Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
EDITOR(S): De Fina, Anna ; Schiffrin, Deborah ; Bamberg, Michael TITLE: Discourse and Identity SERIES: Studies in Interactional Sociolinguistics 23 PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2006
Cornelia Gerhardt, Anglistik, Saarland University
The book under review, ''Discourse and Identity'', henceforth DaI, edited by Anna De Fina, Deborah Schiffrin, and Michael Bamberg, is volume 23 in the series ''Studies in interactional sociolinguistics.'' It consists of a general introduction, introductions to the four parts of the book, and 15 papers. The 462 closely printed pages further comprise a table of contents, a list of contributors, 26 pages of references with around 480 references, and an 11-page index with around 440 main entries and many subcategories.
The edited volume is concerned with the ''role of linguistic processes and strategies in the creation, negotiation and establishment of identities.'' (p. 1) In their general introduction, the authors present various approaches to identity; both generally accepted and hotly debated ones. They start with 'social constructionism' stating that identity is not fixed and monolithic, but multiple and based on practices. 'Categorization and membership definition,' another widely accepted approach, is concerned with the description of acts with which we make claims about including or excluding ourselves and others. The 'anti-essentialist vision of the 'self'' allows people to perform identities. One is not 'naturally' part of a certain group. The fourth and final generally accepted notion is that 'indexicality' is vital in the relation between discourse and identity. On the one hand, it personalizes language in that it ties a speaker to his/her utterance. On the other hand, it connects language to the world out there, i.e. the extra-linguistic context. The section ends by retracing the conflicting positions of conversation analysts (CA) on the one extreme of the spectrum, and critical discourse analysis (CDA) on the other, regarding the role of contextual information in analysing discourse. CA maintains that categories must be oriented to by the participants in the talk, whereas CDA advocates the inclusion of social realities and power differences. Next in the general introduction, the authors turn to a description of ''overarching themes, underlying constructs and persistent questions'' (p. 6) and link them to the following 15 papers. The first, 'positioning,' is concerned with how people position themselves in discourse, and how Discourse, on the other hand, positions people (Bamberg 2005). 'Interaction order' is concerned with the notions of 'footing' and 'face' (Goffman 1967a, 1981). Next, 'multivocality' (Bakhtin 1986) and 'intertextuality' (Kristeva 1980) are treated since ''all texts are made up of prior texts that we draw upon in new ways.'' (p. 11, from Tannen 1989) The final overarching theme the editors present is 'indexing local and global identities,' i.e. the relationship between the self at a given moment, and broader categories or ideologies. The introduction ends with an overview of DaI.
The volume consists of four parts, each of which forms the umbrella for 3 – 5 papers. Each part is headed by an introduction which lists the commonalities of the following papers and summarizes them.
Part I. ''Overview: Theory, method and analysis'' consists of papers with a broader (and sometimes critical) view on the issues presented in DaI.
1. ''Narrative and identity: the double arrow of time'' by Elliott G. Mishler Mishler criticises the use of a 'clock/chronological model of time' in narratives (Labov, Waletzky 1967) and argues for a 'narrative/experiential' one in the wake of Ricœur (1980). He shows how narratives are constructed with a ''sense of an ending,'' (p. 34) i.e. we can only understand the function of e.g. a beginning, or decide what we choose as the beginning, when we know what the story will lead to. Hence, in order to tell the stories of their lives, people must 're-story' or 're-emplot' their past experiences, since ''[t]he past is not set in stone, but the meaning of events and experiences is constantly being reframed within the contexts of our current and ongoing lives.'' (p. 36)
2. ''Footing, positioning, voice. Are we talking about the same things?'' by Branca Telles Ribeiro Ribeiro argues for distinguishing the closely related concepts 'footing', 'positioning' and 'voice' (Bakhtin 1981) in analyses of identity work in talk. She illustrates these different notions with the help of an example: a phone call between two brothers about the failing health of their mother. Footings ''refer to the very micro-interactional shifts, which would ultimately constitute positionings.'' (p. 74) Hence, a change in footing such as a pronoun shift does not necessarily entail a re-positioning, positioning being more strategic and intentional. Voice, finally, can either highlight a lack of participation, in that someone may simply not have a voice, or foreground the participants' emotions.
