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

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Themes in discourse research: The case of Diana

1.7 Discursive practices continued

1.7.1 Footing

The practices which make up a speech event or the interaction order can be quite fine grained. In documentary programmes such as Panorama, for instance, interviewers have to be particularly sensitive to the accusation that they are biased, that they are not sufficiently detached or impartial. As Clayman (1992) demonstrates, one way interviewers achieve this while still asking pertinent and provocative questions is through adjusting their footing. The term ‘footing’ again comes from Goffman, and is the notion that when people talk they can speak as either the author of what they say, as the principal (the one the words are about) or as the animator of someone else's words. As you will see in the extracts here, often those three positions coincide, as in this line where Diana responds to a comment about the media's preference for her:

Extract 2

DIANA which I felt very uncomfortable with and I felt it was unfair (.) because I wanted to (.) share.

Here she is the animator (she is the one speaking) and she is the author because these are her beliefs and sentiments being expressed and she is the principal since the authored words are about herself as the subject described. Compare that with some of the ways in which Bashir set up his questions in other parts of the interview.

Extract 3

BASHIR It has been suggested in some newspapers that you were left largely to cope with your new status on your own. Do you feel that was your experience?

Extract 4

BASHIR According to press reports, it was suggested that it was around this time things became so difficult that you actually tried to injure yourself.

The footings in these cases are more complicated. Bashir is the animator but could he be described as the author or the principal? And, what is accomplished by splitting the footing in these cases so that authorship becomes attributed elsewhere to ‘newspapers’ and ‘press reports’? Clayman's work on other news interviews suggests that what Bashir accomplishes, and what is standardly accomplished with this kind of format, is attributional distance. In other words, Bashir gets to make a potentially sensitive, controversial or critical point but in a way which does not compromise his status as a non-evaluative and neutral interviewer.

You might want to consider this in more detail. The genre of the news or documentary interview also often includes the notion of the interviewer as ‘interrogator’, getting to the truth for the people, against a potentially hostile or devious witness. Bashir, however, is not using the possibilities of footing to put critical or difficult questions. Look again at how he frames the questions in Extracts 3 and 4 and consider the kinds of identities he offers Diana. I would argue that these are sympathetic or understandable identities: she only injured herself because things became so difficult, she was left to cope on her own. You could argue that the discursive evidence suggests that other genres apart from the news interview are becoming implicated here – perhaps the genre of confessional ‘therapeutic’ shows such as Oprah Winfrey.

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