(De)Dichotomizing Speech Situations, Semantic Fields and Power Relations: Some Theoretical Reflections and a Few Empirical Observations

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 3:30 PM
Room: 304
Oral Presentation
Fernando CASTAÑOS , Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico
Given that a discourse presents a configuration of the possible, the valid and the desirable, accepting or questioning the communicative roles it presupposes often becomes a terrain of dispute. Subscribing production and reception conditions is one preliminary move in the game of approving the discourse. The same is true of the semantic relations implied in labels of social agents the discourse refers to. Who is seen to do what is modeled and how they are categorized entail options that will be endorsed by default.

   Furthermore, since communicative roles and social categories tend to be coupled at the onset of a discursive exchange, their association is itself a matter the discourse has to deal with. If inconvenient, power relationships assumed by the use of social categories will have to be contested once the social categories are upheld by the very occurrence of speech. That is why discussing a discussion’s setting is often as important as, and sometimes more important than, the discussion itself.

   Hence, opening up a dyadic situation (constituted by an addressor and an addressee) by admitting witnesses, mediators or judges, or reducing a polyadic one by excluding third parties, are potential challenges to given social semantics and to established power arrangements. Conversely, (de)dichotomizing meaning or power are latent questionings to conventional communicative engagements.

   Such view draws upon findings from various fields, mainly cultural sociology and discourse science; I claim it overcomes ontological and epistemological problems current views of discourse and context interaction have; and it is supported by observations on reflective discourse generated in key moments of regime change in different periods of Mexico’s history, specially its pre-revolution years in the early 20th century, which are oriented by performative theories.