Chapter 12. Relationship impression formation

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This chapter investigates the linguistic construal of friendship relations between characters in the TV series Sex and the City (SATC). Many viewers consider the relationship between the four SATC protagonists as an epitome of female friendship, raising the question which cues in the on-screen dialogue comply with notions of friendship. Since friendship is considered a process in which antagonistic tendencies such as autonomy and connectedness are constantly negotiated with the aim of striking a healthy balance of association and dissociation (Baxter and Simon 1993), these negotiations form the focus of this chapter. Based on analyses of transcribed verbal interchanges between the four protagonists of the TV series Sex and the City, I investigate the process of relationship impression formation (Bubel 2006), in which viewers perceive relational cues, i.e. utterances from the screen dialogue that signal association or dissociation, and compare them to their concepts of interpersonal relations. Refining the concept of alignment (Goffman 1974, 1979) I show that the negotiation of friendship is accomplished on the micro-level of talk-in-interaction through continually shifting patterns of structural alignment / disalignment as well as interpersonal affiliation / disaffiliation (Bubel 2006). Continual shifts on the micro-level function to achieve an appropriate balance permitting criticism and disagreement and establishing unique ties between individuals within a friendship network. I hypothesise that, due to shared background knowledge between the producers and viewers of screen dialogue, viewers can identify not only explicit alignments such as “you are my friends” but also implicit alignments e.g. through use of laughter. I interpret the emerging pattern of alignments between the four SATC women as indicative of friendship relations, in which two characters (Carrie and Miranda) form a core pair.


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