Dialogue and Representation
  • ISSN 2210-4119
  • E-ISSN: 2210-4127
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It is a basic dialogical principle that the meaning of what is said or done is based on its similarities and especially its differences with other things that might have been said or done as relevantly instead, just then, just there. This makes what was actually said or done meaningful as a “choice” for all practical purposes, whether the actor made it consciously or not. And any choice a person makes (or is deemed to make) is revealing about what he or she had in mind — his or her intentions and wants, values and affects, character and qualities as a social being — that subjectively warranted producing what was said or done instead of one of the alternatives. What one’s talk and conduct reveal about what one had in mind constitutes a representation of one’s self as a social being. This representation is a persona, a “face” in Goffman’s sense. This representation is discursively, dialogically produced, such that actors’ talk and conduct will unavoidably produce a representation of themselves regardless of whether they intend it. Accordingly, persons who would not be expected to have such competence nonetheless produce representations of self, for example young children or impaired adults. Insofar as those representations are in the person’s self-interest, there is a warrant for considering that they have that competence after all. In contrast, persons who can be expected to have such competence may nonetheless produce representations that work against their self-interest by accident or deficiencies of performance. Arguably, it is an additional dimension of the representation of self that an actor produces, having to do with his or her competence, whether the representation seems to be intentional, and beyond that, artful or clever. I examine two cases to elaborate on the key propositions here: (a) that representations of self are produced whether intended or not, (b) that ones that seem to be intended because they are in the actor’s self-interest are evidence of his or her competence, and (c) that ones that seem unintentional because they are not in the actor’s self-interest are evidence of a performance lapse, or more broadly, deficiencies of competence. The first case is of two young children whose talk and conduct interactively produce representations of self that do serve their respective interests, and thus warrant reconsideration of the expressive and interactional competence of children of that age. The second is of a doctor in an urban clinic whose representation of self is not in his self-interest.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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