3. ''Small and large identities in narrative (inter)-action'' by Alexandra Georgakopoulou The author traces the workings of large i.e. exogeneous, extra-situational identities by analysing the participation roles of narratives. Based on a qualitative reading of conversations between young Greek women who are close friends, she offers a quantitative analysis of different contributions ('initiation', 'plot contribution,' 'ratification,' and 'evaluation') of 50 jointly told stories. Depending on their part in these different kinds of contributions, the participants project different roles such as ''advice-giver vs. advice-seeker and expert vs. novice.'' (p. 96) Hence, the internal hierarchy of the group of friends becomes visible in their story-telling co-construction.
4. ''From linguistic reference to social reality'' by Deborah Schiffin Schiffrin differentiates between reference in the textual world (noun phrases and pronouns) and the social world (the people they refer to), which, at the same time, have an influence on the local identities in the interactional world. After discussing the work of Goffman, she presents linguistic approaches to reference, saying in summary that it is a ''a multifaceted process in which a speaker uses a referring term that is intended to be interpreted by another person within an emergent textual world constructed during an ongoing interaction...'' (p. 114) The analysis of a repair sequence in an interview illustrates how the referring expressions and other linguistic resources used play multiple roles in identity construction.
Part II. ''Private and public identities: constructing who we are'' After these articles with a more theoretical focus, the papers in the following part give more prominence to the analysis of data. They are concerned with the discursive construction of identities (through categorization devices, narratives, and positioning, in interaction and in relation to ideologies) in different contexts.
5. ''Identity a la carte: you are what you eat'' by Robin Tolmach Lakoff Lakoff starts off by differentiating between major identities such as gender or race, and minor identities which pertain to e.g. music, dress, or food preferences. She presents different styles of menus and recipes from different places and from different times, linking them to their ideological and socio-cultural context. She analyses their implications in terms of the identities of the readers (e.g. 'a true appreciator' of ecologically sound locally produced modern 'world cuisine'). She shows how these '''minor identities' like culinary preferences and sophistication contribute significantly to our sense of ourselves: who we are, how competent we are, who our friends are or should be, whom we admire or disdain.'' (p. 165)
6. ''Workplace narratives, professional identity and relational practice'' by Janet Holmes Holmes shows how staff members construct their personal and group social identities in New Zealand workplaces (e.g. tough manager, or sensitive, caring co-worker) with the help of stories. Companies represent 'communities of practice' (Wenger 1998) with their own interactional practices. Even though workplace narratives are content-wise not connected to the business at hand, they represent the 'relational practice' of 'creating team' (Fletcher 1999). Hence, they are ultimately helpful in obtaining the objectives of the company. ''Workplace anecdotes provide a means of doing one's professional identity, while simultaneously doing gender, workplace culture, and personal identity.'' (p. 186)
7. ''Identity and personal/institutional relations: people and tragedy in a health insurance customer service'' by Liliana Cabral Bastos and Maria do Carmo Leite de Oliveira The authors study letters of complaint to a health insurance provider and their responses. In a nutshell, for the clients, health (just like security, justice and self-esteem) is a basic need, whereas, for the health insurance provider, it is a utility. The correspondence mirrors these different conceptions: in the letters of complaint, the customers portray themselves as responsible fathers or rationale professionals e.g. with the help of replays (Goffman 1974) appealing to the solidarity of another person. The company, on the other hand, answers as an impersonal body which treats the costumer fairly according to the rules spelled out in the contract.
8. ''The discursive construction of teacher identities in a research interview'' by Greer C. Johnson This paper shows how a teacher and an interviewer work together to co-construct the identities 'good research participant' and 'good teacher' for the interviewee. At the outset of the interview, it is the researcher who positions the teacher e.g. by differentiating between her and other teachers. Even though they all fall under the same membership categorization device (Sacks, 1995), a line is drawn to construct these critical reflexive identities for the teacher being interviewed. The teacher accepts these identities assigned to her and after a more reflexive discourse focussing on dilemmas she is facing, she moves on to present a more agentive, positive picture of herself as a 'good practitioner'.
