Archive for April, 2009

25 April 2009

Agency as interactive achievement

Linguists are doing excellent micro-analytic work demonstrating in detail how ‘agency’ is so often the doings of several people in interaction, rather than the preserve and action of one specific individual and an intrinsic part of her_his identity. I do wonder whether this strikes a chord in other parts of society. Are we witnissing a broader acceptance of the notion of the decentred subject?

New article: Najma Al Zidjaly (2009) Agency as an interactive achievement. In Language in Society, 38: 177-200.


This study explores how agency emerges and is negotiated moment by moment in interaction by applying Erving Goffman’s notion of production format to an extended sequence of discourse that revolves around accomplishing a conjoint action: the rewriting of an official letter. Deconstructing the participants into the social roles they undertake in accomplishing this task illustrates what is involved in exercising agency: interactively negotiating production format roles and footing shifts through several linguistic strategies aimed at either claiming, ratifying, or rejecting the participants’ agency. These include providing options, negotiating production format roles, asking questions, speaking for another, questioning and asserting expertise, providing counter-arguments, and asserting past agentive selves. This study, thus, contributes to an understanding of agency as co-constructed, mediated, and continually negotiated, while also identifying specific linguistic strategies through which agency is negotiated in interaction.

(agency, disability, production format, social actor, conjoint action, linguistic strategies)

17 April 2009

Police assault during G20

G20. London. 1 April. A police officer assaults Ian Tomlinson, pushing him from behind. He falls to the ground. Shortly after, he dies. An official police statement announces he died from the effects of a heart attack. Apparently, another police statement says that protesters hindered medics from helping him. Findings of a second postmortem released today show that Tomlinson died from an abdominal haemorrhage.

The Guardian’s video of the incident, including slow version and commentary:

This event offers a quick academic or student a perfect opportunity for some ‘investigative discourse analysis’ (let’s call it IDA). Meaning: gather the news coverage texts from the “critical discourse moment” (Chilton), i.e., the initial incident. How was it reported? how quickly did Ian Tomlinson’s death disappear from the media radar?

Optimally, to contextualize the textual analysis in wider relations and practices, conduct some interviews with key actors (journalists, editors, police spokespeople, political spokespeople working during the G20 meeting…). The incident is still recent; they will be able to give the analyst a clear and legitimate version of what they recall.

Off to press with the analysis.