AUTHOR: Pepin, Nicolas
TITLE: Identités Fragmentées
SUBTITLE: Eléments pour une Grammaire de l'Identité
SERIES: Sciences pour la Communication
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang
Fred Dervin, University of Turku, Finland
This book is derived from Nicolas Pepin's doctoral thesis. His purpose in
writing this book is to study the identities of French people who live in
Switzerland through a praxeological analysis. Pepin's book brings together
research on membership categorization analysis (influenced by the work of Harvey
Sacks) and conversation analysis. The following specific research question is
addressed: how do French migrants in Switzerland express, construct and support
their memberships in interaction with a researcher and other participants?
The book has two clearly set aims:
- To familiarize French-speaking readers with membership categorization analysis
(the author claims that it has been used extensively in The German and
Anglophone research worlds).
- To identify interaction devices through which identity is revealed and
managed; through his analysis, the author intends to define and propose a
grammar of identity.
The book comprises seven chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. Each
chapter ends with a summary. Following a foreword to the book (which sets the
objectives), a detailed overview of the recording devices as well as the
transcription conventions used in the book is presented.
In the introduction, Pepin sets about defining and describing various approaches
to identity that inspired his methodology: cultural and linguistic anthropology
(Gumperz, Heller, inter alia), linguistic ethnomethodology (E. Gülich), Acts of
identity (LePage & Tabourt-Keller), Sprachidentität. The author also positions
his research within the paradigms of situated identity and
identity-in-interaction (i.e. the subject is constantly constructing who he is
in collaboration with his interlocutors). The subtitle of the book, Eléments
pour une grammaire de l'identité ('towards a grammar of identity'), is explained
as follows: ''the presence of recurring linguistic forms and devices used by
speakers to activate, manage and show identities'' (p. 13, my translation).
Chapter one provides a synopsis of the methods put to use in analyzing 'identity
work' in the book. The first section describes the corpus which is based on
twelve interviews with French nationals who settled in the French-speaking part
of Switzerland. The interviews were led in dyads, in triads or in groups. The
rest of the chapter covers the specifics of the research interview (activities,
participants and situated identity), biographical interviews and interactive
narratives. About the latter, Pepin criticizes the canonical structural forms of
narratives (e.g. Labov), based on the Aristotelian model, as he argues that
narratives are a complex blending of activities and sequences taking place in
specific contexts of interaction.
Chapter two focuses on the praxeological approach. The chapter aims at
''reconciling'' membership categorization analysis and conversation analysis
(derived from ethnomethodology) by examining the links between sequentiality and
categorization. The chapter presents the criticisms that conversation analysists
have addressed to membership categorization analysis. Most of the chapter is
devoted to Sacks' membership categorization analysis, the works of his
followers, and concepts such as ''categorization devices''.
Chapter three tackles the central issues of identity and the subject. Following
Quéré (1988), Pepin argues that the subject is situated and biographical. In a
similar vein, identity is characterized as being both functional (operational)
andcontextual, as well as stable through time in social interaction. The notions
of transportability, discourse and situated identities, inspired by D.H.
Zimmerman's work (1998), are also discussed to show how expectable, visible and
recognizable clues can contribute to the categorization of people. The chapter
ends with a review of Paul Ricoeur's well-known theory of narrative identity. At
the end of this chapter, the author argues that 'identity work' and narratives
should be treated carefully, as other co-constructed activities take place and
impact the images put forward in interviews.
Chapter four is devoted to the specific elements used in the analysis. Pepin
starts by reminding us how he sees identity and redefines his grammar of
identity. Following a section on various linguistic, paraverbal, non-verbal, or
spatial elements through which categorizations can take place, an account of
linguistic forms (nomination/identification) and categorization procedures
(stabilization/dynamization; stereotyping…) is outlined, sometimes illustrated
with examples. The final section (''Attester des identities'', 'vouching for
identities') deals with intersubjective devices, which can allow formulation and
reformulation, categorization and re-/de-categorization of memberships. These
include, among others, the enunciative multiplicity of 'I', reported speech,
category affiliation, double categorization, typicality, etc.
