Center for the Study of Language and Society

On the reverberations of offensive actions. Relational stories from a London ghetto.

Jeudi, 24.09.2020, 16:15 h

Rosina Márquez Reiter, The Open University

Das Forum Language and Society ist eine Reihe von Gastvorträgen zu Themen der Soziolinguistik. Doktorierende der GSH können sich die Teilnahme als Zuhörende mit 0,25 ECTS pro Vortrag anrechnen lassen. MA Studierende der Soziolinguistik können sich nach Teilnahme an 6 Vorträgen 1 ECTS anrechnen lassen.

Organisateur: Forum Language and Society
Orateur / oratrice: Rosina Márquez Reiter, The Open University
Date: 24.09.2020
Heure: 16:15 - 17:45 h
Lieu: F-123
Lerchenweg 36
3012 Bern
Caractéristiques: public

In this talk I explore the nexus between offensive behaviour and morality given the close yet subtly distinct connection between them. I do this by examining the reporting of interpersonal conflicts in an hour-long life-story interview (Atkinson 1998) with two voluntary Latin American migrants in London. The interview was carried out as part of ethnographic fieldwork in the largest centres of Latinidad in the city: Elephant & Castle shopping centre and Seven Sisters Market.

‘Causing offence’ has, over the years, been a topic of extensive research, especially in the field of linguistic politeness (Culpeper 2011). Impoliteness arises from the actions that one or more mutually ratified participants (cf. Kádár & Márquez Reiter 2015) in a relationship orient to as (ostensibly) offensive. These have been shown invite evaluations along a right-wrong binary according to the moral order on which the social group is based. So have offensive actions. However, not all offensive actions may be oriented to as impolite (e.g. ‘victimhood culture’ Campbell & Manning 2018).

Recently, offence has received renewed attention by (im)politeness scholars and general discourse analysts as a result of the rise of moralising (e.g. Chouliaraki 2013), especially in social media contexts (e.g. Tagg et al 2017, Valdimirou & House 2018). In these settings, the sanctioning of offence is often treated as a “revelation” of the moral grounds of offence. However, predicting and tracking the offence (Robles & Castor 2019) and understanding whose grounds can be legitimately validated continue to elude the analyst.

The interview examined comprises eight chained (e.g. Psathas 1995) exemplary (Günther 1995) stories where the participants articulate their own voice, evoke that of an alleged wrongdoer and the discourses that circulate in their wider social group. In critiquing the behaviour of others, the storytellers interweave the description of the events that led to the offence and the offensive act itself with its evaluation, thus making “a propositional claim but also staking a practico-moral claim” (Jayyusi 1995:870). I show how their evaluation of transgressors’ actions offers an interesting combination of ethics and morality. Specifically, morality is observed in the way the obligations of incumbents in a given relational category were met or not and, ethics on the storyteller’s capacity to reflect (Laidlaw 2014) on these obligations themselves, including their own role in the recounted events. It was thus possible for the participants to feel accountable for the wrong actions of the beneficiary when they did not directly take part in them. I contend that such a differentiation brings to purview a case where the role of agency and accountability in offence taking and attribution is distinct. And, that this is possible by considering the wider relational connections in which the participants’ relationship is embedded and the ghetto conditions in which they are forged (Latin Americans generally work for co-ethnics under conditions of precarity such as flexploitation and suffer social exclusion).

In short, I maintain that the wider relational context in which the offender and offended parties’ relationship is embedded and the place that their relationship occupies within societal structures is essential for understanding the valence and reverberations of offensive actions and, therefore, those whose moral grounds can be legitimately validated. Further, I show that the moral terrain mapped out via the roots and routes of these migrants’ experience spans beyond a binary between the values of the receiving society vs. home-grown values and that impoliteness evaluations cannot be simply explained as contravening clearly delineated values or having caused offence.