Identifying and responding to possible ‘-isms’ in institutional encounters: alignment, impartiality and the implications for communication training

2015-05-19T13:45:32Z (GMT) by Elizabeth Stokoe
This paper examines sequences of interaction in which speakers utter a possible -ism; that is, something possibly racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced, in the course of making, warranting or defending against complaints. Recorded encounters between mediators and their (prospective) clients were analysed using conversation analysis. I show how participants orient to their own or recipients’ talk as possibly prejudiced, occasionally explicitly characterising that talk as racist (sexist, etc.). Mediators’ responses fell into one of two broad categories, either deleting (e.g., through reformulation) or challenging the -ism (e.g., through admonishment). Both involve misalignment or disaffiliation rather than the mediation-mandated impartial stance. Two upshots will be discussed. First, the fact that few instances of –isms are treated explicitly as such goes to the heart of debates in conversation analysis about warrants for particular kinds of observations, and the designed defeasibility of social action. Second, the paper discusses the way the data and analysis are used in communication training workshops with mediators, for whom such cases present challenges to their commitment to impartiality.