"Why Do You Ask?" The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse

"Why Do You Ask?" The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse

"Why Do You Ask?" The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse

"Why Do You Ask?" The Function of Questions in Institutional Discourse

Synopsis

The first volume to make questions and questioning the explicit focus of its investigation, "Why Do You Ask?" examines the use of questions in institutional discourse. Fifteen original essays consider a wide range of institutional settings-from traditionally studied contexts such as medicine, law, and the mass media to little-considered settings such as call centers, counseling environments, and help lines.

Excerpt

Susan Ehrlich and Alice F. Freed

The study of questions has always been central to investigations of institutional discourse, yet this is the first volume on institutional discourse to make questions and questioning an explicit focus. We believe that such a focus is both illuminating and timely. First, bringing together studies that are dedicated to the theme of questioning in and across a wide range of institutional settings affords us the opportunity to identify commonalities in the use of questions and to draw generalizations about the use of questions—commonalities and generalizations that might otherwise be missed. Second, because we live in a time of unprecedented social change, cultural institutions and, by extension, the nature of the discourse used in these institutions are subject to the pressures of this change. (See Heritage 2005 for further discussion.) Thus, in this volume we include essays that explore not only institutional settings such as medicine, law, and the mass media—institutions that have been the topic of much previous research—but also those that have not previously received much attention, for example, call centers, new types of counseling contexts, and helplines. Our goal is to expand our understanding of questioning and answering in institutional discourse by bringing these studies together. in so doing, we pay particular attention to the way that widespread social changes have altered the nature of institutional encounters in more traditional settings and, at the same time, have expanded the kinds of institutional encounters in which people engage, such as those that have service-related activities as their principal goal.

In earlier work that documents the linguistic consequences of social change for institutional discourse, Cameron (2000) and Fairclough (1992 1996) consider the phenomenon of globalization. Cameron (2000), for example, discusses the way in which a globalized economy intensifies competition, which, in turn, has led corporations in the West to rethink their organizational structures. According to Fairclough (1996), “post-Fordist” workplaces, which position workers in “a more participatory . . .

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