Offers of assistance in politician-constituent interaction

2015-07-01T14:04:05Z (GMT) by Emily Hofstetter Elizabeth Stokoe
How do politicians engage with and offer to assist their constituents; the people who vote them into power? We address the question by analyzing a corpus of 80 interactions recorded at the office of a Member of Parliament (MP) in the United Kingdom, and comprising telephone calls between constituents and the MP’s clerical ‘caseworkers’ as well as face to face encounters with MPs in their fortnightly ‘surgeries’. The data were transcribed, then analysed using conversation analysis, focusing on the design and placement of offers of assistance. We identified three types of offers within a longer ‘offering’ sequence: 1) ‘proposal offers’, which typically appear first in any offering sequence, in which politicians and caseworkers make proposals to help their constituents using formats that request permission to do so, or check that the constituent does indeed want help (e.g., “do you want me to”; “we could…”); 2) ‘announcement offers’, which appear second, and indicate that something has been decided and confirm the intention to act (e.g., “I will do X”), and 3) ‘request offers’, which appear third, and take for form “let me do X”. Request offers indicate that the offer is available but cannot be completed until the current conversation is closed; they also appear in environments in which the constituent reissues their problems and appears dissatisfied with the offers so far. The paper contributes to what we know about making offers in institutional settings, as well as shedding the first empirical light on the workings of the constituency office: the site of engagement between everyday members of the public and their elected representatives.