Power and Politeness in Action: Disagreements in Oral Communication

Power and Politeness in Action: Disagreements in Oral Communication

Power and Politeness in Action: Disagreements in Oral Communication

Power and Politeness in Action: Disagreements in Oral Communication

Synopsis

This study investigates the interface of power and politeness in the realization of disagreements in naturalistic language data. Power and politeness are important phenomena in face-to-face interaction. Disagreement is an arena in which these two key concepts are likely to be observed together. Both disagreement and the exercise of power entail a conflict. At the same time, conflict will often be softened by the display of politeness. The material for analysis comes from three different contexts: (1) a sociable argument in an informal, supportive, and interactive family setting; (2) a business meeting among colleagues at a research institution; and (3) examples from public discourse collected during the US Election in 2000.

Excerpt

The aim of this study is to shed light on two phenomena that are both important in face-to-face interaction: power and politeness. To do this, linguistic data from naturally occurring disagreements will be analyzed. Disagreement is an arena in which these two key concepts are likely to be observed together. Both disagreement and the exercise of power entail a conflict. At the same time, conflict will often be softened by the display of politeness. My study will thus investigate the interface of power and politeness in the realization of disagreements in naturalistic language data.

Why power? The concept of power has long been an area of great interest to almost every branch of social science. Bertrand Russell (1938: 10) even argued that [the fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics]. Consider the following examples:

Example (1)
A judge interrupts the well-prepared argument of an attorney even before the
latter has had a chance to make his line of argumentation clear.

Example (2)
A committee member in a business meeting takes over the role of chair during a
meeting so that the real chair has to fight for the floor in order to recuperate his
rights.

Example (3)
A radio host has to defend herself because her interviewee, who happens to be
the President of the United States, objects to her style of interviewing, which
had left him on me defensive throughout the interview.

Example (4)
While at a relative's house, a wife is so uncomfortably hot that she asks her
husband to open a window for her, but he does not comply with her wishes.

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