Review of Analysing Citizenship Talk
EDITORS: Heiko Hausendorf; Alfons Bora
TITLE: Analysing Citizenship Talk
SUBTITLE: Social positioning in political and legal decision-making process
SERIES: Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
ANNOUNCED IN: http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-861.html
Lelija Socanac, Law Faculty, University of Zagreb, Croatia
The main thread bringing contributions by different authors together is a
sociolinguistic interest in forms of citizen participation in the context
of modern biotechnology. Thus, citizen participation is discussed with
respect to various communicative processes in which it is manifested in
discourse in an effort to make clear the theoretical, methodological and
empirical implications that go along with such an approach. The book
presents results of an interdisciplinary European research project called
PARADYS (Participation and the Dynamics of Social Positioning), funded by
the European Commission. The project consortium included sociological and
linguistic research teams from Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands,
Sweden, the UK and Germany and was coordinated by the editors. The
contributions comprise papers that were read at the first international
project conference which was held in order to clarify the theoretical
concept of the project and its methodological basis. The conference took
place at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at the University of
Bielefeld (Germany) in 2000. Differences between the papers with respect to
the style of formulation, argumentation and presentation stem from the
nature of this international and interdisciplinary project which mark the
nature of such a project and its different points of view and different
The book deals with participatory discourse that emerges whenever a
political decision-making process requires the 'public' to be included. It
typically aims at 'citizenship' as a mode of including people in the
political system that goes beyond the formal mechanisms of representative
democracy in favor of 'good governance'. Participatory discourse comprises
a broad variety of communicative events, such as debating between experts,
politicians and the public, written objections and/or letters from
concerned citizens, frequently asked questions pages on governmental
websites, face-to-face interaction or media communication, formal and
informal gatherings, local meetings or gatherings of focus groups. The book
takes a first step towards the sociolinguistic exploration of this field of
discourse, including the analysis of theoretical, methodological, and
empirical aspects. As to the empirical aspect, the research presented is
restricted to the study of a single specific local public meeting between
citizens, experts and applicants which took place in the late 1990's in a
small town in Northern Germany in response to a planned GMO field trial in
the region. The book shows that micro-analytical approaches such as
conversation analysis (CA), critical discourse analysis (CDA) and social
positioning theory (SPT) can fruitfully be applied in a field of research
where law and legal regulation play a major role and which has so far been
mainly a research field for socio-legal and political science.
The concept of communicating citizenship is presented in a threefold way:
theoretical, methodological and empirical. Concerning theoretical aspects,
a communication-oriented view of citizenship and citizen participation is
introduced and discussed. As far as methodological aspects are concerned, a
sociolinguistic grasp of communicated citizenship is developed using
different approaches. Regarding empirical aspects, the form of findings
from concrete data analysis is illustrated by a set of case studies that
follow different aspects of social positioning in citizenship talk.
Accordingly, the book is divided into three parts: Part I.: ''Communicating
Citizenship as Research Subject'', Part II: ''Communicating Citizenship as a
Methodological Challenge'' and Part III: ''Communicating Citizenship in
Discourse: Empirical Aspects''.
Part I begins with the contribution ''Communicating citizenship and social
positioning: theoretical concepts'' written by the editors, Alfons Bora and
Heiko Hausendorf. The concept of communicating citizenship is introduced as
the central subject of research. It is shown that rather different
approaches such as Habermas' theory of deliberative democracy, systems
theory, rational choice and game theory can shed light on the relevance of
procedures for the achievement of citizenship. It is then argued that the
kind of results that can be expected from this theoretical approach can be
presented in terms of communicatively manifested images of self and others.
At this point sociolinguistic approaches towards the manifestation of
roles, standpoints, social voices, positions and identities have to be used
in order to shed light on participatory discourse. Finally, the content of
biotechnology is taken up because of its importance for the study of
participatory discourse. It is shown that the present debate on improving
governance by means of citizen participation is often linked with the claim
to 'democratize' scientific and technological expertise.
The first part of the book includes two other contributions which approach
directly the field of GMO applications in Europe. Alfons Bora, in his
contribution on ''Licensing Plant GMOs – A brief overview over European
regulatory conditions for the deliberate release of genetically modified
plants'', presents the scientific debate about the regulation of so-called
'green' biotechnology and sketches out the European regulatory conditions
of citizen participation in the field of the deliberate release of GMOs.
These conditions can be seen as the political and legal context for the
concrete participation process across different European countries.
