The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines 'style' as 'a manner of writing, speaking or doing, especially as contrasted with the matter to be expressed or thing done'. This is a good definition. It includes discourse ('the matter expressed'), genre ('the thing done') and style, and it is multimodal, involving not just 'speaking and writing', but also 'doing'. Until now, social semiotics has in the main concentrated more on discourse and genre than on style. Yet, as 'lifestyle' begins to replace social class as the main type of social grouping and source of social identity, the idea of style is clearly becoming increasingly important in contemporary society:
Lifestyle experimentation has taken place among people for whom occupational and economic roles no longer provided a coherent set of values and for whom identity has come to be generated in the consumption rather than in the production realm.
(Zablocki and Kanter, 1976:270)
In this chapter I will try to update the social semiotic approach to style, following the lead of Fairclough, who applied all three concepts - genre, discourse and style - to an analysis of the language of New Labour:
Styles (for example, Tony Blair's style) are to do with political identities and values; discourses (for example, the discourse of the 'Third Way') are to do with political representations; and genres are to do with how language figures as a means of Government (so the Green Paper constitutes a particular genre, a particular way of using language in governing) … These are only analytically separable - in actual cases they are always simultaneously in operation. So any speech by Tony Blair for instance can be looked at in terms of how it contributes to the governing process (how it achieves consent, for instance), how it represents the social world and the political and governmental process itself, and how it projects a particular identity, tied to particular values - that is, in terms of genre, discourse and style.
Fairclough here applies these definitions specifically to the field of politics, but they can be extended beyond politics and applied to other spheres as well. They are of immediate relevance to the theme of this chapter, as they link style to 'identities and values' in much the same way as the sociological literature on lifestyles (see, for example, Chaney, 1996).