LINGUIST List 25.2454

Thu Jun 05 2014

Review: Discourse Analysis; Sociolinguistics: Kádár (2013)

Editor for this issue: Mateja Schuck <>

Date: 03-Jan-2014
From: Sukriye Ruhi <>
Subject: Relational Rituals and Communication
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Dániel Zoltan Kádár
TITLE: Relational Rituals and Communication
SUBTITLE: Ritual Interaction in Groups
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Sukriye Ruhi, Middle East Technical University

‘Relational Rituals and Communication’ can be viewed as the full-blown
product of Kádár’s longstanding interest in linguistic rituals and
ritualization (e.g., Kádár, 2007). The monograph is theoretical in orientation
and argues for a discursive and relational approach to researching
constructive and destructive rituals in interpersonal communication. It
illustrates the approach with data drawn from both written and spoken language
in a variety of social contexts and languages. Drawing on insights and
concepts from various fields such as anthropology, cultural history,
(im)politeness, and psychology, the book offers an innovative perspective on
how people (re-)create their interpersonal relationships through ritual acts.
With this work, Kádár aims to

- offer a discursive, relational perspective on the ritual aspects of
communication, particularly in the context of in-group social networks,
- examine how ritual relational practices shape discourse and our relations
with people,
- show that rituals and ritualization are wider in scope in interpersonal
communication, both in terms of the ‘unit’ of the ritual act and in terms of
the social contexts in which rituals are performed.

Chapter One opens with the book’s motivation, and presents preliminaries for
its relational and discursive approach to rituals and rituality in language
use and interaction. It highlights the book’s scope as a study on relational
rituals primarily in in-group social networks, and situates the relational
approach against the background of traditional approaches to rituals such as
in the foundational work of Durkheim (1912/1995). Contrary to the idea that
interaction in contemporary Western societies is characterized by
deritualisation (e.g., Burke, 2005), Kádár argues that rituality in language
use is very much a part of both Western and Eastern societies, albeit in
different forms. The author defines and describes the characteristics of
relational ritual in the following manner: “Relational ritual is a
formalised/schematic, conventionalized and recurrent act, which is
relationship forcing, i.e. by operating it reinforces/transforms in-group
relationships. “Ritual is realized as an embedded (mini-)performance
(mimesis), and this performance is bound to relational history (and related
ethos), or historicity in general (and related social ethos). Ritual is an
emotively invested affective action, as anthropological research has shown”
(pp. 11-12).

Chapter One continues with a discussion of the data and the data analytic
methodology employed in the study. Kádár underscores that the discursive
approach necessitates the analysis of “longer stretches of interaction” (p.
14), to observe how rituals are deployed in interaction. The discursive
methodology is complemented by a look at the data from both participant and
theoretical perspectives. In line with this approach, the author utilizes data
from diverse languages (English, Hungarian and Chinese), comprising
conversations with his family and friends, “post-event interviews” (p. 18),
computer-mediated communication, historical epistolary discourse, and literary

Chapter Two presents the theoretical framework and expands on the features of
relational rituals. The first two features identified in the definition of
relational rituals are their “formalised/schematic and conventionalised”
nature and their recurrence. Kádár places relational rituals within the
innermost circle of three concentric circles comprising (linguistic) acts that
have relatively fixed forms. Ordered from the outermost towards to innermost,
these are: Schematic acts, conventional relational acts, and ritual relational
acts. Schematic acts are defined as “pre-existing forms of behaviour used in
recurrent ways that are readily recognisable to members” (p. 25). Relational
rituals share with schematic acts their reference to the relational history of
the interactants and their possible lack of transparency to the outsider.
Conventional relational acts form the next level of the inner circle. These
are acts that pertain to relating and may operate in both societal and
in-group networks. They create normative expectancies and acquire fixed
pragmatic meanings for the group in question (p. 42). While relational rituals
are also conventionalised, they are distinguished by an emphasis on “mimetic
performance” (ibid.). Kádár describes the central feature of mimetic
performance as the enactment and re-enactment of “certain beliefs and values”
(p. 45). Ritual practice thereby co-constitutes relations in a ‘ritual
moment’. Quoting Koster (2003: 219), Kádár states that the ritual moment
creates “a temporary destruction of awareness of the wider meaningful
relations of one’s individuality and the reduction of the self to the
immediate experience of the here and now” (p. 48). Performance is central to
the understanding of ritual in the book, and I give one example below to
illustrate a number of recurring themes in the argumentation: how rituals may
‘neutralise’ to a convention or disappear; how they may crucially depend on
relational history; how they may interface with politeness; and how they
differ in the extent of their possibility of being recognised by outsiders to
a relational network.

