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“Out gay boys? There’s, like, one point seven five”: Negotiating identity in super-diversity

  • Susan Woolley EMAIL logo


Examining processes through which identity and semiotic markers of race, gender, and sexuality are constructed, this article looks at the ways categories like “gay”, “Asian”, and “Latino”, for example, are articulated, counted, and delineated as well as complicated by intersecting lines of difference that entangle subject positions. Drawing on findings from a three-year ethnographic study in a Northern California urban public high school, this research connects the micro-level processes of language and the macro-level processes through which difference is constructed. Arguing that notions of enoughness and authenticity are used to assess participants’ claims to identities, this article further pushes scholars of super-diversity to consider the role of power and privilege in shaping such forms of legitimacy. Focusing on power and privilege in the negotiation of identity is significant for scholars of super-diversity because it moves us toward an analysis of the ways unequal power relations are produced and articulated through people, their interactions and relations, and perceived differences. In an era of super-diversity, subjects live with multiple, overlapping, mutually inflecting identities, far from previous tick-box approaches which treat identity as a static set of categories one may check off as representing. Considering intersecting lines of difference, we see that identity is not just discrete categories, but a process of drawing boundaries, taking positions, playing with representations, and making meaning out of symbolic resources.


I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the editors at the International Journal of the Sociology of Language for their thoughtful feedback. I also owe my gratitude to Nelson Flores for putting together this issue and for his guidance throughout the writing and revising process. Parts of this article originally appeared in a paper that I worked on as a Youth Violence Prevention Graduate Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Social Change at U.C. Berkeley. There, I received tremendous support during that early writing process from Deborah Freedman Lustig, David Minkus, Christine Trost, Genevieve Negron-Gonzales, Jose Arias, Jennifer Randles, Sarah Lynn Lopez, Gwendolyn Leachman, Bao Lo, Kimberly Richards, Timoteo Rodriguez, Alice Miller, and Aaron Cicourel. Additionally, L-SIDER (Laboratory for the Study of Interaction and Discourse in Educational Research) provided an intellectual home for the close analysis of language in action that I attempt to carry out in this article. I owe my deepest gratitude to Patricia Baquedano-Lopez, Ariana Mangual Figueroa, Shlomy Kattan, Irenka Dominguez-Pareto, Nate Dumas, Gabino Arredondo, Jorge Solis, and Sera Hernandez for making the Discourse Lab one of my academic homes at U.C. Berkeley.

Appendix: Transcription notations by Gail Jefferson (Atkinson and Heritage 2006 [1984])


Overlapping utterances


Contiguous utterances and latching


Intervals within/between utterances in seconds and tenths of a second




Elongated sound or syllable


More colons prolong the stretch


Falling tone


Continuing intonation


Rising inflection


Animated tone


Abrupt cutoff

↑ ↓

Marked rising and falling shifts in intonation




Slight emphasis


Talk that is quieter than the surrounding talk


Audible aspirations


Audible inhalations


Description of things happening

> <

Pace quicker than the surrounding talk


Pace slower than the surrounding talk


Transcriptionist’s doubt about what was said


Continuation of interview before and after the transcript


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Published Online: 2016-8-11
Published in Print: 2016-9-1

©2016 by De Gruyter Mouton

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