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Academic Paper


Title: Richard Buttny, Talking Problems: Studies of discursive construction
Author: Bonnie Uriciuoli
Linguistic Field: Not Applicable; Sociolinguistics
Abstract: Richard Buttny, Talking problems: Studies of discursive
construction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.
Pp.ix, 214. Hb $45.00.

Richard Buttney's Talking problems: Studies of discursive
construction addresses the centrality of ordinary talk as a key site
in the construction of human sociality and social reality. He
characterizes talk about problems as a linguistic abstraction from actions
or events that call for solutions. Such discourses have regular patterns
which people routinely deploy as they tell their troubles and seek
solutions to problems. How people structure such talk and position
themselves and others in it provides insight into how those people
identify themselves socially and operate within moral systems. Problems do
not exist independently of the ways in which people perceive and evaluate
both the problem situation and themselves. People position themselves as
good, blameless, likable, and so on through what Buttny calls a
“microlevel rhetoric.” Examination of that rhetoric sheds
light on the interests at stake, since positioning means casting oneself
or another in terms of specific, often moral characterizations (dutiful,
realistic, happy, etc.) which are in turn related to one's membership
category (social role, ethnic identity, etc.). Buttny thus builds on work
in ethnomethodology and conversational analysis to develop a particular
set of methods for the analysis of trouble-telling. He focuses, as he puts
it, on communicative practices, positionings and constructions:
“How problems get interactionally formed and oriented to,
and how interlocutors position themselves in the course of such
problem talk” (p. 9, italics in original). Buttny examines
three areas of trouble-telling: teens talking about being young parents,
therapy talk among clients and their therapist, and talk among college
students about race relations. The book is organized into eight chapters:
an introduction (summarized above) and conclusion, and two main sections
of three chapters each, the first focusing on talking about problems, the
second on reported speech about race.

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This article appears IN Language in Society Vol. 35, Issue 3, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .



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