9. ''Becoming a mother after DES: intensive mothering in spite of it all'' by Susan E. Bell The ideology of 'intensive mothering' demands that biological mothers ''take almost exclusive responsibility for taking care of children.'' (p. 233) The interviewee (IE) in the data which form the basis of the analysis is a mother who gave birth to a handicapped child. The reason lay in the IE's mother taking the oestrogen DES, while being pregnant with her. The author shows how the IE and the author herself engage in and resist these discourses of mothering. Bell differentiates between the time told (1970s), the time of the interview (1980s), and the time of her writing the paper (2003) and links them to the discourses of 'femininity' and 'motherhood' dominant at these different times.
Part III. ''The gendered self: becoming and being a man The part on gender is concerned with the enactment of masculinity in local contexts. All papers draw on narratives.
10. ''Hegemonic identity-making in narrative'' by Scott F. Kiesling Drawing on two narratives by white, middle class fraternity members, Kiesling depicts how Discourses, i.e. shared cultural knowledge, are being drawn on and thus simultaneously recreated. As a connector between global societal Discourses and the local stance-taking in narratives, the author proposes cultural models, ''richly organized norm[s]'' (p. 263) which are more specific than the first, and more general than the latter. In the following meticulous analysis, Kiesling shows how e.g. by using features of AAVE these white students recreate Discourses of masculinity and race and how their linguistic behaviour is only accountable for in the larger societal context.
11. ''On being white, heterosexual and male in a Brazilian school: multiple positionings in oral narratives'' by Luiz Paulo Moita-Lopes Moita-Lopes argues that by defining hegemonic masculinity and whiteness, the Brazilian pupils in his study position themselves against the other, i.e. blackness, homosexuality, and femininity. ''The SIDs [social identities] which... are in a position of hegemony constitute the center, which defines the margins or otherness.'' (p. 290) Turning the tables, the author approaches the issues race, sexuality and gender by describing the unmarked. In one narrative, for example, there is a vivid portrayal of the father (including his voice i.e. direct quotations) as the protector of the women of the family whereas the sister, a ''crucial element in the story'' (p. 301), is not quoted directly.
12. ''Urban fathers positioning themselves through narrative: an approach to narrative self-construction'' by Stanton Wortham and Vivian Gadsden In this paper, the authors differentiate between ''four layers of narrative positioning'' (p. 319), namely reference to past events, 'voicing', which links the people in the story to social types, evaluation, and interactions within the narrative situation. These are illustrated with the help of Robert, a young urban African-American who became a father as a teenager. He portrays himself as having coped with these past challenges leading a stable life with the mother of his child. Robert voices himself as 'decent' in contrast to e.g. his biological father who is portrayed as 'street'. With his negative evaluation of 'street', he positions himself as different from his irresponsible father.
Part IV. ''The in-between self: negotiating person and place'' Offering short summaries of the following articles, the editors point out their communalities: the papers are all concerned with life stories ''by people who have gone through fundamental and, in certain cases, deeply traumatic changes in their life.'' (p.345) Another unifying feature is a stress on the interplay between social categories and individual expression.
13. ''Group identity, narrative and self-representations'' by Anna De Fina Based on stories from Hispanics in the US, the author stresses that identity is both connected to ideologies and locally negotiated. Hence, the meaning of schemata such as 'Hispanic' is neither '''manifest' only within the interaction at hand'' (p. 355) nor is it only applied to new situations. Instead, the article describes how these categories are (re-)defined and negotiated in the stories of the migrants and how the stances taken by the narrators position them towards these categories. The stories show that, on the one hand, the Mexicans accept being 'Hispanic', on the other hand, they ''are aware of the stereotypical and discriminating nature of the category'' (p. 374) and distance themselves.
14. ''Performing self, family and community in Moroccan narratives of migration and settlement'' by Mike Baynham Two distinctive genres in the life stories of Moroccans who settled in London in the 1960/70s, namely ''performed oral narrative and generic narrative ... imply different speaking positions with associated assumptions of identity, entitlement and rights to speak.'' (p. 377) In the generic narrative, marked e.g. by the general present (e.g. ''works,'' ''sends'') and generalised actors (e.g. ''the head of the family''), typicality is emphasised. By telling these canonical tales, the narrators claim the right to speak for their community. Tracing the lives of the Moroccans starting with their decision to migrate, the author presents performance features of these narratives of identity.