The contribution on ''Procedure and participation: A social theoretical
assessment of GM licensing procedures in Ireland and the UK'' by Patrick
O'Mahony and Siobhan O'Sullivan, outlines the characteristics of the GMO
debate, its history in the EU public space and its heuristic relevance for
sociological reflection. Although focusing on the national UK and Irish
contexts, this chapter can be taken as representative for the broader
social background of the issues dealt with in the book.
Part II contains sociolinguistic papers which introduce different
methodical approaches to the analysis of citizenship talk, such as
conversation analysis, critical discourse analysis, social positioning
theory, and speech act theory.
The methodological part is opened by the contribution entitled
''Reconstructing social positioning in discourse: Methodological basics and
their implementation from a conversation analysis perspective'' by the
editors, Alfons Bora and Heiko Hausendorf. Social positioning is introduced
as conversational work with communicative tasks for the participants, with
pragmatic and semantic means to fulfill these tasks and with verbal forms
which manifest these means at the surface level of discourse. Assigning
(persons according to social categories), ascribing (category-specific
properties and modes of behavior) and evaluating (category-specific
ascriptions) are introduced as the basic tasks and it is shown how these
tasks can be fulfilled.
In the chapter on ''Critical Discourse Analysis and citizenship'', Norman
Fairclough, Simon Pardoe and Bronislaw Szerszynski point out that any kind
of relevant research in this field has to be informed about the social and
theoretical preconceptions of citizenship. Rather than adopting one of
these preconceptions or neglecting them completely in favor of naive
empiricism, analysis should be oriented to the tension between these
preconceptions and the actual communicative achievements. Critical
discourse analysis is introduced as a theoretical framework designed to
take up such a challenge. The authors present a threefold distinction
between discourses, genres and styles/voices as a conceptualization of
social and institutional practices. The dimension of discourses is related
to the ways of representing the social world from different perspectives.
The dimension of genres refers to the ways of acting and interacting with
other people according to socially recognizable ways of speaking and
writing. Styles/voices are related to the ways of identifying self and
others according to social and institutional identities. Discourses, genres
and styles/voices are a part of chains of events and texts. They
participate in the intertextuality and interdiscursivity of social and
institutional practices. Introducing such a framework, the authors put
special emphasis on the point that CDA does not offer special forms of
concrete empirical analysis but aims at providing a resource to set up
dialogue between linguistic analysis of text and talk on the one hand, and
sociological and political theory on the other.
Tracey Skillington's contribution entitled ''A critical comparison of the
investigative gaze of three approaches to text analysis'' takes the example
of citizenship to explain the ways in which CA, CDA and SPT account for its
relevance in text and talk. It is shown that CDA primarily aims at making
more visible the presence of ideology in discourse. The investigative gaze
aims at uncovering mechanisms of domination and repression. While CA often
claims to leave the text as it is, to take it as naturally 'complete', CDA
reaffirms the 'fiction of the incomplete text' (Lacan) with regard to the
understanding of text as manifesting 'disorders of discourse' (Wodak). The
SPT approach has a lot in common with CDA, but there are differences as
well. Namely, SPT assumes that there is a mobilization potential inherent
in discourse and allows for a creative use of ideological resources by
In her contribution ''Communicating citizenship in verbal interaction:
Principles of a speech act oriented discourse analysis'', Marina Sbisà
criticizes the view of communicating citizenship as the expression and
transmission of representations of citizenship in terms of cognitive
contents. Instead of asking for mental representations, she argues for
asking 'who is doing what to whom'. Communicating citizenship appears to be
a certain type of interactively produced manifestation of interpersonal
relationships. Interpersonal relationships are then described in terms of
what participants can or should do. Rights and obligations are suggested to
belong to the same domain of communicated deontic modal competences.
Citizenship is viewed as a certain set of deontic modal attributes of
social actors which is in itself affected by the participants'
illocutionary acts. Applying her approach to the data presented in the
annex of the book, Sbisà takes up and redefines Austin's typology of
verdictives, exercitives, commissives and behabitives.
The contribution on ''Communicative involvement in public discourse:
Considerations on an ethnographic inventory and a proposal for the analysis
of modes of citizenship'' by Thomas Spranz-Fogasy seeks to add an
ethnographically oriented approach to those presented before.
'Ethnographical' orientation is understood as a necessary complement to
(linguistic) approaches which draw upon the transcribed (verbal) materials
as the only relevant source for analysis. Ethnographical orientation
implies exploring the framing of the event, participants' points of view,
their motivation and strategies, spatial surrounding, etc. by means of
participant observation, inspection of written materials and interviews.
