This study demonstrates how and why interactants at a tyre fitment centre in Grahamstown, South Africa, manage discordant interpersonal relationships in strategic ways. Individuals in a post-apartheid small business respond to their social and economic context and exercise agency to their advantage in doing so. This study draws on linguistic ethnography (Rampton 2007) and the Rapport Management Framework (RMF, Spencer-Oatey 2000b, 2011), itself a development of politeness theory (Brown and Levinson 1987). An initial RMF analysis ran into difficulties around interactions that at first glance appeared to be oriented toward Rapport Challenge and Neglect. Upon closer examination, it appeared that discordant rapport was being actively maintained in this business. This led us to address underdeveloped areas of RMF that were not responsive enough to describe naturally occurring small business interactions, and propose an Enhanced Rapport Management Framework to overcome its inadequacies. We conclude that people may deliberately maintain discordant relationships when it is in their best interests to do so. Thus, contrary to a common-sense belief that harmonious social relations are an intrinsic good, we found that promoting discordant social relations can be understood as a rational response to individuals’ social and economic contexts, particularly in conditions such as those in many postcolonial African societies.
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