15. ''Making it personal: shared meanings in the narratives of Holocaust survivors'' by Brian Schiff and Chaim Noy The data consist of the life story of a holocaust survivor from the Bukovinia. The authors show how she skilfully interprets and communicates the 'balagan' (~'chaos') of the persecution of Jews with the invocation of the Treblinka guard Demjanjuk. Although she never met this so-called 'Ivan the terrible' during her sufferings, she uses this shared meaning to oppose her story to the canonical survivor narrative, thus also equating her suffering symbolised by balagan / Demjanjuk / civilians / Ukrainians in her analogy to Auschwitz / order / Eichmann / military / Germans. By turning her perpetrators into 'Demjanjuk'im' (pl.), she reinterprets her past and makes it understandable for her interviewers.
The relation of discourse and identity has become an important issue in the humanities since the twentieth century. For this reason, this volume uniting some of the leading scholars within this field is a welcome contribution to the ongoing debate. The general introduction (p. 1-23) is highly informative and helps pave the way to the individual papers. Different authors (re)formulating similar, but sometimes finally differing interpretations or definitions of such notions as 'positioning', 'voice', 'stance', 'footing', and, obviously, 'identity' and 'D- or discourse' makes this volume an interesting read. Articles seem to enter into a lively debate with each other, as in different treatments of the relation between 'voice' and 'positioning' (e.g. sub-category in chapter 12 vs. different concepts in chapter 14) or when ''streetwiseness'' is portrayed as a sign of expertise (chapter 3) or irresponsibility (chapter 12). Hence, it is also the wealth of different contexts which are described in this book that make this volume so interesting. Covering an array of different languages, genres, countries, times, people, spoken and written discourse, and subjects from the allegedly trivial such as 'food' to gender, race, migration and the holocaust, the workings of 'Discourse and identity', the intricate nature of the two, come alive as one reads through these different accounts.
The language in the volume is generally accessible, even for non-native speakers. However, some of the formulations are hard to digest, e.g. ''A differentiation of self based on production format, and coordination with recipient responses, emerged through the sequential production of a baseline of intersubjectivity vis-à-vis a reference'' (p. 127). Nevertheless, mostly the authors convey their ideas in a clear, straightforward manner.
The decision to ''number'' the lines of the transcript with the help of the letters of the alphabet in brackets is not a fortunate one. There are only 26 letters in the alphabet, whereas numbers allow infinite continuation (I realize that in terms of total signs, really, there are only 10 numbers, but we are used to them being chained together to represent higher quantities). So some authors have to triple the letters as in (aaa). The chronological order of the turns becomes hard to grasp, especially when transcriptions are accompanied by translations and both do not simply alter line by line (e.g. p. 94). Furthermore, in the analyses, obviously, the text itself consists of letters. Hence, it makes for much easier reading when the references to lines clearly stand out as numbers. Also, it is not rare for three brackets to co-occur in this system, which makes it hard for readers to locate the appropriate counterpart: ''Ceil's identification of the area begins at one street ('This is Washington Avenue' (line (a))) that is evaluated ('Now here's a great section' (line (b))) as they are approaching its intersection 'Over at Ninth Street' (line (c)).'' (p.118, instead of being surrounded by single quotation marks, the examples are in italics in the book, which I cannot reproduce here.)
Two small remarks on individual papers: Ribeiro does not give the line numbers of the transcription in her analysis. This makes it harder to trace her argumentation in the data. Finally, in my opinion, Baynham and Ribeiro should have restrained their use of footnotes and put important quotations/references into the main text.
Nevertheless, these are minor points. DaI unites some of the finest scholars interested in the connection between discourse and identity, coming from different disciplines (especially linguistics and psychology). Hence, the volume offers an overview of the state of the art. It is informative and thought provoking for scholars working in the same domain. Because of the detailed and clear introduction(s), it can also be used as a first orientation by those new to the field.
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Bamberg, M. 2005. ''Encyclopedia entry on 'Positioning'''. In D. Hermann, M. Jahn and M.L. Ryan (eds.) The Routledge encyclopedia of narrative theory. New York: Routledge, 445-446.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Cornelia Gerhardt works as an instructor in English linguistics at the Anglistik of Saarland University, Germany. She is currently writing her Ph.D. thesis on the appropriation of media discourse, i.e. her data consist of conversations by TV viewers. Her interests include interactional sociolinguistics, spoken language, media discourse, and 'footballese'.