How permeable is the formal-informal boundary at work?

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Talk about food at work is typically overlooked as peripheral, just like other relationally-oriented discourse (e.g. small talk and humor). Drawing on a data set of workplace interactions recorded in formal and informal settings, we demonstrate how food talk erodes and troubles formality boundaries. The distinctive distribution of food talk at the boundaries of workplace interaction creates a duality: because it occurs at boundaries, food talk is regarded as irrelevant; when it occurs in non-boundary positions, it has the interactional effect of reducing formality, regardless of its legitimacy as a business topic. In practice, food talk “indexes” boundaries and informality. Each time it occurs at boundaries, or creates informality, this indexicality is reinforced. We demonstrate just how food talk indexes informality in meeting talk.


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