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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton July 27, 2005

Politeness Theory and Relational Work

  • Miriam A. Locher and Richard J. Watts


In this paper we briefly revisit politeness research influenced by Brown and Levinson's (1987) politeness theory. We argue that this research tradition does not deal with politeness but with the mitigation of face-threatening acts (FTAs) in general. In our understanding, politeness cannot just be equated with FTA-mitigation because politeness is a discursive concept. This means that what is polite (or impolite) should not be predicted by analysts. Instead, researchers should focus on the discursive struggle in which interactants engage. This reduces politeness to a much smaller part of facework than was assumed until the present, and it allows for interpretations that consider behavior to be merely appropriate and neither polite nor impolite. We propose that relational work, the “work” individuals invest in negotiating relationships with others, which includes impolite as well as polite or merely appropriate behavior, is a useful concept to help investigate the discursive struggle over politeness. We demonstrate this in close readings of five examples from naturally occurring interactions.

Published Online: 2005-07-27
Published in Print: 2005-01-01

© Walter de Gruyter

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