During his stay in Taiwan, the author went to martial art training sessions
every day, where he became friends with a Taiwanese who was attending a
Chinese chef school and who was keen to talk about Chinese recipes and advise
the author on what Chinese dishes to taste. It became the author’s habit to
greet his friend with the question “What do we need to eat today?” uttered in
Chinese. The greeting enhances the “Taiwanese person’s professional identity
as a chef” and thus has politeness value for the interactants (p. 41). But it
also displays a performance value as it harks back to their conversations
about Chinese food. In this respect the utterance is not transparent as an
in-group conventionally polite act of greeting to an outsider. However, the
author remarks that the greeting lost its ritual value in time and “was
responded to with a standard ‘Hi’ and ... was normatively expected to occur”
(p. 43). He cautions, however, that ritual value may be different for the
participants in an interaction.

The focus of Chapter Three is on the constructive and discursively organised,
fixed formal and functional properties of in-group rituals and network
identity formation, which may rely on in-group ethos and topics that are
significant for the network. In this chapter Kádár draws here on both e-mail
and historical Chinese epistolary discourse. He underscores that besides
network identity formation, rituals allow people to “act beyond social
conventions” (p. 62) and thereby prevent offence.

Chapter Four develops a typology of relational rituals based on their
visibility to outsiders rather than the size of the network. Ordered with
respect to transparency from the least to the most transparent, these are
covert, personal, in-group, and social rituals. The first type includes
rituals that are described in psychology as compulsive (delusional) rituals
which relate the performer to imaginary entities (e.g. imaginary relatives) or
compulsive behaviour (e.g. touching people several times when they touch the
performer). Covert rituals may evoke negative evaluations and be considered
unconventional for network insiders and outsiders. Irrespective of the
evaluation, Kádár notes that they assist “social ‘survival’” (p. 89). Personal
rituals, on the other hand, are more likely to conform to network expectancies
(e.g. praying). Significantly, covert rituals may become personal rituals if
they are not negatively evaluated (e.g., talk between parents and children on
imaginary entities). Similarly, if taken up by the in-group, personal rituals
may become in-group rituals. The author notes that the last two types also
differ in terms of accessibility. Yet another difference between in-group and
social rituals concerns their lifespans such that the former is more likely to
disappear if the relational network no longer exists.

The cognitive dimension of relational rituals is further examined in Chapter
Five with respect to their recognition in interaction and to their affective
value. Regarding the noticing of rituals, Kádár argues that rituals may rise
from “consciousness” to “awareness” through the performer’s reflexive
awareness that the ritual may be more noticeable to other participants. From
the perspective of the participant, the ritual may become “marked” if it is
counter to expectations or if the participant’s “interactional situation”
changes (p. 110). Based on this terminology, the author mainly discusses how
rituals may be (strategically) brought from unmarked consciousness to marked
awareness to effect relational outcomes (e.g. avoiding relational tension and
giving face). Following earlier work, Kádár describes emotion as an “internal
response” and affection as a “process of social interaction”, which produces
emotion. While short-term emotions may be tied to interaction per se,
long-term emotions produced by rituals concerns feelings of relatedness and
are referred to as affectivity/affection (pp. 114, 125, 197). The author
underscores that emotion in ritual may not have a means-ends pattern and that
they may fluctuate during the interaction itself.

Chapter Six investigates destructive rituals, which are defined as acts that
stigmatise a person and corrupt the relationship. The analysis shows that some
forms of impoliteness also occur in destructive rituals, with the difference
that destructive rituals are recurrent phenomena. Kádár explains that the
destructive rituals in his data fall into three types. Ordered from the least
visible to the most visible these are: Recurrent non-doing (e.g., exclusion
from social events); recurrent covert offence (e.g., seemingly harmless but
destructive jokes; and recurrent reference to the stigma (e.g., personal
features) (pp. 148-160). The analysis also points to the significance of
recognising rituals, but this time it is observed that stigmatised persons
attribute the higher-order intention of planning (Talliard 2002; Bratman,
1999) to victimise the person.

Chapter Seven, the conclusion, first summarises the advantages of viewing
rituals as discursive relational phenomena. Kádár notes that the relational
approach places rituals within the broader context of
schematic/conventionalised acts, thereby allowing for their contextualised
investigation. He further notes that the approach also provides a framework
for researching the ritual-politeness interface at the discursive level. Based
on findings in his ongoing cross-cultural project on rituals, Kádár points out
the need to research the cross-cultural significance attached to social
rituals and ideologies of rituality. Further avenues of research are also
notedm, such as studying historical conceptualisations of rituality, the
function of discursive repetition in the development of ritual, and rituals
between networks.