The grammar of identity proposed by the author is presented through the analysis
of the interviews in the next three chapters.
Chapter 5 offers an analysis of what the participants consider as ''Swiss-French''
and how they insert the words septante, huitante and nonante in their speech
(70-80-90 in Swiss-French as opposed to soixante-dix, quatre-vingt and
quantre-vingt dix in ''French'' French). Pepin shows that their use of these words
is not neutral as they serve emotional purposes and impact on the situated
identities in the interviews. The end of the chapter proposes a synthesis of the
strategies to which these devices seem to lead. For example: to prove expertise
on the target community, to contribute to the dynamization of categorizations,
to show that one can belong to two groups, etc.
Chapter 6 looks at the role of accents in the construction of identities. It is
clear, from Pepin's analysis, that accents in one language do allow categorizing
people, be they participants in the act of interaction or 'absent third
parties'. In addition, Pepin shows that accents have an imitative function as
they are used in interaction to document and authenticate various accents; but
also to caricaturize and dramatize them.
In chapter 7, Pepin tells us that the research participants do not use
categorizing _migr_-forms in the interviews. Yet various discourse activities
that serve the same purposes were identified by the author in all the interviews
and are referred to as contributing to 'the arrival mechanism' (le dispositif
d'arrivée). These activities are mainly related to the participants' narratives
on their arrival in Switzerland, which are not systematically initiated by the
interviewer. As such, when they talk about their arrival, they categorize and
construct identities, by activating, rejecting and authenticating membership
categories in the cooperative processes which take place during the interviews.
In this chapter, Pepin analyzes dyad interviews (7.1), then triad interviews
(7.2) and group interviews (7.3) and shows that similar phenomena occur during
these different settings.
The last pages of the book recap and clarify the components of the grammar of
identity suggested throughout the book. A list of eight research perspectives
closes the book.
The strengths of this book can be seen in the following areas:
- The book is well written and has a very clear structure (each chapter is
systematically concluded by a summary). Even though the summaries in chapters 5,
6 & 7 could have been organized otherwise for the sake of clarity, they can
serve as easy check-up lists for comparing one's own results.
- As few books in French linguistics have been devoted to researching the
expression and (co-)construction of identity in (short-/long-term) migration,
Pepin's contribution on this topic is enormous. Many researchers have used
methods based on what is called the inter-/culturalist approach, which tends to
reduce migrants to categories pre-established by themselves, turning them into
''robots programmed with 'cultural' rules'' (Abu-Lughod, 1991: 158). As Pepin
positions his research within the body of existing research on situated
identity/postmodern paradigms, this misconception is avoided and should serve as
an example. The context chosen by Pepin is relevant as he looks at the case of
French migrants in French-speaking Switzerland, which allows him to show that
sharing a mother tongue can also imply identifying through differences (accents,
word forms, etc.). More about the general position of French migrants in
Switzerland could have been included though.
- The association of Membership categorization analysis and conversation
analysis is very appealing and opens up new vistas for researching migrants'
experiences. Both domains are well presented and problematized in the book,
which makes it accessible enough for students or researchers working on, e.g.,
intercultural communication in quest of new research methods.
- The methodological sections of the book are clear and well argued for. The
fact that the author chose a corpus made up dyad, triad and group interviews
must be lauded as research of this type usually resort to one form of interaction.
