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Themes in discourse research: the case of Diana
Themes in discourse research: the case of Diana

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1.6 Discursive practices

Some of the thinking behind the claim that discourse is social action has now been unpacked. But what explains the order and pattern in this social action? One source of regularity is the discursive practices which people collectively draw on to organize their conduct. Take a look back again at Extract 1. Even this short piece of discourse reveals many complex layers of these practices. It reveals that there is such a thing as an interaction order to use a concept developed by Goffman (1983). In other words, there are regular ways of doing things in talk – practices – which guide people and order discourse.

One obvious feature of the extract, for example, is that it fits within a familiar discursive genre of the news or documentary interview – other genres might be gossip or conversation with a young child, or a lecture, or giving testimony in a court of law. Sociolinguists who study interaction argue people draw on a range of contextualization cues in deciding what kind of language event something is and how they should behave (Gumperz, 1982). According to Gumperz, contextualization cues guide people's expectations about how conversational and other exchanges should develop, appropriate modes of speaking, the interpersonal relations involved, and the speaking rights of those involved.

Interviewers in news interviews have a particular set of devices they employ which constitute this type of speech event or discursive genre and which relate to their task in this speech event of being neutral and professional and posing questions not on their own behalf but for ‘the people’ as an over-hearing audience (Heritage and Greatbatch, 1991). Thus Bashir, for instance, does not evaluate or respond to Diana's comments as a friend might; he does not talk about his own relationships or problems. He controls the flow of topics and the talk proceeds turn-by-turn within the normative frame of the interview with Diana, too, responding in part.