution, and (3)
examples from public discourse collected during the US Election
2000. The general premise of the study is that the exercise of power
has a potential of occurrence in any kind of setting where two or more
people interact. My focus lies on disagreements and more adversarial
challenges because conflict is inherent in both the exercise of power
and disagreement, and because relational work and politeness
potentially co-occur with both in order to maintain the social
equilibrium between interactants and to negotiate
identities. 

The concept of power is of general interest for almost every branch of
social science. It is of special interest to the field of linguistics
in that language is one of the primary means of its expression. Often
correlated with status and regarded as an influential aspect of
situated speech, the workings of the exercise of power, however, have
rarely been formally articulated. This study provides a theoretical
framework within which to analyze the observed instances of
disagreement and their possible co-occurrence with the exercise of
power and display of politeness. This framework is a combination of a
checklist of propositions that together allow us to operationalize the
concept of power and identify its exercise in naturalistic linguistic
data, and a view of language as socially constructed, in which the
notions of 'face' and 'relational work' come into play.

The exercise of power is identified in disagreements that contain
serious clashes of interest and restrict the addressee's
action-environment, contextualization being key in establishing
whether such an instance has taken place. Both power and politeness
(defined as marked relational work), thus, require a qualitative
analysis. The fact that both higher- and lower-status interactants
exercise power confirms the assumption that power needs to be regarded
as dynamic, relational and contestable. The degree of negotiability,
however, depends on the degree of reification of the interaction and
the participants' status. Factors identified as influencing the
realization and perception of disagreement include the topic's degree
of controversialness, the interactants' familiarity and involvement
with the topic, their speaking style, cultural background, knowledge
of frames and gender. Any of these factors or a combination of them
can lead an interactant to intend or perceive a disagreement as
constituting an exercise of power, either accompanied by relational
work in its marked (polite) or unmarked version, or by no relational
work at all. While relational work can accompany the exercise of power
in disagreements, it does not have to. If present, it can be offered
not only by the interactant exercising power, but also by other
participants of the interaction. Moreover, the exercise of power does
not have to be softened during or immediately following its
realization, although such a display of relational work can occur at a
later stage during the interaction as well. Consideration of the
dynamics of a given situation is thus essential to analysis, since
either these dynamics themselves can lead to the exercise of power or
because relational work linked to a previous exercise of power may
surface at a much later stage. In sum, the general premise that the
exercise of power has a potential for occurrence in any kind of
situation where two or more people interact is supported by the data
analyzed.

Keywords: power, politeness, disagreement, conflict, relational work,
family, workplace interaction, political interview, Election 2000,
presidential debate, US Supreme Court
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