|Title:||The Interface of Power and Politeness in Disagreements: An analysis of three speech situations||Add Dissertation|
|Author:||Miriam Locher||Update Dissertation|
|Email:||click here to access email|
|Institution:||Universität Bern, English Linguistics|
|Linguistic Subfield(s):||Discourse Analysis;|
|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