Status and Power in Verbal Interaction

A study of discourse in a close-knit social network

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<i>Status and Power in Verbal Interaction</i> is a sociolinguistic study of conversation in a social context. Using an ethnographic methodology and a network analysis of the social roles and relationships in a particular language community, the book explores how speakers negotiate status, relationship, and ultimately contest power through discourse. Of chief concern to the study is how speakers manage to negotiate relationship roles — which here consists of institutional status as well as the more variable social standing — using conversation. Discourse is seen to be not only what people say, but how they say it — how speakers take the floor, bring new topic to the floor, interrupt each other, and become a resource person in a conversation. The study revolves around the idea that power, while intricately tied to social standing and institutional status, is more than the sum of one’s institutional standing, age, education, race and gender. Though these factors convey rank, conversants nonetheless use discourse to jockey for position and contest their relational role vis-a-vis their discourse partners. While institutional standing may be more or less fixed, power of relational roles fluctuates greatly because, as the study shows, power is accorded through a process of ratifying the positive self-image of a speaker. Thus, one’s standing in a group is a community negotiation. By investigating power in community at a micro-level of analysis, this study adds a new dimension to existing understandings of power.

Subjects: Discourse studies; Sociolinguistics and Dialectology

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