In this paper I argue for a different standard to assess the quality of communicative conduct in local governance meetings. Rather than seeing public talk occasions as needing politeness or civility, a better norm, I suggest, is “reasonable hostility”. Emotionally marked criticism of the past and future actions of public persons (i. e., reasonable hostility), I show, is necessary for the able functioning of democratic bodies. Following a critique of politeness theories, including a claim for why Goffman's concept of face is more suitable for exploring situated communicative practices, background on U.S. school governance practices and the particular U.S. school board meetings that are the focus of this paper are provided. Then, I illustrate and analyze recurrent, ordinary kinds of face-attack that occurred in the community's public meetings and provide evidence that meeting participants judged the remarks to be face-attacking. In the paper's concluding section, I describe the situation and face-attack features that distinguish reasonable hostility from unreasonable forms.
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