Beyond the individuality expressed through the participants' physical and
mental presence, there are 'social voices' that are heard which display
arguments, points of view, and implications of engagement. Discourse
profiles are concrete manifestations of what is called the intertextuality
and the chain of discourse events in CDA and SPT traditions.
The third and last part of the book provides empirical analyses of concrete
outcomes of citizenship talk around the planting of GM crops. Referring to
a typical social arena of debate between experts and laypeople,
representatives of involved organizations, and locally concerned citizens,
different aspects of citizenship talk are analyzed. Most of the
contributions refer to the same empirical data, namely an audio-taped and
transcribed local public meeting in Northern Germany that had been
organized by a town committee in order to discuss a field trial of GM crops
in the vicinity. Relevant parts of the transcription of this meeting are
included in the appendix, including an English translation.
In the contribution entitled ''Opening up the public space: On the framing
and re-framing of a discussion meeting about GMO field trials'' by Ingrid
Furchner and Peter Münte, special emphasis is put on the participation of
the (local) public as crucial for the citizenship talk. The emergence of
the public space is a genuine communicative achievement, beginning with the
chairperson's opening talk, but also holding for the ongoing interaction
and its further elements. Like other communicative tasks, the task of
framing is achieved during the entire event. The authors point out that
these (re)framings are part of what is contested between the participants,
namely the relevant concepts of participation according to underlying
images of citizens. In their conclusions, the authors point out that the
different framings and re-framings of the event can be related to the
administrative permitting procedure and its complex way of decision-making.
The contribution ''Personal reference, social categorization and the
communicative achievement of citizenship: Comments on a local public
meeting on GMO field trials'' by Zsuzsanna Iványi, András Kertész, Kornélia
Marinecz and Nóra Máté deals with the linguistic tools that are applied
whenever framings in terms of social categorizations and positioning are
performed. Taking up the CA interest in social categorization according to
members' activities, the authors search for the linguistic forms of
personal reference in terms of which social categorization is manifested.
Special emphasis is put on the ''surface linguistic means'' which the
speakers apply to fulfill the categorization tasks of assigning, ascribing
Jana Holsanova, in her contribution on ''Quotations as a vehicle for social
positioning'', investigates the social functions that make quotations a
preferred means of social positioning. Quotations systematically exploit
the assumption that participants tend to infer social positions from social
voices, so that social positions can be realized without having been named
or introduced explicitly. Quotations are viewed as constructions – more or
less free to vary, to select, and to create what has yet to be demonstrated
as something that has been said before. Furthermore, they are viewed as
voices within the framework of the 'polyphony' of oral discourse. They are,
finally, viewed as a means of social positioning. Due to the extent to
which quotations can be seen as devices to signal that a speaker is
actually borrowing his own voice from other voices, quotations let
intertextuality become a reality of discourse immediately available for
participants. The author points out that this kind of manifest
intertextuality is necessarily accompanied by ''re-contextualization'': what
is said to have been said or written before, is not only re-constructed but
also and even primarily constructed and 'designed' in favor of actual
The contribution by Henrike Padmos, Harrie Mazeland and Hedwig te Molder,
''On doing being personal: Citizen talk as an identity-suspending device in
public debates on GMOs'' explores when and how participants describe
themselves or others as 'citizens'. The authors conclude that speakers can
invoke this category in order to enable the expression of 'private'
thoughts and feelings toward public issues. In doing so, the speaker seems
to be capable of distancing himself from his 'official' identity in terms
of speaking as a representative of an institution or organization.
Citizenship talk can be interpreted as an 'identity suspending device',
i.e. a device which overrides a social position introduced before.
Accordingly, 'citizen' does not represent a social position of its own but
primarily serves to suspend other positions assumed to be already relevant.
Subsequent to the empirical chapters, the materials of the local public
meeting that are dealt with throughout most of the contributions in the
methodological and empirical part of the book, are made available in some
detail. The material is valuable in itself as far as it documents the
particularities of participatory discourse in the case of modern
biotechnology. The book also contains a Name index and a Subject index.
Findings presented in the book are relevant to anyone interested in
political, social and cultural processes from a
linguistic/discourse-analytic point of view. The book is a valuable
contribution to the interdisciplinary fields of research at the interface
between linguistics and social sciences.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Lelija Socanac is Assistant Professor at the Modern Language Department,
Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Croatia. Her research interests
include sociolinguistics, multilingualism, language policy and planning,
language and law.