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Weninger, C., & Williams, J. P. (2022). Goffman and sociolinguistics. In M. H. Jacobsen & G. Smith (Eds.) The Routledge international handbook of Goffman studies (pp. 219–230) Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003160861-21
The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the connections between and across Goffman’s sociological theories of social life and sociolinguistic theories of language use as communicative action. That there should be numerous points of convergence is quite obvious; Goffman’s scholarly attention was focused on the social organization of everyday life, which he conducted largely through detailed explorations of mundane interactional encounters. Sociolinguistics, particularly in the tradition of interactional sociolinguistics and the ethnography of communication, is also centrally concerned with how language use is tied to elements of social organization. In this chapter, we elucidate links between how Goffman and sociolinguistic scholars have approached the study of everyday social behaviour with reference to two aspects of social life that seem central both to (micro)sociology as well as sociolinguistics: selves/identities and situations/contexts. First, we review Goffman’s dramaturgical approach to the study of the social self and link it to how the concept of identity has developed within sociolinguistics as a relational orientation expressed through speakers’ linguistic-semiotic acts. Second, we draw connections between the microsociological concern with situations, Goffman’s development of frame analysis and sociolinguists’ long-standing interest in the significance of context. Our discussion will touch on the scholarly trajectory of these concepts in microsociology and sociolinguistics and draw out similarities and differences among them. Overall, the chapter will argue that although Goffman maintained a ‘principled refusal’ (Becker 2003:660) to discuss issues of method to guard against inevitable misinterpretations of any proposed approach, sociolinguists in the last four decades have drawn enough inspiration from his theories to develop analytic constructs as well as methodological tools for the empirical study of communicative action.
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