With its explicit focus on relating, ‘Relational Rituals and Communication’
offers a new dimension to researching (linguistic) rituals from a discursive
perspective. As already noted, this work charts the analytic framework from
both the participant and the theoretical perspectives. A further significant
contribution is that it moves beyond the study of conventionalised
(ritualistic) speech act analysis to show that rituals may be expressed
through words, phrases and discourse frames. One of the volume’s strengths is
the variety of languages used to illustrate the framework. As such the book
promises to be a valuable resource for graduate students and researchers
investigating rituals and communication in pragmatics, social interaction,
(im)politeness, and cultural anthropology. In the following I dwell on some
theoretical aspects that are intended to develop future research, and point to
a terminological issue, with a suggestion for re-wording.

With good reason, Kádár’s definition of relational rituals highlights the
emergence of ritualised language from the relational history or the social
ethos of the participants. In this respect, the ritual practices that the
author discusses can be interpreted as dialogic in the Bakhtinian sense in
that one hears polyphonic voices and discourses (Bakhtin, 1981) that
(re-)create and (re-)shape ritual performances and frames of interaction
(e.g., the greeting reported in the summary). Intertwined with polyphony is
the notion of chronotopes, which place individuals within multiple time-space
dialogic interaction frames (Bakhtin 1981: 252). Systematically incorporating
such a dialogic understanding of ritual performance would enrich the analysis
of ritual moments in terms of changes in footing in the sense of participation
statuses (Goffman, 1979/1981) and the social frameworks (Goffman, 1974) that
are evoked in both constructive and destructive ritual practices. Expansion of
the framework along these lines would fall neatly into the analytic approach
in the work as the author himself too frequently refers to the animation of
voices and in-group ethos (e.g., pp. 19, 59). As ritual performance is closely
related to discursive identity construction (Koster, 2003), a dialogic
analysis could further elaborate how and what aspects of (relational) identity
are brought to consciousness and (strategically) employed in ritual practices.
Such an analytic approach could also open the way to future discursive
investigations of the interplay between relational rituals and power.

The recognition of a ritual practice is a significant aspect of the discursive
framework developed by Kádár. The author proposes two sets of terms in
discussing ritual practice that is considered normative for interactants and
cases of ritual practice that are made discursively salient either through
shifts in ritual frames effected by implicit and explicit metapragmatic
language or through metapragmatic talk on the ritual practice itself:
‘consciousness’ and ‘unmarked’ for ritual practice that is uncontested by
participants; and ‘awareness’ and ‘marked’ when a ritual practice becomes or
is made salient through metapragmatic devices (Verscheuren, 2000) or
discourse. Since the analyses of the data concern metapragmatic language and
discourse, a more suitable term in describing salient ritual practice
recognition could be ‘metapragmatic awareness’, as ‘consciousness’ and
‘awareness’ are used in overlapping senses both in everyday language and in
the technical literature, where terminology is notoriously varied (Velmans,
2009). It also seems to be more appropriate given the discursive analytic
approach employed in the book.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination. Austin, TX: University of
Texas Press.

Bratman, Michael E. 1999. Faces of Intention: Selected Essays on Intention and
Agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Burke, Peter. 2005. The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy: Essays
on Perception and Communication. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University

Durkheim, Emile. 1912/1995. Karen E. Fields (trans.), The Elementary Forms of
Religious Life. New York: The Free Press.

Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of
Experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Goffman, Erving. 1979/1981. Footing. In Forms of Talk (pp. 124-159).
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kádár, Daniel Z. 2007. On historical Chinese apology and its strategic
application. Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture 3.

Koster, Jan. 2003. Ritual performance and the politics of identity: On the
function and uses of ritual. Journal of Historical Pragmatics 4. 211-248.

Taillard, Marie-Odile. 2002. Beyond communicative intention. UCL Working
Papers in Linguistics 14. 189-206.

Velmans, Max. 2009. Understanding Consciousness (2nd. edn). London/New York:

Verschueren, Jef. 2000. Notes on the role of metapragmatic awareness in
language use. Pragmatics 10. 439-456.

Sukriye Ruhi retired from Middle East Technical University as professor of
linguistics in 2012. She is currently manager of the Spoken Turkish Corpus
project. She has published articles and chapters on face and (im)politeness,
and continues research in these areas, along with research on emotion in
relating, and corpus linguistics.

Page Updated: 05-Jun-2014