Cooperative conflict and evasive language

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In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, concerns surrounding the efficacy of United States intelligence and security agencies led to the formation of the 9–11 Commission. The Commission was charged to conduct a series of hearings to investigate “the truth” and possible culpability for the security failure. During the hearings, many high-ranking officials of the United States Government – past and present administrations – were called to give testimony. Exchanges between some of those officials (Secretaries of State) and their interlocutor-interrogators can best be described as “evasive”, representing a series of discursive tactics which produce nonlinear patterning between adjacency pairs. Yet, despite evidence that use of indirect, evasive language is not uncommon in courtroom discourse, the construction of evasion within these exchanges, especially along partisan lines, appears to be co-constructed, broadening the notion of cooperation to include complicity and suggest an expanded definition of what can be considered “appropriate”. Thus, in an order of discourse fraught with conflicting agents – interrogators and witnesses (and in this particular case, Republicans and Democrats), witnesses maintain the appearance of cooperation within the conflict by answering questions through changing the direction of the question, mitigating the force of the imposition, and deflecting responsibility from an action that could prove politically embarrassing or damaging. This chapter uses a critical discourse analysis framework to examine the mediated political discourse of these interactions, illustrating how cooperative conflict and its concomitant evasive language necessitate a layered analysis of context.


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