- Generally speaking, a convincing case is made that the use of certain words,
but also the ways of inserting others' discourses in one's own, contributes to
constructing identities. The chapter on accents (chapter 6) is very good as it
can complement, e.g., studies on language attitudes (cf. Giles and Billings,
2004), which are much needed as mobility increases. Chapter 5 which was devoted
to the use of 70-80-90, though less convincing than chapter 6, is interestingly
Notwithstanding these strengths, I have a few reservations concerning the
- First of all, the subtitle of the book and the central concept of grammar of
identity frustrates because this idea seems incompatible with the central
paradigm of the book. Though I understand Pepin's main point, to me, a grammar
tends to present what is to be preferred and avoided in e.g. syntax. A grammar
of identity (NB: identity is in the singular in the subtitle) can neither
decipher the complexities of the construction of identity (which Pepin
emphasizes throughout the book) nor can it help to ''deprogram'' all acts of
identity (cf. the chameleon use of the pronoun ''on'' in French, which can be
translated as one, you, they, people, etc. in English). A similar idea has been
used in some branches of intercultural communication through the concept of
grammar of cultures, and it has led to the unethical and so-called objective
imposition of cultural characteristics to individuals.
- This leads me to my second criticism. First, and I borrow this from Brubaker
and Cooper (2000): why stick to the concept of identity (from the contraction of
the Latin idem and idem, which means same and same) when researchers such as
Stuart Hall or Michel Maffesoli have suggested using the term identification,
which permits rendering the unstable and unprogrammatic nature of identity?
Second, the choice of references in chapter 3 on the subject and identities
(e.g. the author says he ''recycles'' from Quéré, 1998 in his first section) is
astonishing. Further interdisciplinarity was needed here as mention of recent
sociological, anthropological, and psychological contributions from, e.g., M.
Maffesoli, Z. Bauman, U. Hannerz, T. Sarbin, etc. would have certainly improved
this chapter. Also, a look at how identity has been dealt with in recent
linguistics literature based on narrative studies and identity (de Fina et al.,
2006) but also positioning theories (Bamberg, 2003) could have also been useful.
- My last criticism concerns the method used by the author. Though I deeply
respect conversation analysists, I feel that the excerpts used by Pepin are
sometimes far too long (ex. pp. 263-268) and that the detailed descriptions and
analyses of the excerpts were not always justified as it was hard sometimes to
see the relevance of it all.
On the whole, N. Pepin has done a good job by contributing to the very important
topic of identification in migration and by spotlighting it on the
French-speaking scene. The research perspectives on which the book closes are
thought provoking and can appeal to anyone in need of inspiration for
interesting new research questions.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. (1991) Writing against culture. In Fox, Richard G., ed.
_Recapturing anthropology: working in the present_. Santa Fe: School of American
Research Press, 137-162.
Bamberg, Michael. (2003) Positioning with Davie Hogan – Stories, Tellings and
Identities. In Daiute, Colette & Cynthia Lightfoot, eds. _Narrative analysis:
Studying the development of individuals in society_. London: Sage, 135-157.
Brubaker, Rogers & Frederick Cooper. (2000) Beyond 'identity'. _Theory and
Society_, 29, 1-47.
De Fina, Anna, Deborah Schiffrin & Michael Bamberg, eds. (2006). _Discourse and
identity_. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
Giles, Howard & Andres C. Billings. (2004) Assessing language attitudes: speaker
evaluation studies. In Davies, Alan & Catherine Elder, eds. _The handbook of
Applied Linguistics_. Oxford: Blackwell.
Quéré, Louis. (1988) Entre apologie et destitution: une conception émergentiste
du sujet pratique. In Vion, Robert, ed. _Les sujets et leurs discours.
Enonciation et interaction_. Aix-en-provence: Université de Provence. 117-133.
Zimmerman, Don H. (1998) Identity, context and interaction. In Antaki, Charles &
Sue Widdicombe (eds.) _Identities in talk_. London: Sage. 87-106.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Fred Dervin is Senior Lecturer in French Studies at the University of Turku,
Finland. He specializes in discourse analysis (théories de l'énonciation,
dialogicality), the expression and construction of identity in intercultural
contexts, and the didactics of modern foreign languages and interculturality.