WP43 Linguistic ethnography, interactional sociolinguistics and the study of identities.



This paper provides an overview of linguistic ethnography and interactional sociolinguistics, two closely related perspectives on communication, and in order to develop an account of their relevance to ?real world issues?, it discusses their contribution to the study of ?identity?. It is hard to imagine any research engaging with identity being dry or pointless, and yet when I am actually nose-down in the empirical analysis of interactional data, ?identity? is not a particularly useful term. Indeed, if it comes in too quickly, there is a risk either of obscuring the dynamic ambiguities in everyday social experience or of losing sight of the ?immediate struggles? preoccupying people. So the kinds of issue that have greatest currency in public and social science debate don?t necessarily jump out at me from the data right away, and instead, it is often only when I step back from the intensive process of trying to work out what?s going on in a particular episode that notions like identity becomes potentially relevant, pointing to a more general set of issues or debates that the episode maybe speaks to. Identity, in other words, tends to feature as a second- or third-order abstraction, a bridge back from data analysis to social science literatures and public debate, just one among a number of potential resources for explaining why the research is important, for answering the ever-pressing questions ?So what? Why bother??.
What are these investigative procedures and perspectives that speak to identity issues, that often engage with the ideas about identity expressed by their informants, but that don?t incorporate the term ?identity? into their most basic analytic vocabularies? In what follows, I shall begin with a characterisation of linguistic ethnography (LE) and interactional sociolinguistics (IS), sketching a set of concepts and frameworks that are certainly capable of accommodating a concern with identity, but that do not depend on it. After that, I shall try to show how these approaches can be used to look at one very significant social identity ? social class ? though again, during the empirical analysis itself, I shall hold the term ?identity? in abeyance, only bringing it in afterwards in the third section to renew the connection with more general debates and literatures. Finally, in the last section, I shall consider the worry that this kind of analysis is impracticably over-complicated.