WP136 Gumperz and governmentality in the 21st century: Interaction, power and subjectivity



This paper explores what the work of John Gumperz can contribute to our understanding of power relations in the 21st century. It does so by emphasising the critical dimension of his work (Blommaert 2005; Rampton 2001), and by considering its relevance to Foucault?s notion of ?governmentality?. As a concept developed in his later work, governmentality hasn?t featured very prominently in explicit appropriations of Foucault in linguistics, but it cries out for interactional sociolinguistic analysis and it has been at the centre of discussion among social theorists about changing character of contemporary power.
To pursue this agenda ? consistent with the larger programme sketched by Arnaut 2012 ? I shall begin by reviewing the rather different ways in which US linguistic anthropology and (mainly) European critical discourse studies relate to Foucault?s thought (Section 1). I shall then move into a more detailed consideration of how John Gumperz?s work resembles some of the later Foucault?s, not just in its discourse constructionism and its attention to discursive technologies of power but also in its attention to an ?antagonism of strategies? and its understated practice-focused politics (Section 2). After that, I summarise the shifts in governmentality identified by Fraser, Deleuze, Rose and others, dwelling in particular on the new forms and functions of digital surveillance (Section 4), and in Section 5, I return to Gumperz and interactional sociolinguistics, arguing that their tracking of real time attention and inferencing, their recognition of discrepant but hidden communicative preferences, and their critique of the legibility of populations, all remain highly relevant, although to cope properly with the new digital environments, interactional sociolinguistics will need to be updated with some quite challenging new types of analysis. But even without these, the Gumperzian framework can make an important contribution to understanding subjective experiences of digital surveillance, and the paper concludes with a sketch of what the empirical sociolinguistic study of contemporary governmentalities might look like.