Debating Blasphemy: Positioning and Power Dynamics in Emotive Face-to-Face Interaction

Saturday, 21 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Peter RICHARDSON, Hokkaido University, Japan
Miori NAGASHIMA, Hokkaido University, Japan
Masako WADA, Hokkaido University, Japan
Makoto WATANABE, Hokkaido Bunkyo University, Japan
Stephen PIHLAJA, Newman University, United Kingdom
Baramee KHEOVICHAI, Silpakorn University, Indonesia
In May 2017 Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, the former Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to two years in prison. The highly publicized trial and its result highlight the very sensitive and contentious issues surrounding the notion and enforcement of blasphemy and its relationship to social power. This paper focuses on a discussion about the blasphemy laws and the trial between an Indonesian Muslim in favor of the blasphemy charge and an Indonesian Christian opposed to it. It investigates how two participants with diametrically opposing viewpoints position each other in pre-discussion essays and during face-to-face interaction. We approach the discussion from the perspective of positioning theory (De Fina & Georgakopoulou 2012; Harre & Langenhove 1999: 10; Moita-Lopes 2006) and specifically Bamberg’s (1997) framework of narrative positioning. This allows us to explore how particular frames, discourse strategies and storylines reflect multiple, fluid power relationships within unfolding positioning choices. The analysis also focuses on how the participants draw on a range of sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit dominant and contested discourses (Fina, Schiffrin & Bamberg 2006: 255-256) connected to national, religious and gender-based identities. We found that, while the pre-discussion essays contain a range of positioning choices that connect to dynamics of power and dominance, the effects of many of these factors and the chemical reactions between them became more complex and intensified during the face-to-face discussion. This leads us to conclude that face-to-face interaction can open up or further intensify positioning pressures and strategies. These can in turn lead to greater convergence and equilibrium, but also increased levels of emotion, domination, and acquiescence.